I recently wrote a piece for Community Care about the difficulties involved in keeping some looked after children safe and what I think needs to be done to address this. If you haven’t already, you can read it here. It received a much bigger response than anything else I have ever written – most of it positive or, at least, engaged with the issue, and some of it critical.
However, while it is of course flattering when people say nice things or agree with me on Twitter (I have an ego), I did not write it for these reasons. Nor did I write it as clickbait for Community Care. I wrote it because I am very worried about the issue and feel passionately about it. It is for this reason I am pleased it got a bit of attention.
As most of you won’t have noticed, I haven’t written for a while. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Taken as a whole this blog is fairly bleak and I noticed the most popular posts were generally the ones in which I lay bare painful autobiographical detail or describe the traumatic experiences of children I have looked after. There is value in telling these stories of course, but I think it started to skew the way I was thinking about my work and my own past – as if it was all just material to write about. I gradually became uncomfortable with this.
I said goodbye to Scarlett yesterday – tomorrow she moves to her fifth placement in the 18 months she has been “looked-after”. She has been with us since Christmas Eve. I will discuss why in a moment, but first:
What a cold, clinical and straight-out horrible word, it has just occurred to me, “placement” is. There is a reason we use words like this as professionals – it’s a defence. It protects us from having to confront the full reality of what is happening. “Placement” doesn’t have quite the same emotional resonance as “home” does it?
OK…let me be clear from the get go…I’m pretty jaded and did not expect to be shocked by the content of last night’s Panorama: Teenage Prison Abuse – but I was…
I thought I would see some excessive and inappropriate use of restraint, some swearing at the kids and that kind of thing. I did not expect to see staff openly engaging in a culture of thuggery and sadism. It was appalling, cruel, disturbing, a genuine outrage and so on and so forth.
If we are lucky as babies (and most of us are – our parents might not have been perfect but were probably “good enough”) we will experience a period of “primary maternal preoccupation“.
This concept was identified by Donald Winnicott (other theories are available – see Wilfred Bion’s “maternal reverie”) and essentially refers to the mother’s state of mind for a few weeks before and after the birth of a child. In very basic terms this means the mother becomes obsessed by the baby, thinking almost entirely of his or her needs, wondering what the child is thinking, what different noises and expressions mean and generally trying to work out what is going on for the child.
Sarah claims she has a”crush” on me (this is an on-going situation). It is not really that straightforward. To a large extent she see’s me as a paternal figure and, within certain parameters, this is healthy. Unfortunately, because of her past, her view of paternal figures is distorted and confused by sexual feelings and fantasy. Can I really care for her if I don’t want to have sex with her? Can she have a strong attachment to me and can she love me without it meaning she wants to have sex with me? These are the questions which confuse her.
So…I thought I would take a look at what’s out there in the blogosphere regarding kids in care, kids who have been in care, people who look after kids in care and so on.
There seems to be a lot out there about “forced” adoption and generally about the idea that the state are in someway child snatchers – as if the care system is abusive by intent and design. This is clearly nonsense and I intended to write a well argued rebuke and defense of the good work and heartfelt desire to improve children’s life’s of many working in the care “system”.
But I can’t because I started work at 7am yesterday and finished at 5pm today (I have worked much longer shifts) so I am exhausted and the well argued stuff will have to wait…
A 10-year-old girl I look after – lets call her Sarah – has the “worst” case history I have ever read. The word “worst” is in inverted commas because there is something slightly uncomfortable about comparing different children’s experiences. The children I look after have all had, by any measure, terrible early years, and to say one is the worst implies the others are better. But there really is no getting round it – Sarah’s is the worst.