Lost In Care

14 years working in residential children's homes. 5 years training foster carers and care staff. Trainee child therapist. 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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After the outrage – let’s think about what happened at Medway Secure

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.

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Can parenting be taught?

So…David Cameron plans to introduce  parenting classes (actually he is reintroducing the idea – there was little uptake before).  He thinks they should be “the norm” and that we all need help.  Well…I agree with him.  I thought I would make that clear because I am about to make a series of caveats and if you aren’t paying attention you might get the impression I don’t agree with him at all.

Firstly, choose your particular cup of tea: neuroscience?  clinical psychology?  psychoanalysis?  common sense?  trite statements of self-evident fact?  Well, all of these will tell you that ages 0-3-years-old, and how a child is looked after during that time, are the most important by far when it come to influencing how a human being will relate to the world around them and the people in it.  Essentially, what happens to you during those years will go a long way to deciding whether you give a fuck about other people and whether you believe they give a fuck about you.

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Where have I been?

I guess the question above can have both an emotional and literal meaning.  All I can say is I stopped blogging for a while because life became difficult…well…even more difficult.  Suffice to say I no longer work at the children’s home my previous blogs related to.  I work at a much more “bulk standard” one.  It is not very good.  I will write about it soon enough.

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Beware the relative that seem’s “OK”…

Fairly often, when a child is in care, there will be an adult in the birth family who the professionals involved in the case deem to be “OK”.

It could an older sibling, aunt, grandparent or (more often than is sane) the father. It is very rarely the mother.  This relative will present as reasonably articulate, concerned for the child in question and, often, onside with social workers and other professionals.

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Attachment, permanence and endings…

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.

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Helping children to intergrate their ‘good and bad’ sides…

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.

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Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go…

This documentary, although filmed at a bigger, and slightly different, institution, represents fairly well the kind of work I did in a therpeutic community for children. Slide it forward to 1m 30s to avoid cheesy voice over… The embed below no longer works – click here  instead.

Holding children “in mind”…

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.

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Knowl View – A Counter Point…

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.

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The fear of false allegations…

The worry that a child may make an untrue allegation (especially of a sexual nature) against a member-of-staff can often be rife in children’s homes.  There is a slight risk and the consequences of it happening would be potentially devastating to the individual concerned.  However, I have always considered the anxiety about it to be wildly disproportionate.

In reality it happens very rarely and the chances of someone actually losing their job or being prosecuted if it did happen are even slimmer.  Otherwise we would hear endless stories about children’s home staff being charged with sex offences – and we do not.

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Just some stuff that happened today…

I drove to the home feeling fairly buoyant  but within, let’s say, 30 seconds I felt very short tempered. I was given a garbled handover that left me clueless as to what had been going on and then sent out immediately to collect the petty cash from the office (a 15 minute drive away) which I had just driven past on my way in.

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