care leavers, homelessness, social work and child care, social work changes, Social work, child care and history of social work, Uncategorized

Care Leavers etc Part 2. The fight goes on.

It is sad that I feel it to be a fight, I deleted that from the title twice because it seemed so negative.  Maybe I mean a struggle. After so many years  I still seem to be repeating myself so often about the way forward with the care system. When I saw the other day an article suggesting that a new social work model was to have consistent social workers who knew the individual and in whom they could trust I was lost, temporarily, for words! Well repeatable ones as least.

However there are some things that I think we could consider without setting about a whole system change which will never happen for all sorts of reasons which I do not have time to explore in this blog. Life is often about detail and there are many smaller things we could change that would make a significant difference to the lives of our children both during their care experience and later in life.

You may have noticed that in the last paragraph I used the term “our children” and that is exactly what they are. They belong to us all in the widest sense of community now and in the future but crucially they are children that the state has been given the responsibility of parenting sometimes together with parents or so often without. So my first plea in this January manifesto would be to consider the words we use in respect of those in public care and how we use them. I don’t have a problem with the term “in care” though there are those who are in care who might and they should be asked. I do have an issue with “the corporate parent” for example. There is no way that it is possible to be a corporate parent. It is a meaningless bureaucratic term only to be understood by the non care adults working in the system. It leads them to view the child  as a corporate commodity and to feel that it is therefore ok to argue between departments and authorities about areas of responsibility, blame each other and cause frequent lack of movement in cases were disputes are underway. How about changing that to collective parenting implying that everyone has equal responsibility across the board but clearly there will be defined tasks. The second term mirrors a good parenting arrangement where both parents share equal responsibility but have also have specific skill areas, the former mirrors the chaos, disputes and blame games so often present in families showing poor parenting.

fire and flood comunity

Here’s one for the statutory children’s agencies. Stop making teams divisions based on age. It is a nonsense for children to change social workers because they reach a certain age or the stage in their care “career”. There may be convenient administrative reasons for doing this but it is anything but child centred. And I don’t hold to the argument that it is because there are different skills sets required. Basic good social work skills are transferable to any situation, and the forms and specialist knowledge available within departments and via online information systems. As an agency worker I know that it takes little time to know the different administrative systems. What is not easily transferable is the trust, benefits of a stable relationship and the intimate knowledge and details of the client’s life all of which are more important at any transitional stage in life. How often have I heard young people say it is so hard having to start again with a new person who knows nothing about you or who you really are. Come on managers this should be an easy one to solve.

Social workers please pay attention to detail. Remember always to recognise important dates, not just birthdays and Christmas but the day Mum died or the child came into care, that they are getting their exam results, or get their degree. A text is enough and a beginning at least. Keep photos of friends and carers in files, the friends in a current school with names so that when they move they can recall these people who may have been important for that time. Keep things they made at school, souvenirs from a holiday with carers they no longer live with…..you get the picture.  See it as your job to help them with their family history and story , it may not be pleasant but it is theirs and will give them a sense of belonging, a sense of a place in the world.

And to the politics of all this. Stop privatisation of children’s services across the board. No company or individual should make a profit from these children’s sadness. They are our children. And these companies frequently promise great things but deliver a service much along the lines of public services. This is about money and political ideology. It is often not even cheaper  for local authorities.

Let us accept that residential care can be a sanctuary, a place of repair and a chance to move on positively into adulthood, shared together with others who understand. Good residential care can be a real asset. It can be expensive but so is moving around and picking up the damage done in the process. Fostering, adoption and kinship care is not for everyone.

Therapeutic parenting should be the model throughout the service, and inspectors rather than measuring the administration should be looking to ways of measuring the reparenting of our children. Administration  does not parent children, it supports it and we should not make it the primary measure of success. This model should be the baseline of every intervention at each moment in the child’s in care life. A model shared by social workers, administrators,carers, adopters, schools and inspectors. And understood by politicians across the party divides. Party ideologies should not change the models of care.

Let us stop the corporate mirroring of the chaos of broken family life. No child should ever feel abandoned, abused, neglected or lost in the care system. They have witnessed enough of that by the time we become collectively responsible for them in public care.

And if that is not enough. Back to terminology. The term often used about good social workers is that they “go the extra mile”. They are just doing their job well and theirs should be the standard  not the exception.

Happy New Year.

 

care leavers, christmas, homelessness, leaving home, media, memory, Social work, child care and history of social work, winter festivals

A Window on Christmas

It was nearly 8am this morning when I walked the dog. It was dark, wet and as thoroughly unpleasant a morning as it is possible to be at this time of the year. The dark dank days of November and December are only brightened for most of us by the prospect of Christmas. The expectation of a light-bright, warm fun-filled Christmas with our families, presents wrapped with jolly paper and love. As I walk past the Crescent with the dog, the sea rolling stones at near high tide to one side I can look in windows of the Christmas houses, with their beautifully decorated trees, blazing lights, presents under the trees and can imagine even smell the breakfast being cooked in the kitchen. I peer in not with the sentimentality of the bedraggled street child on a Victorian Christmas card  but with sadness, with concern,  and a heavy heart.

The media is full of a strange mixture of standard news and items asking us to think about the lonely elderly, the homeless young people, those struggling with physical and mental illness, animals left to fend for themselves during the festive season and to be a good neighbour, to check to see all is well, spend a few minutes of conversation or even invite them into our homes for dinner on Christmas day. Is this the same sentiment as that Victorian Christmas card?  Our wish to share our own good fortune with those less fortunate at this season of the year. Some time ago when I read the archives of St John’s School, once a reformatory built in the 1850’s, I recall reading an account of the Christmas day menu which was to include oranges,apples and plum pudding donated by the great and good of the county. The rest of the year the diet consisted of bread, potatoes, porridge, and occasionally a little cheese and meat; the same  every day. These were the poor children of the county who had landed in the reformatory usually as a result of criminal acts brought about by extreme poverty, hunger and homelessness. And so we continue the patronage of the more fortunate today. There are more of us  to donate today as living standards for the majority are so much better than in the late 1800’s so we are able to give even when we have overspent our credit on presents and Christmas extras. Here comes the BUT!….. But nothing really changes. We overindulge and give the leftovers to the poor and destitute.

I include myself in this and it is not intended as criticism of the excellent schemes, projects and charities who do such wonderful work all year round and who provide extra support at Christmas. I am simply dismayed that we cannot begin to tackle the root causes of the homelessness and poverty that plagues our society. I am equally dismayed that the focus for our charitable efforts should be Christmas and not the rest of the year. Bringing the issues into such prominence at this time somehow exposes the depth of despair that those who are without family, friends, good health , means or a home must feel. It exaggerates the loss and failure.

A few minutes later on  my dog walk I pass Michael, I do not know if this is his name even though I see him most days. Every day he walks the town slowly, very slowly so that the time should pass at a quicker pace to fill the day. I see him read the paper, or a book, raid the bins or wait at shops for charity, he stops for a chat with the dog who is always pleased to see him, he meets his friends for a drink they too are homeless, washes in the public toilets and sleeps I know not where. He once had trials  to be a professional footballer. This morning he is heading into the church carrying his food bank Christmas bag.  A Waitrose bag no less! I know what is in it as I saw them being packed up. The church as ever provides sanctuary  and a warm welcome and cup of tea at the end of the service. This morning it is probably the only dry place to be. I like him he has a friendly smile and a kind face. A gentleman of the road. My father always used this expression not in a patronising way but to convey, I thought, respect and a sense of dignity so often denied. Is Christmas Day any different for Michael? Well the world is shut and may become his alone but he will be able to witness the festivities through those windows while we all play Monopoly and get indigestion.

What does it bring back for him, or does he choose not to remember as the memories are overwhelmingly  painful. I don’t know his story. Maybe he has no family, in care as a child, moved around the care system, many people who said they would provide him with a home, rescue him from his own abusive family only later to reject him. Time in prison learning new tricks to survive , harsh treatment to punish him further and reinforce his sense of lack of worth, attempts to make a family of his own lost through mental ill-health or addiction. Only he knows, but the shadows of his past may be remembered through the haze of drink and the windows of the rest of the world. He may brush it all aside as just another day and drink until he can sleep. I do know from my own experience that loneliness at Christmas takes on an added dimension even when you know there are people who care and who would welcome you unconditionally. I cannot imagine how it feels without that backstop( how dare I use that word at the moment!!!). I too would drink untill I could sleep.

So my wish for Christmas is that we keep the sense of charity that Christmas imbues in us for all the year and do not return to demonizing Michael and his friends in the New Year. Also that we can find a way to tackle the causes of poverty, homelessness, despair and hopelessness in this our affluent society. It is a scandal of our modern day. I will not forget while I am feeling lucky to be with my family sharing good food, companionship and love because there will remain with me that underlying sense of sadness that there are other windows on this world.

traces and memory 2

A very happy Christmas to you all .

 

 

care leavers, change through music, folk music, leaving home, media, social work and child care, social work changes

Care Leavers, Kinder Shores and the future Part 1

It was Care Leavers week recently and the media coverage was poor to say the least.  There was, of course, the inevitable national coverage of leaving foster care and the happy successes but at a local level, here at least, it was very poor. Now I accept that we are talking about a minority issue compared with the bigger issues the country currently faces and the major social problems highlighted by austerity.  They are, however, a significant minority who consume a large percentage of the time and finance of the public services as at worst their daily struggle to survival on the street, feeding addictive habits, fighting hunger, desperation and discrimination require substantial service input. At best there is a need for support, counselling , and advice as they make their way through life’s journey and its ups and downs without the love and security of their own family networks. I also accept that social work needs success stories and that the rise in care experienced adults who are prepared to share those stories with the media is very positive. Social work can get things right but we also need to be certain that we keep up the pressure on improving services and making those changes that mean that so many of those we have rescued do not then get abandoned and rejected by the rescuers. Rescue is not enough. Protection is not enough. To paraphrase, the now somewhat discredited Bruno Bettleheim love is not enough but must be supplemented by determined efforts on the part of the parent. Local authorities who represent the public parent must be prepared to act as parents and that does not finish at 18,21 or 25 does it? Any  parent would tell you that.

So determined efforts must be made by the public parent to ensure the wellbeing of its children. This , of course, includes effective shared care arrangements when birth parents are involved. Recently David Akinsanya told me that he was going to talk at an awards ceremony for children in care about life long relationships for those children. I have a life long relationship with three young people for whom I was a social worker and contact with several others. It left me thinking about what that actually means and how it could possibly be achieved within the frame-work of public care. I have done it as myself in a sense and not as part of my professional task though I perhaps do not draw such a clear demarcation between the two things as others. Not everyone either sees this as appropriate or as a practical proposition for them. If it is institutionalised, ie made part of the professional role and subject to regulation and inspection then no doubt there would be those wanting payment and the very essence of the arrangement would be strangled by safeguards and formulaic visiting schedules. David and I have talked publicly about this for a long time including through our training course and we can prove the need, the benefits and show from our own experience the value to these relationships but have never sufficiently resolved the how. So we have fallen short in allowing the idea to drop into the hearts and minds of social workers and young people but equally allowed overstretched local authorities to dismiss the idea as too difficult as we have offered no way forward.

We are therefore left with generations of young people and adults who are care experienced who live daily with loss, anger, painful memories, and so on. Whose adult lives continue to be determined by a difficult unresolved past. When I started the Kinder Shores project I hoped that the words and music would open up the issues to the public in a way that standard media approaches have not been able to do despite great efforts on the part of many organisations and individuals. I have discovered that it is hard to get the public perception of care leavers moved on past those images of rescue and gratitude, of the need to pull their socks up and get a job rather than live on benefit and on the street and the image of wonderful foster carers who have taken these poor children into their families and yet have been repayed by ingratitude marked by unacceptable behaviours. That may all be too much of a generalization, or too harsh but I am now able to sometimes say things I could not say in my professional capacity. We have to change this perception and make the public see the real issues for the children we have parented through the public purse. We need to make care work for them in their childhood and through to their adult life.

Though CD sales are now slowing Kinder Shores goes on with an exciting project to develop a play with a local Youth Theatre based on one man’s journey through care. Planned for May/June 2019 I hope this will bring out some of the issues behind the obvious media stories and perceptions about care as well as making money for the charity. Once the piece is written then maybe this can be used elsewhere to open up the debate and to get the messages about care to more people. But in the interim I propose to look at some ways that lifelong relationships may work in Part 2 of this blog. Other wise it would be too long and you would never read it! Care leavers may be a small group of people in our society but they are our children, society has created the system for protection and rescue but it has yet to create a real response to their need for parenting as children and on into their adult lives. We must continue to work with the care experienced to find the answers,  with responsible authorities to develop systems fit for purpose and governments to face funding responsibilities now and in the future.

Look out for Part 2. and remember there are still CD’s available through Amazon or Folk on the Pier website. Check out the charity on http://www.kindershores.org.

CD cover image KS

 

 

change through music, folk music, memory, music, social work changes, Social work, child care and history of social work, Uncategorized

Traces and feathers falling……..

traces and memory 2

Sometimes a hint of something is enough to bring back a very strong memory, enough to bring you  to the moment with all the senses and feelings that it engendered in its original being. Scarily strong ,the sensations can be almost physical. It can  be a pleasure to revisit a past love or special moment equally if it was traumatic in origin then it can be sad, upsetting, and painful. Sometimes we do not have control over what triggers there are and what they will bring to us.

For me music regularly transports me to a memory, though sometimes that brings sadness mostly it brings delight and joy. Occasionally it leaves me with a question which may simply be I wonder where that person is now,  a piece of my personal story that is left unfinished or perhaps an unanswered question from the past that remains into the present but long since buried.

I recall being shocked by a strong recollection of my first husband being brought back in a Norwich street. It was the way this man had walked and I  gasped and for a split second I  was certain that it was him although there was no way it could have been. But I was shaken by the strength of the feeling. Later playing Traces ( Ralph McTell) I understood.The wonderful Ralph McTell who can so simply and elegantly capture the essence of humanity in his writing explained it. I have been fascinated by this phenomena ever since.

“Maybe it was the way she rose from her chair, a trace of something in the air”

Walking the dog recently the scent of the damp grass and the coldness on my feet of the dew took me back to camping with Jack when we had spent the night ” laying on our backs watching feathers fall from angels” to quote one of my other favourite song writers Gerry Colvin. Jack and I had lain there till the dew fell and the grass smelt sweetly of the damp of the evening. It was a flash of a memory before the duties of a dog walker returned me to reality. I wonder where he is today?

I return to Essex fairly regularly so one might expect that the memories would come thick and fast.  I sometimes pass somewhere and think Don lived there or whatever but a couple of weeks ago I was driving down the A12 over that horrid concrete slab road surface which has been an uncomfortable feature of part of Essex for as long as I can remember. The bumps in the road took my thoughts to another era of my life and events I had long forgotten.  In the days when the new Social Services Department was responsible for homelessness there were in Essex homeless persons units, as there were all over the country. Often based in old workhouse buildings, or surplus forces accommodation they provided families shelter. Frequently we were present at evictions and transported them from there to the allocated unit. One such unit was at Stanway just outside Colchester, this had  been a workhouse and was by this time an Elderly persons home and the homeless unit.

St Albrights. It had indeed been a workhouse for the Lexden and Winstree Union, just off the A12 it was built in 1836 for 330 inmates. It had later been a hospital, Elderly persons home and Social Service department offices. Sadly as with many of these wonderful buildings, often of innovative and notable design at the time, it now lies mostly unused and unloved hopefully destined for housing rather than a spa or other leisure facility. I always feel that if they continue as housing or in some other community usage then they continue to fulfil the original mission of the build and the design. There is some justice in this for such a wonderful old building in whose walls so many have lived, suffered, died and frequently been offered safe sanctuary from a world in which they had become vulnerable and alone.

Look where the bumps in a road have led my thoughts. But to return to homeless persons units for a moment. I recall as a child watching the family opposite our home in Balmoral Avenue, Stanford le hope being evicted. All their possessions piled onto the side of the street and they sat there Mum, Dad, kids and the dog. My father pulled me away but I worried about them for days. Where did they go? What happened to them? I was about 10 or 11. I didn’t understand. Later I attended several evictions and transported what I could of their possessions to a unit providing grim, multi occupied accommodation with shared cooking, washing and toilet facilities based in huts once used for the forces or buildings in ex workhouse complexes. It was the saddest of jobs. The smells and noise of those units, the fights , the poverty and hopelessness hanging in the air stays with me today. And we charged them rent! And used to visit to collect arrears from the homes they had prior to eviction!!! When I visited Southwell, the National Trust workhouse there are rooms from when it took in homeless families. As I entered I stopped, caught my breath and fought back the tears, I was literally brought to a standstill. I had condemned people to this,albeit in good faith and it did have the benefit of keeping the family together unlike some other homeless policies. Small comforts;  the sickening smell returned to my nose and throat .

The train of thoughts came from those uncomfortable bumps on the A12. These are powerful traces from our story and for me they are containable, understood and controllable. Imagine how it must then be for those who have associations from those traces of trauma, disaster, pain and so on, for those for whom the hint of something in the air does not bring warmth, happy memories, laughter and love but anger, misery ,pain and sadness. No answers just some thoughts. And I am still wondering about where we “watched the feathers fall from angels” and where Jack is now.

References

  1.     Traces. Ralph McTell.   Slide the Screen  Away 1979
  2.     Watching Feathers Fall. Gerry Colvin. Back and Forth 2018
  3.     The Workhouse. English Heritage pub 1999
  4.      Southwell, Nottinghamshire. National Trust.

 

 

 

care leavers, change through music, Homes, leaving home, social work and child care, social work changes, Social work, child care and history of social work

Put on the red shoes and step into the big wide world

Putting on the grown up shoes and stepping into the world outside of home and all its childhood familiarity and comfort is a major transition in our passage through life. And it is so scary. I remember that drive to Plymouth when I left home for the first time to go to college so well. The anxiety brings me out in goosebumps even now 50 years on. First I had to drive there in an old Ford Anglia and I had never been further than London before so that was an adventure, then I had to find my accommodation, settle in and face the beginning of the academic year in a place I didn’t know. I had the advantage of  a boyfriend on the second year of my course so that helped the aloneness. But it was all hugely terrifying.

Why am I telling you this?? Well in the past week or so my niece took her first step into the world of work leaving home for a resident job in an independent school in the South of England and a temporary volunteer at the food bank left Norfolk for university in Glasgow. Both of these amazing young women had the same advantages that I had in making these huge transitional steps . Both had a stable,loving and supportive family whose job had been to raise their children for this very moment, the moment they truly become part of the adult world on their own terms. They had a secure base from which to make their move on the world. They also had the advantages of good education which had explored and grown their individual talents  and given them a sound understanding of the world. They had travelled , learned how to cope with new experiences, they were both socially competent and confident yet they were anxious and just a bit scared too. But they like me had a family home that they could go back to if it all got too much and I did in the early days to recharge my confidence by waking to my own room at home, to the familiar and the comfortable , to Mum’s cooking  and the unique family banter of  mealtime conversations.

Now imagine for a moment how these steps must feel if as a child or young person you have lived with many strangers in children’s homes, residential schools, and foster homes and this has left you with little or no security from which to begin adult life, plus poor educational outcomes and not much sense of self.

Young adults leaving the public care system for an independent adult life face many more challenges that just another move. They take with them their history which frequently carries many unresolved or even unspoken issues, they may not know much of their own story or understand how they have arrived at this point of embarkation to the adult world with so little preparation or support. Now I can hear the cries from leaving care staff across the country and those who support initiatives like Stay Put and I recognise that many carers and social work staff try their best to provide practical, financial and emotional for their clients. But given the level of vulnerability this is a barely a start on what is required. As social workers and service planners we have totally unrealistic expectations of what our care leavers can achieve. Yes we should have high expectations as all parents do of their children but we must not set them up to fail. The preparation for adulthood must start from the beginning and unless we can begin to provide a care system that owes more to a good parenting model and less to Victorian values and beliefs about the poor then we cannot expect the outcomes to be good.

But maybe there are things we can do while we are waiting for that particular revolution as it requires some serious adjustments in our general values and beliefs in society. The first would be to remove the artificial team barriers and working practices in social work organisations. It has never made any sense to me to have to change social workers at 15 or 16  from the Looked After Children Team to Leaving care. This is the point at which the social worker with whom you have built up a relationship and who knows you is needed to walk with you into independence. Of course I start from the premise that the LAC SW has been around for longer than a few months and is not an agency worker.

The second is to look seriously at the Stay Put schemes. There are young people who have foster carers who have stayed with them, often without the local Authorities permission or agreement ,and I know personally young people for whom this has been a family for life. Stay Put has issues because it is formalised and therefore if a young person stays then it can take out other placements and when foster homes are at a premium this presents a problem for both local authorities and for private fostering agencies alike. There are of course financial implications in this scenario too. This is not the answer.

hugs and kisses on leavingleaving home reality girl alone

For the care leaver every organisation they deal with has barriers, thresholds to be negotiated and no one provides them with unconditional services or support. Theirs has been a rocky road so far in life and who will hug and cry with them at that moment  of leaving after settling them in their hall of residence or new lodging near their job, who will plan their first weekend home with a favourite meal or trip out, rescue them when they get sick, listen in the middle of the night when love fails them, advise about the best hangover cures, or be there to celebrate their successes. I was homesick for my own bed in my early student days and I knew it was still there and I was unconditionally welcome whatever the day, time or circumstances. We owe our young people whom we have rescued  or seperated from their families a much better path into the adult world. Their red shoes  are waiting but there are many forms and many meetings before they have any hope of getting them. We need to make our care fit for caring, fit for purpose.

 

wiz of oz you have always had the power

change through music, folk music, music festivals, social work and child care

It all comes round again. A week in Cropredy

Well… not quite Cropredy but just down the road in Warmington. A week in 100 words a day. Can I do this……..difficult for one who always uses too many words and repeats herself!

Sunday.   Arrived at Barry’s lovely cottage to a warm welcome. Having stayed here many times we have become friends and so seeing him is a great start to the week. It’s as hot as hell everywhere is brown , dusty and the soil has gaping crevasses down which  small creatures could lose their lives. It reminds me of that wonderful Oysterband song Mississippi Summer. I hum it while unpacking.  Later sat outside with Barry, one of his ex foster children, talked care ,social workers, cars,and drank wine till dark.

Monday.   Lay in. No dog to walk. Beautiful clear peaceful morning. Even having to splat several wasps didn’t detract from the calm. Walked round Cropredy village. Mused on the Battle of Cropredy Bridge, the Festival Bell and the chapter in history this Festival has written. Thought about living on a boat while watching the narrowboats slide by.  A man is painting the bridge and its so quiet, so calm, but there’s a trace of something in the air; memories ,anticipation, familiarity, maybe the unfamiliar too. The ‘festival family’ gathering to celebrate music, summer, and comradeship. The tribe will be here soon.

Monday evening… is this cheating?! Off to the Brasenose. For the uninitiated that is the pub in the centre of Cropredy . It has a festival fringe. Brilliant gig with the Gerry Colvin Band. Chatted with  a few regular festival goers about this years line up, the good , possibly not so good and the unexpected. Always an absolute pleasure to see Gerry and Tom Leary who turned up on his way back from Wickham festival. Late night then….

Tuesday.   Early start ?! I think not. Had lunch in Hook Norton with Ruth. There are  no barriers with the oldest and best of friends. The conversation is easy even when visits are not that frequent. Years ago we talked about new work events now it turned to the sadness and challenges that getting older brings and our determination to not give in. Loss is such a huge theme in later years and I recalled reading the “we are only on holiday here and all holidays come to an end”. I love Ruth’s positivity and thoughtfulness. Oh and she may help me out of the rut I am in with the book.

PS Also pranged my car in a slight argument with a difficult lady next door because I had parked by her bins. Life is too short to worry.

Tuesday evening.   Really cheating now. Had dinner with Barry and a young man who is ex care and lodges  with him. He cleaned my slightly battered car. It shone. He was reluctant to have dinner with a social worker. I find it so sad that those we are meant to “advise, assist and befriend” ,to use a favourite expression from the old description of a probation officer, dislike and distrust us so much. He was lucky that he was fostered by someone who will continue to care for him throughout his life and to give him a home when he left care. We agreed that everyone in care just needs that one person to care enough to help them turn their life around.

Wednesday.    It all begins to today. Great meeting with Wendy CEO at Rees Care Leavers Foundation. Ideas flowed. Very positive. Next wristbands and the chatter, hugs  and laughter in the queue starts a weekend of friendship, fun and great music for the tribe. The tent next. Simple. A pump up tent. Takes minutes, absolute genius. Set up and off to eat. Then on to the Trades and Labour club in Banbury for Trad Arrr’s festival warm up concert. Now becoming a tradition in itself. Fab gig. The music starts here.

Thursday.   Relaxed and thoughtful morning. Considered blogs and books, the ideas from yesterday about care leavers life stories and records. Forget about the complexities of the Data Protection Act and Local Authority regulations and legalities for a moment , there is a simple truth in all this . My family  and personal history is mine and accessible to me so why is this simple dignity not afforded to those who have been in public care? The struggle to get records, the heavy redactions, the counselling if you are adopted, the gaps, the emptiness of not knowing, is just cruel. There must be a better way. Not everyone can get on Long Lost Family. Maybe that is the Kinder Shores project.

Thursday evening.   4pm .Fairport take the stage and we are off. The chairs and flags are staking out small territories on the field while the rest of us drift around the edges,  the bar and the pit. Police Dog Hogan have a bit of a technical nightmare, the Oysterband sound is too low (shame as they are one of my all time favourite bands)and Brian Wilson despite being a legend is not quite with us. A great evening. Great music from everyone. I get quite over excited by the sight of Kinder Shores on the Cropredy merch stall racks,  in the programme and mentioned on stage. There is a familiarity about it all, same stalls, layout, timings, and I wonder if this is a good or just that we are now the elder tribe who like that comfort. But it is the people and the music who make this festival so maybe this doesn’t matter.

Friday.    Meet school friends Denise and Linda. We are now all rising 70. We talk families, grandchildren(I’m a bit out of that one!), holidays, other friends from the grammar school days and inevitably illness and aging. I always said I would never do this but health is so critical in this phase of life it is unavoidable. We think we are much the same people as we were back in the day. This is may be true.  We review whether we reached the potential we thought we had then and if we took the predicted direction. Decided that the teachers predictions were well…..wrong. Love these meetings. Back to the music. Excellent. Some not my taste but good. Kate Rusby did a beautiful set and Cregan and Co and Le Vent du Nord rocked it. COLD cold evening, needed woolly hat and gloves.

Saturday.    How quickly the last day comes around. Festivals are fleeting joys, a time limited oasis away from our usual lives. We sit in the rain and sun, stand till we ache, cheer, dance, wave paper hankies for Richard Digance’s biggest Morris dance ever, wear strange colourful clothes and hats, paint our faces, make new friends, meet old friends, drink too much or not enough, eat food that should have a health warning, suffer chemical toilets and go home happy but sad it’s over till next year. For the musicians it’s a great festival in the run of summer festivals , just another gig?  Not this one, this is different, this is “family” , this is the Fairport tribe.

Oh well. Same time, same place, next year. See you all somewhere down the road.

meet on the ledge

care leavers, change through music, folk music, leaving home, media, music, social work and child care, social work changes

Kinder Shores and a broken spirit

I have been musing , thinking, reflecting, deliberating and all that about the Kinder Shores project and how the project has gone. It’s a social work skill that we could not survive without and I do it almost unconsciously after all these years. Leave aside the obvious new skills that I needed to learn there have been a number of interesting twists and turns to getting to this point in the project and they have probably left me with more questions than answers particularly about my profession.

Perhaps the most striking and saddest issue is the lack of enthusiasm displayed by my professional colleagues both as individuals and through their organisations. I must not include everyone in this of course. There were a few who supported the concert, bought the CD and have been very encouraging, these have mostly been people who I know personally or who I have worked with in the past. Many of those who have shown interest initially faded into the background or were moved to other jobs or went sick!  The local authority boss showed great enthusiasm but there was no downward communication and when I finally took to my car and drove round all the leaving care teams no one had heard anything about it!

The Public face of social work

The experience of visiting and getting access to these social work offices turned out to be a lot trickier that I imagined. To start with there was the barricaded office with the receptionist behind the grill who was not about to let me see anyone and told me to make an appointment to come back another day after another  40 mile round trip. I don’t think so…… eventually after some insistence or rather bloodymindedness on my part a charming social worker appeared. The office I didn’t visit I sent posters with no response not even an acknowledgement. Then there was a council receptionist in some shared office who was not letting me in until I could tell her who I represented. Clearly my “I am representing myself” line was not at all convincing. But this was, I thought, the best , or do I mean the worst. The team I wanted was upstairs in shared council offices but  I was shown a telephone to one side in the reception area and told to ring a number in another town 40 miles away to access the people upstairs!! Just one receptionist was smiling , helpful and accessed the team who, though under great pressure, treated me with interest and respect. Now if I was a distressed 17 year old, whose social skills are poor and who is attempting to engage with someone to help them they would have been deterred so easily especially as it may have taken a good deal of courage to go into the office at all.  What happened to……. have a seat , do you want a drink and I’ll see if I can find someone to help you??? I left feeling that like the enemy, a danger to the organisation or its staff in some way and I am sure that young people or others seeking help would feel the same. The fact that the receptionist may wear corporate colours or a name badge really does not make up for being genuine in the wish to offer help. I totally get why some prospective clients may choose to “kick off”. Sadly this is a vicious circle and that will result in more bars and grills, and restrictions to access and of course the organisation could not be the ones at fault.

Marketing this client group.

Not easy is the short answer as I am sure many others have discovered over the years. There is little sexy about homeless, difficult, addicted, mentally ill young people who the general public think should be grateful for their rescue from  their abusive childhoods and the chances they have been given. I guess there is also a section of the public who feel that they get given too much and that somehow the whole mess is their fault. To be fair most people do not understand the terminology that we use around the care experience and confuse it with young carers, carers of the elderly  and so on. So it is a real challenge to make  anyone part with hard earned cash especially when they also feel that they are having to pay again for something which should be properly funded from their council tax. I may not have marketed this well this time so next time I think I will raise money for starving animals! An equally deserving cause before anyone gets upset.

The Corporate “Whatever”

All the social workers I finally met after breaking through reception were interested and engaged with the charity proposal no matter how many emails there were demanding their attention elsewhere. I was greatly cheered by this but equally there was a sense from them that they were not going to take it away into the organisation with any enthusiasm because there would be no point. When I tried to engage them with the idea of involving young people through  the In Care Council or by giving them the opportunity to talk to the public or do radio interviews with me there was no response . When I told one member of staff that I could get no response from the In Care Council the reply was “you never can” and a shrug. The response from another social worker to my wondering why the information had not been disseminated down to the teams was another shrug. There was no effort to suggest action about this just a corporate “whatever”. I am saddened by this feeling of depression or suppression of the social work spirit. I am sure the clients they work with must sense this too.

Answers

I have none. I am outside looking in these days. But I know that things have changed for the better in many areas but at the expense of morale, and a broken spirit. Some years ago I can see that the child care and leaving care  teams would have engaged wholeheartedly with this project, even if it was after hours, engaged the young people, and had lots of ideas to share.  But not now.  I do not have an answer to the broken spirit of social work sadly. But those who have engaged with this whole thing without question have been musicians and those working in the theatre industry, so the question I can answer is “Can you change lives through music” and the answer is very definitely  YES.

 

For more information about Kinder Shores  http://www.kindershores.org

CD’s on sale from Amazon or Folk on the PierCD cover image KS