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.