Lost In Care

Over 12 years working in residential children's homes. 5 years training foster carers and care staff. Trainee child psychotherapist. 14 years in care as a child. Diary, anecdotes and rants about the good, bad and mediocre. Anonymised but all true.

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They need to trust, not like you…

It is very common to hear relationships between staff and young people in care discussed in terms of whether the young person “likes” a particular adult or not.  Comments such as, “James doesn’t like Sue [staff]” are often heard in staff meetings and handovers.  Or even worse, “Billy and Sue [still staff] don’t get on”.  As if it is a relationship of equals and there is nothing more to think about here than a straightforward personality clash.

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Some things I remember…

Naturally, given my age, I do not remember much about living at home with my mum and dad or my early years in care. Of course, this lack of cognitive memory does not mean there is not an emotional one. Nothing makes me rock with anger more than when I hear someone describe an obviously traumatic experience in a child’s life and then make light of it with anodyne phrases like: ‘It’s ok, she was far too young to remember.”

Still, I have a few memories – flashes really. They are mine – not things that I was told later and incorporated into my own narrative. I can be certain because they are not those kinds of events.

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The cost/value of good experiences…

The children’s home I work in now charges £2995 per child per week.  It seems like a lot of money I guess.  I am back working for the same children’s home where I started my career in children’s social care in 2004.  At that time the cost of a placement was £2995 per week.  They have not been able to put up their fees in 12 years.   Allowing for inflation the equivilent amount today would be £4230.

Imagine if schools and hospitals had not been given budget increases for 12 years.  There would rightly be an outrage.   I guess most people don’t use children’s homes and those that do don’t vote.

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Lying to children…

In the old days (the mid-eighties) when I was in a kids home, they were often run by married couples who had a team of care staff underneath them.  In the home I was in, these staff were called aunties and uncles.  My main memory of them, probably unfairly, is they were a group of middle-aged women who used to sit around, watch TV and darn socks (yes really).

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They’re my family…

Obviously the word “family” is complicated and painful for all children in care because, irrespective of the circumstances, all of them are united by one simple truth – they are not living with theirs.

Images of “perfect” families abound in popular culture – films, books, even TV adverts, constantly bombard these kids (and, let’s face it, all of us) with idealised versions of what a family “should” be like.  Sure, siblings may argue but they make up in the end, or come together when they need each other – blood is thicker than water and blah, cliche, blah.

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Knowing what happened…

Obviously, as a professional, I have had to write stuff about the children I look after.  In fact,  I have done so everyday of my working life for the past 12 years.   This can be anything from what they have had to eat, daily observations and phone calls with parents to reports for LAC reviews and so on.

Now, of course, everything I write is meant to be “objective” and “non-judgemental” and so on.  But, of course, that isn’t really what happens – short of straightforward statements of fact such as: “he watched a film on TV” everything is coloured by how I experience the child or young person, and what I think is happening for him or her (in some reports I will be discussing their internal emotional world as much as their outward behaviour).  This will be influenced by my experience, knowledge, training, world view and personal insight.  It is certainly, to a large degree, subjective.

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