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

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

 

 

 

care leavers, folk music, leaving home, social work and child care

Kinder Shores and the power of music

Can music change things? I hope so or else I am definitely heading down the wrong path at the moment. Kinder Shores is a CD and a concert to raise money for a project to provide specialist counselling for young parents who have been in care during their childhood. To find out all about it go to http://www.kindershores.org.

There were two inspirations for this project. The first my years in social work and my continuing contact with those who were in care as children and young people. I am privileged to still know them. I know that they may leave care but it never leaves them. The issues that come with being separated from parents as a child  continue on into adult life colouring a whole range of life experiences particularly those to do with relationships and parenting. I have long-held that if while in care more therapeutic help was available this would be partially resolved but I know too that sometimes we have to work on issues when we are ready. For some young people who, in their adult years, may want the help it is sparse in availability and certainly not specialist enough to deal with the specific issues about being parented outside your birth family. So this project is greatly needed in my opinion.

Having left care more than 30 years ago, and on the surface, a successful adult life, it was only when I became a father in my 50’s that I realised I still needed to talk about my childhood. I was lucky to have the ongoing support of my social worker who helped me through some of my issues. It amazes me that there isn’t counselling available to all care leavers. Not only to deal with issues that took us to care but often for the inhumane way we feel treated whilst in care, especially feelings of abandonment when we do leave, often without the skills to cope alone whilst so young.

These are the words of David Akinsanya brought up in care he is a journalist and campaigner now and they encapsulate perfectly the need for this counselling service.

The second inspiration came through my love of music. Much of the music in the folk and folk rock world is driven by exploration of injustices, by the world of the ordinary working man, of politics, of  opening up emotion and feeling, and the need to change the world for the better . Often the  songwriters observation of the world and people around them is unerringly accurate and it can connect us with  feelings we have hidden, ignored, or that simply relate to our experiences in life. More importantly they can sometimes connect us to other people’s feelings and life experience bringing awareness and understanding. And so there was a song that provided the final push to get this project underway, when I heard this song I knew exactly what it was about. It speaks of so many of the young people I have met, of their pain, their anger with the world that has treated them so poorly. It tells too,of the complex nature of the “rescue” of any adult attempts to make their world safe and secure and  of the nature of therapeutic endeavour in whatever arena. She’s the One written by Suffolk singer/songwriter Eric Sedge became both the inspiration and gave me the title for the CD, the concert and the project. Kinder Shores is exactly what I want to help to achieve for these young people, to find peace and tranquillity in their lives for them as individual adults and for their loved ones and children.  The words speak for themselves , here are the lyrics reproduced with Eric’s permission.

She’s The One

She’s the one with bad behaviour,

She’s the one who wants to fight,

She’s the one with the reputation,

She’s the one who bites.

She’s the one with all the bruises,

Tears in her eyes,

She’s the one who talks the loudest,

Covers up with lies.

Hush now Babe, I know you’re Frightened,

Hush now Babe I know you’re Scared,

Don’t you know your Daddy Loves You,

Don’t you know we all care,

 So breathe in and out again

 I saw you drowning off the headland with the waves coming in,

Shackled to your history, chained by your father’s sins,

So I raced into the shallows, to set you free,

But the undertow from long ago knocked me off my feet.

And the waters near engulfed me, but life has made me strong,

So I pulled you from the wreckage of a life gone wrong,

And we built you the finest clipper, now we’ll be your faithful crew,

So set a course to kinder shores may your path be true

Hush now Babe, I know you’re Frightened

Hush now Babe I know you’re Scared 

Don’t you know your mummy Loves You

Don’t you know we all care 

                                                         So breathe in and out again                                                          Eric Sedge

 

So can music change things? Yes it can. It can change how individuals feel, it can provide comfort in difficult times, it can offer explanations, it can make us dance and sing, give us joy, share our happiness, it can inform, explore and inspire. This CD has a narrative to the tracks that explores the issues that face these young people gthe world often without the skills and support to cope  but it also has songs that speak about the possibility that in overcoming the difficulties there will be a better future out there. This music informs and inspires hope. If we all come together and share this music it can change things for these young people and their futures.

For more information

http://www.kindershores.org      http://www.reesfoundation.org    http://www.ericsedgemusic.com

john lennon 2