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

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