Lost In Care

15 years working in residential children's homes. 8 years training foster carers and care staff. Integrative child & adolescent counsellor. 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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Dear Mum…

I wonder where you are right now?  I am here – in my bedroom, in the house that I share, lying on my bed, propped up on pillows, legs bent to push this laptop close to my hands.   I can hear the breeze in the trees outside, the gentle thump of the tumble dryer downstairs, and a train passing. I can feel the weight and  heat of the laptop on my thighs and stomach.   I can feel my hair, still damp from a recent bath and a vague, but always with me,ache in my lower back – I assume it is an unavoidable symptom of the gradual onset of middle-age.  And I am thinking about you.

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I can’t keep the children I work with safe (further thoughts)…

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.

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Boredom in the counter-transference…

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.

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An Insecure Base

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?

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Loss and abandonment…

It’s hard to be precise but, as I count them now, I reckon there were 18 adults who at different times across my childhood were responsible for my day-to-day care.  I have only seen one of them, my father, since I turned 16 (I’m nearly 40 now).

Each of these 18 adults represents a loss.  An ungrieved loss.  Of course not all losses are equal – as I have discussed elsewhere, not all these adults looked after me very well and I was glad to see the back of them.

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The fruits of my labors…


In the kids home I work in there is a fake chalk board hanging on the wall with a recipe for happiness printed on it.  You may have seen the kind of thing, “1 cup of kindness, a pinch of understanding…” etc.   Suffice to say – I hate it.

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What is a therapeutic carer?

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.

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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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