Sentimentality is the curse of many people who work in children’s social care especially, but not exclusively, for workers who are relatively inexperienced. I would caricature this as a “poor thing” or “he’s a good kid really” attitude.
Perhaps a certain amount of naivety is required when you start out – awareness of the reality of what you will be dealing with would stop most from taking the job on I guess. And it probably helps balance out the more jaded attitudes of experienced staff.
The problem with the “he’s a good kid really” idea is it suggests the more difficult parts of the children or “bad” parts aren’t the “real” child – but of course they are.
Just as when you or I treat people badly, it is as much a reflection of who we are as when we treat people well. Most of us try to treat people well most of the time. The children I look after (who are very disturbed – even by the standards of children in other types of children’s home) abuse, attack and hurt people in their lives a lot of the time. And to deny this reality does nothing to help them in the long run.
It does not, of course, mean they are globally bad, that there are not reasons why they behave in this way, or that they cannot be helped.
And it does not mean they are not often sweet, funny, charming or just ordinary sometimes.
A big part of our task is to help them integrate these “good” and “bad” sides so that they can be just “OK” instead.
Of course, to do this we must hold onto the more benign aspects of the children but sometimes the need to do that can lead to an unrealistic, contrived approach. It can feel as if for every negative or difficult part of a child someone talks about it must be balanced by someone saying something positive. This does not reflect the emotional, or actual, reality of their lives.
I call it the “Hitler was a vegetarian” syndrome and satirise it like this:
It’s 1942 and the staff at the home I work in are having a care plan meeting about Adolf Hitler.
Staff Y: I’m really worried about Adolf…he has already killed four million Jews and he says he is not going to stop until he has killed all of them…
Staff X: Yeah I know…but he does show a lot of compassion towards animals which is good…
Staff Y: Even so, he says he is going to invade Russia in winter…that’s impossible…hundreds of thousands will die. I think he is having delusions of omnipotence.
Staff X: But he was really well behaved when I took him to the cinema yesterday…
Yes we need to remember the good and benign parts of the children but it is the dark, toxic parts which are our coalface…