Firstly, before I become all “left-brained” about this, imagine actually doing it. Close your eyes if you need to. Imagine the feel of an AA battery in your hand – the size, the weight. Notice how solid it is. Now imagine resting it between your lips – the feel of cold metal. Picture yourself pushing the AA battery, with the tip of your finger, all the way into your mouth and towards the back of your tongue. Now imagine swallowing. Go on – really imagine it.
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?
It is probably worth saying that I write this from the perspective of my background in residential children’s homes. My knowledge of the experiences of foster carers and adopters is limited to some work as a freelance trainer for a few IFA’s. That said, it is pretty obvious that many of the issues faced are the same. And many of the attributes, skills and so on required for these roles will be similar. It is definitely true that many of the people I have met during my time in residential care and as a trainer did not have enough of these skills and attributes to undertake their roles successfully.
You will not find many children’s homes nowadays that do not market themselves as “therapeutic” (and presumably, by extension, this means the staff are therapeutically trained, right?). Likewise, I notice the terms “therapeutic foster carer” and “therapeutic parent” are becoming common.
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.
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.
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.
The other day the deputy manager of the home I work in left. He had been recruited externally and was only around for a few months. He made the decision to leave and for various reasons he wasn’t up to the task. Mainly, I would suggest, because the fairly rigorous nature of our psychoanalytic model can be exposing and superficial strategies for manipulating how people view you are ineffective.
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.
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…