care leavers, childhood, homelessness, leaving home, memory, social work and child care, social work changes, Social work, child care and history of social work, Uncategorized

The rain it falls not so sweetly

I’m laying in bed listening to the rain falling, gentle, steady soothing rain the sort of rain that falls softly into a summers evening and makes the world smell sweet and clean after a warm day. I am returned momentarily to my childhood and the memory of a bedroom at our home in Stanford-le-hope where I am laying listening to just such rain feeling warm, safe and secure. It is a memory that is so sharp and the feelings are so clear that I can see the wallpaper in that room and how the light used to stream through the window and the view onto the garden with its lawn and scalloped beds so neat and tidy. I am always stunned by the strength of memories triggered in adulthood especially now I am experiencing them from such a distance.

I reflect that it is no different for those who have only bad memories to recall and that those will last on throughout life in the same way and probably with the same intensity. Sadly they will also bring with them the reliving of some of the traumas and sadness that visited them at the original event of their life. It is a great sadness for me that in the public care of young people we frequently neglect to acknowledge these memories believing that they will be expunged by the rescue or the provision of material comforts in a good alternative home with those who will show care and affection. The shame and the pain remain underneath a life appearing to be well lived and at least superficially enjoyed.

Imagine for one moment those for whom that back bedroom with the view of the neat garden brings back the horrors of lock doors, a room filled with abuse and pain with the ever present fear of footsteps coming up the stairs praying that they are passing the door to go to the bathroom. Instead of listening for the rain, trying to block out the sound of drunken shouting, of the thud of the punches thrown and a body hitting the wall followed by the creams of pain. Laying lonely, ill, despairing knowing no one will come to sooth and comfort or not knowing where the next bed will be or if indeed there will be anywhere to sleep , no bed , no warmth and the fear that accompanies street life. If anyone reading thinks this is too dramatic or over egging the case for effect I beg you to believe the unbelievable in today’s society. This is not a story of Victorian England. It is today’s reality for so many living in poverty and despair.

I recall visiting a small boy living with carers prior to an adoptive placement who at the age of 4 got out of bed every morning and put on his shoes before doing anything else. Even though he was in a safe and secure place with a delightful bedroom full of toys and books with a warm comfortable bed designed like a car, the pattern of days on the street with his Mum were firmly imprinted. They were homeless for most of his life always moving on. He had never known any sense of security or safety. don’t imagine his mother didn’t love him, I believe firmly that she did, he was not malnourished though chips and Mars bars may not have been the healthiest of diets and she had found the safest place she could every night, getting him a doctor when he was ill and giving him as much love as her desperate self could spare him. I hope someone told him this after his adoption. But these days will be his memories for ever no matter how much better his childhood becomes his shoes will always be at the ready.

As social workers and carers we face with these young people and adults totally impossible and desperate situations and we must recognise that our attempts to rescue and then provide services are only the beginning of the process of repair. We focus on these elements but do not appear to recognise or deal with their past in a way that will mean as adults every abused child can find an accommodation with their history and memories, settle these memories , adapt to their history, revisit the bits which need to be travelled through many times before peace can be found, find justice for their hurt, sometimes find the truth, find parents and siblings, find a place in the world where they fit. To achieve any of this helpers need time, time to build trusting relationships, time to talk , to visit old children’s home or family homes and schools and so on. Life story books are only a start, they are a sanitised version designed to tick another box. Often done by specialist workers for which read yet another new person. We need to be genealogists, explorers, travellers, photographers, and the archaeologists of individuals lives.

But first we need to recognise the signs and work with them. Note the girl who when admitted to a children’s  home didn’t take her coat off for months and don’t just encourage her to take it off but start slowly to enquire about this behaviour. I know of care experienced adults who can only sleep facing the wall, who suffer interminable nightmares that they think will never leave them, have to have lights on at night, wake to every footstep  or sleep with radios on. There are a million different behaviours alerting us to the need to help restore peace in the lives of the care experienced but we must pay attention. Paying attention to the detail in an individuals life will not only pay dividends for them but will also mean that those scarred    childhoods will not result in adult lives that need to call on mental health services and other public services. 

 For some the rain falls softly for many the rain that falls is so scary that it blights adult life and we need to stop worrying about ticking boxes and start to focus on the real issues and provide a meaningful, life enhancing service to our young people and care experienced adults.

 

Getting older, memory, Social work, child care and history of social work, Uncategorized

Sitting still.

How hard can it be to sit still for a morning to have your portrait painted by a group of budding amateur artists? Well actually not too hard but occupying the  mind while remaining still  can be a bit tricky. I began to think about the resultant pictures and how these artists would interpret me,not just the physical ,the outward presence but what would they see of me, of my soul, of who I was.

Perhaps nothing past the hair colour, the wrinkles, laughter lines and grey hairs but I hoped that they would see something else, something that maybe each individual would recognise and connect with, something that only they would see or better still something universal that anyone would see. They all knew very little about me other than a few public facts. I own a dog, who my partner is, a few friends maybe in common, that I am retired, and a few of the class knew that I was once the manager of the children’s home in the village only a few yards from where the class is held. And a guess at my age I suppose.  Of course they can make up a back story from these few facts but it would be a bit thin and say nothing of the real me.

But what would I want them to see or not see . I would want them to see more than the good bits,more than the ready smile and kind word generally offered. I want them to see that those open parts of me are borne from many hard experiences not from an easy path through life because that is where I believe compassion and kindness spring from. If we are genuinely to understand the desires, wishes and needs of the vulnerable and less fortunate in life then we need to have experienced some hardship ourselves. This does not mean that only those who have experienced, for example, homelessness can aid the homeless or that you must have had your own children to be able to work alongside children and families. I have often been told that I don’t understand because I am not a parent . I recalled a young person once asking me if I was running a children’s home because I couldn’t have my own children when asked where she had got that idea from it transpired that this was a commonly held view among the staff. A back story born out of very few facts and a bit of imagination which fitted their own life scripts. They were mostly married women with children.

It is not the exact or similar  event that must be experienced but the transferable feelings and emotions that are important to understanding. If I have felt loss, abandonment, hatred, overwhelming sadness, hopelessness, guilt, pain, anger, misery, then I can feel compassion for those with similar emotions. I can also believe that they are survivable even in the most dark and difficult circumstances. For those of us who can say that we have had good childhood who have experienced warmth, affection, security, friendship and unconditional love and always known our connection to the world we can just begin to understand all of these blessings in their absence if we can stand the pain for a moment. Because probably all of the people I have met during my career have and continue to experience the exact reverse. We can be brave enough to use our imagination and intellect to reverse our own story in order to share their pain. Because it is not our story we can return safely to our reality with renewed understanding. I have always tried to get in touch with the pain of those I worked with and I hope they knew that in some way. I know I can return safely to myself and that is probably why I have survived better than many of my peers and colleagues.

sitting still and thinking 3

But can all this be seen in the lines on my face or in my demeanour while I sit for my portrait painters? We are none of us simple, straight line life stories. We are hugely and endlessly complex. My mind racing through these thoughts has kept my body still but now I am allowed a break and to see the end products. The colours in my hair proved a challenge apparently and I see nothing of my thoughts while sitting in their work except for one that showed a distinct stoicism in my posture and another that made me look rather far away in my thoughts which was indeed exactly where I was.

Sometimes sitting still and letting ones thoughts meander is a really good thing to do. I enjoyed my morning sitting still and I hope the artists did too and invite me back again.

art class 1

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 .

 

 

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

media, Social work, child care and history of social work, Tv drama

Just wanted to say a word about Kiri….if a little late.

 

KIRI
Miriam (Sarah Lancashire)

I didn’t know whether to cheer or cry or both! My response to Miriams’s outburst to the assembled media wolf pack  was a moment of sheer delight. Forget all the stuffy, prissy nonsense in the media about the portrayal of social workers in Channel 4’s mini series Kiri, I at last saw something that represented how I feel about my profession.  How often have I wanted to openly talk with such passion and such humanity about a piece of work, about how I feel for a child for whom  I have responsibility. We cannot do it without risking the heavens falling in on us. Even in business meetings it is rare and frowned upon by others who see it as unprofessional.

If we are going to get nitpicking about our portrayal on the media, especially in drama productions, then it will never happen in a way that will make us seem a mainstream emergency service. Of course it will not be a totally precise picture, the procedures will not be complete or accurate, and there may be an added dramatic edge to some characters because it is a drama, it is entertainment and not a training video for the general public.vintage-sw-image-3

A picture of us all sat at computers, filling in forms and attending meetings and panels would be like watching paint dry the only excitement being complaining about cold coffee or the irritation of road works when we are characteristically late for a meeting. So we have to stop posting about procedural inaccuracy, dogs in offices and social workers drinking  and embrace the essence of our work that the public are more likely to engage with when more dramas are commissioned. I would give the very wonderful Sarah Lancashire a contract for a soap  around the same character.

I imagine that the police, doctors, nurses, lawyers and many others feel misrepresented from time to time and no doubt the backlash is that the public want them to behave as in the latest TV show. However they have the public ear and eye, who will have a much clearer view of what it is that they do and how they do it perhaps, more importantly, they may also get some understanding of why they do it.  Themes about complex issues around right and wrong, of difficult social issues, and the daily impossible decisions faced are all possible to explore through dramas. This becomes easier than documentaries where the personal and private issues of identifiable individuals may not be acceptable to explore so widely.  As a profession we have to sit back, embrace the possibilities and accept the flaws.

I believe the payoff will be huge. And incidentally I know social workers who have the odd drink, who take dogs to work and who have difficult and complex lives themselves. There is more that unites us with our clients than divides us however high we may wish to put our professional pedestals. I thought this was well portrayed when Miriam gets the only real comfort in her impossible situation from her ex clients. There is no warmth from her colleagues or her line manager who despite themselves settle for toeing the company line and offering her nothing by way of help, support or even a kind word. I have had great support from those I have worked with in many situations, they understand difficulty, trauma, pain, anger and all those emotions we share with them from time to time in our lives. We would all do well to remember  that in other circumstances we could be in their position in life. While the focus of any work is their situation not ours, all the pain and emotion to work with is theirs not ours there remains a place outside the therapeutic relationship for simple humanity, acts of kindness and solidarity without any negative impact on the “work”.

If Kiri did anything as a drama then it reminded me of why I became and stayed  a social worker and I hope it showed that to the watching public. Well done Channel 4 and Jack Thorne.

PS I don’t drink at work but I have taken my dog to work.

 

jo cox

 

 

 

christmas, Social work, child care and history of social work, winter festivals

When the world takes time to breathe: reflections on Christmas.

Nearby  a father and husband is dying, the nurses and family are coming more regularly as the days pass. My first love posts messages between bouts of chemo and my life’s love died of self neglect and depression in an age of outcome driven social welfare unable to be reached by anyone. I  switch on the TV for light relief and it reminds me of donkeys dying of thirst carrying their heavy loads of bricks, an albatross feeding its young with plastic from our seas, of orphans living on the streets,  a toddler in a cardboard box on a main street seemingly invisible to passing shoppers, refugees with nothing and no home, the homeless and friendless. A friend posts on social media that for no apparent reason she is overwhelmed by a great sadness. I understand this. It’s Christmas.

christmas image 3

I am driving home on Christmas Eve from Christmas celebrations , the cloak of darkness is pierced  by homes and houses covered in light, trees flicker at me in the night and inside I picture the families relieved after hours of shopping but with that twinge of anxiety that something which will make the day tomorrow perfect has been forgotten. The cranberry sauce, or the rum butter or more likely the indigestion pills for tomorrow tables and stomachs  will be groaning with food. This is the season of gluttony, of overindulgence, of celebration?? Celebration is often about feasting. I guess this harks back to a time when food was basic and for many in very short supply and for most just enough to keep body and soul together. Now it is not a rare and happy occasion to sample good, special or extra food but a time for eating and drinking ourselves into a stupor and of giving the supermarkets licence to tempt us to evermore extreme delights each year. Our overindulgence extends to present buying, to the yearly increase in the number of strings of lights attached to our homes, to the party bags and the number of gin varieties in fact to every aspect of what we could consider to be our already very well provisioned lives. So what exactly are we so heartily celebrating?

The possible options are numerous, the birth of a Saviour is one. Certainly churches  see an increased attendance at Christmas and that can only be a good thing  giving people a moments quiet and respite from the stress of world at Christmas. A festival of winter is another and certainly we need something to brighten the dark days of the year as we make the slow progress towards spring and the renewal of life. There is much talk of a time for families, of valuing the things that are important to us and of remembering those who we miss or are living away from their families.  There are flaws in all of these , if you do not share the beliefs of the Christian church, are not in tune with the changing seasons and the natural world, have no family or are separated from them, are alone, old or ill then all these reason to celebrate become difficult to accept. Remembering the losses may become very real and only add to the sadness of the daily unhappiness. So what exactly are we celebrating?

Perhaps we are all using our overindulgence to celebrate or remember something special and unique to each of us and the trick is to work out what and how best to use this time of celebration. To do this we need, it seems to me, to rid ourselves of the prescriptive demands of materialism and to develop our own rituals and special moments throughout our winter festival. For me it’s great value is that it is a quiet time, a time when the world stops for a day or so and breathes, of calm and reflection. There is no other moment quite like it, driving home from a family dinner or a Christmas concert in the dark with no one else about, to quote the carol,” All is calm, all is bright.” In the brightness of that reflection I can only conclude that the message of these festivities for me is in the sharpness of the contrasts. That while I am grateful for my good fortune and can celebrate that in whatever way I choose it is also the time to recommit to ensuring that the world is a better place for all those who are sad, lonely or suffering. It matters not that this commitment come from questioning the overindulgent and wasteful materialism of Christmas.  Dying, loss, loneliness and sorrow are in fact just the same whatever time of year the experiences visit us. It is sentiment that makes it seems worse. Or dare I suggest that these untoward events somehow blight the perfection we are led to believe is so important at this time of the year. It only matters that the desire to help lasts all year round. It only matters that we offer ourselves as agents of change , of help, company and solace at Christmas as at any other time. Just  think what could be achieved if we all had a little less and used the money for charitable purposes throughout the year. Or all visited a lonely person on Christmas day or simply stopped to say Happy Christmas and chat to the homeless man who is sitting in the same spot as every other day of his life.  It would be amazing.

christmas image 2

I do hope that you all have had a very Happy Christmas and wish all my readers the very best for 2018.

 

 

 

Homes, Social work, child care and history of social work

Home Sweet Home?

I have had many homes and many lovers as I said in my last blog, but it is the homes and not the lovers that are the subject of this blog! Maybe the rest will come  later though perhaps not wise in the current climate. Several things that have happened recently have left me reflecting on the nature of “home”, a friend moving after twenty or so years from the house that had been her son’s childhood home, a visit to my “home” or do I mean “house” in Cornwall, a new chapter for a book about the meaning of home in relation to a children’s home, the movement of people across continents looking for a new  safe home, the rise in homelessness and the crisis in the availability of homes.

“Home is where you hang your hat”         home is where you hang your hat

I don’t think so! I have put my hat on many a coatpeg overnight but in no way did it constitute home. That may be a sentimental quotation designed to make anyone who is somewhat transient in their lifestyle feel more settled and easier about their lack of a more permanent base. Indeed all dictionaries  exclude temporary accommodation or residence from their definition of a home. This includes hospitals, prisons, care establishments and other institutions. This in itself is interesting as certainly care, nursing, convalescent and children’s homes have traditionally used the designation home. In the example of children’s homes this suggests that they cannot be that possibly amazing place we can know as home. This maybe supports the recent trend to transfer most public care for children to family based care.Both my research and experience would refute the idea that a children’s home cannot provide “a home “albeit temporary. There is a fundamental problem though with research which is based on individual experience and unable to be verified by any measurable statistical or quantitative evidence. What are we measuring? Does home mean the same to each person? Do we mean our childhood home, a geographic location, where our family live, does this change with phases in our lives, does it rely on the presence of certain people or possessions in that dwelling place, can one have more than one place that we consider as home? How we use the word may be relevant, do we mean somewhere that is homely  or feels like a home even though it is not our main residence. It is certain though that our first experience of a place called home was as a child.

 

“Home is where one starts from” (T.S.Eliot)

childhood home

Perhaps this is why it is, for better or worse, so fundamentally important to us all . Our home defines who we are  throughout the various phases in our life, it is part of our self-definition and the public face that we choose at any point in time. This need to provide an outward facing expression of our life probably accounts for the need in some for houses so much larger than required or the placing of Georgian styled porticos and reclining lions at the front of ex local authority housing after the right to buy sell off. So if indeed it is the root of ourselves what makes it so critical to each individuals life. Home can be anything from a cardboard box to a million pound mansion but it is so much more than an estate agents description of the building. It is where we find sanctuary, peace , comfort, safety and where the relationships that are the most important to us are centred. It is where we learn about the domestic detail  and patterns of living that will form the basis of our whole future life. In some ways home is a feeling rather than a description of a place which is why it is so difficult to quantify the elements that make it or to find set of general principles that would define it. Each of us has a sense of what makes our safe place, each of us can describe how it feels though increasingly it seems we choose descriptors that are to do with the style and materialistic content. However it seems so many images we might choose to illustrate home hark back to a less materialistic time and focus on family and friends gathered by the fireside in a picture of probably unrealistic nostalgia.

“Curses like chickens come home to roost” Old proverb

chickens on perch

My memories of my childhood home can be easily brought to mind by the smell of Sunday lunch cooking  as it takes me back to opening the back door after Sunday School to the warmth of a kitchen rich with roasting meat. While my memories of home are happy, warm , fun, and secure  it is not true of so many. Children and young people for whom home represents fear, hunger, pain, uncertainty, anxiety or sadness can be taken back to those times equally quickly by a wide range of triggers. For those of us who have chosen to live alongside young people in care and to make a home base for them know how sudden these changes can be and how sometimes they can be seemingly inexplicable. An excellent songwriter and folk singer from Suffolk Eric Sedge captures this perfectly in a song called “She’s the One”  when he talks of the “undertow from long ago” sweeping him off his feet when trying to reach a child who is drowning ” chained by the father’s sins”. We have to work from a very secure place ourselves to be able to work with these changes but I think we have to be prepared to recognise that whatever the horrors of that childhood place were it remains home to that child. Too often I have heard workers talk in disparaging terms about a child’s home, even tell the child that is was to awful a place to be a home.  Just about every young person I have lived alongside has wanted to go back there and many do just that when they leave care. It may be a fantasy that it will be OK or that it wasn’t as bad as they have been told, it may be that they want to make it OK somehow. Whatever the reason right there are relationships with the most important people in their lives, right there was the beginning , the defining moments of their lives. It matters not what curses there were and or even when their return is treated like a curse they have to return , to try, to see, to learn, because it is their home and theirs alone.

Make yourself at home….make yourself a home….

home sweet home 3

As adults we can develop new contexts for our home with our own children, partners, friends, lovers, and so on.  But  as adults carers we have to develop a regime that will hold those young people for whom this coveted place home has terrors and at the same time teach them new ways of living  in a place that may offer security, safety, warmth, and good memories. In this way they may be able to move forward to build homes in adulthood that do not repeat the patterns learned in early life but where they are able to hold that first experience safely.  May be I have not answered my own question about what makes a home, but Debbie when I asked her about what made 11a Corve Lane Children’s home feel like home said “It was where I could curl up on the settee and watch TV”. Maybe there is an element of freedom and choice in the definition of home too. A place where we can be ourselves.  It is an ever-changing idea, not constant but changing with time , memories, age and the people who come and go in our lives. A complex concept so much more than concrete and brick that underpins so much of who and what we are.

 

.

“She’s the One” Words and Music Eric Sedge on Plenty More Fish in the Sea Broadside Boys 2016.

 

Getting older, Social work, child care and history of social work

Slips, trips and falls.

It is not all about social work! This was not my first thought as I lay on the bathroom floor in pain surrounded by a variety of debris that I had knocked to the floor on my way down. My first thought was **** that hurts, followed swiftly by the notion that this was the beginning of something I did not want to face or think about. The first step being  waiting in A and E at the Norfolk and Norwich hospital with a suspected broken hip just another elderly person who had slipped and fallen at home. Indeed I had slipped and fallen while taking the nail varnish off my toes with my foot on the bath edge and on reflection it could actually have happened whether I was 40 or 60 plus.  Having decided that no matter how much it hurt I couldn’t stay there on the floor I hauled myself to my feet and made my way to lay on the bed through increasingly blue air.A few minutes later after taking stock and I  decided that while it hurt I had not broken my hip nor anything else. Relief.

General friendly advice seemed sure that “at my age” it would be sensible to get it checked out and so I found myself sitting in the relative peace and quiet of Cromer Minor Injuries unit. Accompanied in the waiting area by two more “fallers” of an age to need bumps and bruises  checked out and a young man with a sports injury, I began to wonder how I had slipped,if you’ll excuse the pun, seamlessly from the category of having had an accident to the slipped and fallen descriptor. Age. It’s an ageism. The script goes something like this.

“Take a seat “       “I’d rather stand it hurts to sit.”   “Oh bless you. A fall?”                              All delivered by a gentle lowered voice and a kind, benign smile reserved for babies, small children and the elderly.

To the sports injury.    “Now what have you been up to.” Big broad grin and a louder and altogether jollier tone of voice.   “We will get you sorted out and back on that football field soon.

Now I could kindly believe that this was a health worker consciously adjusting her responses to each individual who presents at her desk but I rather sense that there is something far less conscious at work.

” Take a seat in the waiting area please”

So I finally lower myself to a chair and look around at my other “fallers” and wonder what back stories we all have and how sadly we have now arrived at this waiting room with the resultant injuries of our trips, slips and falls. We are , of course ,taking this all stoically and with the required smiles and pleasantries to each other. We are not too bad, bit bruised and I understand why the elderly put up this front of being OK and not making a fuss. If we gave in to making a fuss and acknowledged everything that ached , creaked and didn’t work quite right we would be talking about it all day and never talk or think about anything else! So stoicism along with the aches , pains and now bruises becomes the order of the day. That way we can find space in our lives for  other things, funerals, outings, voluntary work, families, dogs,knitting and so on.  Already my conversations with my friends usually starts with who is dead, dying, ill or having their new hip before we get to the interesting stuff. We  are not quite old enough for the first category to be the predominate discussion but definitely old enough for the replacements updates.Perhaps its just a different kind of gossip but  I think I preferred the gossip that centered around whose doing what to whose partner that shouldn’t be, sexual goings on were much more exciting.

The gentleman with the painful shoulders’ wife gently asks him every few minutes if he is OK. Maybe they have been together since being teenage lovers, brought up their children, built a life between them and now enjoy grandchildren and the garden that they have kept beautifully for the past 50 years. They bought their house when the children were small and have lovingly cared for it all these years but maybe it is becoming too much and they have to face the inevitability of leaving all those memories and the garden and downsizing. That’s another word that comes into the aging vocabulary to avoid using shrinking, shrinkage or shrunk. Shrinkage of everything just about, the reduction of life and self in so many ways is the reality but we are downsizing when we leave our beloved family homes. Downsizing our lives is the truth.

I have had many lovers and many houses, made my home where ever I have landed at any one time, can they see this in me as I sit alone with my bruises. I have had a career that spans the 50 years of that garden’s life and has been as carefully nurtured and hopefully has given as much to the people who shared it with me. Can they see that too? Maybe the other faller a lady somewhat older than me but also alone with her bruise can see that in me. She has hurt her elbow. Slipped and fell on her front path she tells me. Her children told her that she should get it checked “at her age”. I guess her husband is dead and her home is a small immaculate cottage in a town that has been her life since childhood, married at the church she now attends every Sunday and where she helps with the flowers. Her elbow may curtail that for a while.

None of these people have been wanderers or travellers except for holidays but maybe the lad with the sports injury will make a football career and have a life full of adventures, excitement and many lovers too. It will be some long time before he succumbs to the language of the slippery slope into second childhood and sits with his thoughts, his memories and his bruises in minor injuries as part of the “has been cavalry”.

“Mrs Randall? This way please.”

“How did you fall?”

“Varnishing your toe nails?! Really at your age you must be more careful.”

 

Dylan Thomas

.