The phrase “the good enough mother” was coined by Donald Winnicott to take the pressure off mothers. In his view, most mothers would quite naturally do what was required to ensure the healthy development of their children without having to listen to the likes of him (although, admittedly, this did not prevent him from doing a series of radio talks on the matter). You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be good enough. Winnicott, as with many things he said, was of course correct. Obviously, it is not the 1940s, so “good enough” now refers to good enough care, not just mothering.
Does anyone genuinely believe that, overall, the care provided to look after children is good enough? If you do then I implore you to make your case in the comments section below. I am going to make a prediction – while there will obviously be individual examples of good enough care – no one will advocate that the current system and provision is anywhere near good enough.
Now, I can’t pretend my blog is read by a cross-section of all those with an interest or involvement in children’s social care – it is restricted to people who can be bothered to read the varying quality ramblings of an anonymous care worker. Nevertheless, enough of you read it that if none of you makes the case that the current system is, while not perfect, good enough – this is surely deeply troubling.
I probably should not need to point this out, but – what counts as good enough care for a developmentally ordinary child would not actually be good enough for a child who has experienced developmental trauma. Obviously.
I am now in my 15th year working in residential care, during this time there have been four different prime ministers, god knows how many changes of children’s minister, numerous changes to legislation, regulations, and several government reviews into various looked after children matters. Yet, nothing materially has changed apart from the things that have got worse. Here are some of the things that remain not good enough:
I presume I do not need to explain why this is vital – the importance of a secure base, consistent care, the central role relationships play in helping children heal, the further trauma caused by multiple rejections, so on and so forth. If you work in children’s social care and do not already understand this, then feel free to message me and I can point you to the literature. Or better still, you could resign your position with immediate effect – this job isn’t for you. So why is it that so many young people referred to the children’s home I work in have already experienced a double-digit number of placements and will go on to experience a few more when they leave us?
The primacy of foster care is one reason – so children who are palpably too disturbed to manage within a family setting are tried in six, seven or eight foster placements before residential care is considered. Although, of course, there is a lack of genuinely high-quality residential care to refer them too and a lack of genuine needs-based matching of the child to placement.
The prefered providers model – where essentially local authorities send a referral to everyone on their list, encourages providers to claim they can do everything and leads to generic provision not diversity of provision (which in theory should be the main benefit of providers being in the private sector). So often where kids are placed is simply decided by whoever will take them. Private businesses – even ones with some integrity – obviously feel a financial pressure to fill beds. This leads to them making compromised decisions, therefore, it is not helpful for them to hold all the cards.
Social workers and placement officers – under huge pressure to find places for kids to live – gloss the referral paperwork given to foster carers and residential homes (yes you do), meaning providers cannot make informed decisions anyway. There would obviously be much less pressure on placement officers if placement turnaround was reduced – so this is something of a self-defeating circle.
My view is, if the referral and placing systems had credibility it would be entirely appropriate that when providers close placements on young people for presenting with issues they were well aware of before they arrived – and that they had claimed they work with – then they should incur a financial penalty. This would incentivise them to a) stop taking unsuitable referrals, b) meaningfully improve the quality of what they are offering and c) stick with kids a bit longer. However, this will only be possible if more thought is given to –
I have written in detail elsewhere about how the current legislative framework does not allow for provision which would meaningfully help a number of, particularly vulnerable and high-risk young people. But that aside – managing risk really means accepting and tolerating a young person’s risky behaviours. The risk can rarely be removed and often can only be significantly reduced when a child is in a settled placement and has strong relationships with his or her carers. Bouncing them from generic placement to generic placement obviously does zero to achieve this. Providers, local authorities, Ofsted and the police all need to understand this.
Staff training and recruitment
It remains a ridiculous joke that someone can walk out of a job in, say, retail, and into one looking after the most vulnerable and traumatised children in society – most of whom come with an array of related mental health issues. It is a role that requires a certain temperament and resilience for sure, but to do it properly it also requires specialist knowledge and skills. Substantial training should be required before you even apply for the job and be on-going. Obviously, training alone does not mean someone would be good at the job, but this is an argument that could be made about teachers or nurses – no one would argue that they do not need training or qualifications before they start their jobs.
In short, it should be professionalised. This would mean pay would have to be commensurate in order to attract the right kind of person and this means children’s social care has to be properly funded. Money is not the only issue here but it is a denial of objective reality to argue it isn’t part of the problem.
Provision and planning for children leaving care is an absolute scandal. Ad hoc, underfunded, left to the last minute – it is not as if it is a surprise when a young person turns 18! This remains as terrible as it always been and all of the above would be pointless if any good work that is done is going to be undone the moment they become legal adults.
I am not good enough. Initially, during the first few years, I was full of energy and commitment but I did not have the skills, knowledge and training that I needed to do the job properly. I have that now, but I am tired and jaded – I no longer give enough.