It hardly needs saying that the allegations in the news about Knowl View boarding school are very disturbing. Clearly children being looked after by the state should not be subject to this, or any, kind of abuse. I totally accept this is newsworthy and usually cringe when people say things like: “Why are there never any good news stories?” However, I am now going to do exactly that because I think the general public could easily have the view that children in care, especially residential care rather than foster care, live in nightmare homes run by paedophiles and pimps.
As the header claims, I was brought up in care. I spent the late eighties/early nineties living in state run boarding school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (or “maladjusted” children as we were still occasionally called). This is around the time of the abuse at Knowl View, a school which was similar to mine.
Now, what do I think of that experience in retrospect?
Well, I wish there had been more understanding and help with the fact that our pasts were at the route of our troubles (there may have been some understanding of this but it was not voiced and there was no therapy). And some of the staff were clearly temperamentally unsuited to their jobs (so to speak).
That aside, most of the staff were well meaning, patient and trying their best to look after some very challenging kids under – what I realise in hindsight was – a great deal of resource and staffing pressure. Although there was practice that would now be considered unprofessional or unacceptable, at no point did I experience, witness, or hear about anything that could be defined as abusive.
Likewise, in my years of working in residential care, for two different organisations, I have seen stuff that I personally didn’t think was great but I have seen nothing abusive. The vast majority of care staff and managers are concerned, primarily, with the best interests of the child – even when we get things wrong. We are trying to help some extremely traumatised and damaged children without the resources to do it properly.
And understand this: I have not looked after a single child who any reasonable person could argue would be better off living with his or her family. Not one.
But I guess “thousands of children saved every year from selfish, sadistic and abusive parents” does not make for catchy headlines.