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.

 

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“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

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Social work, child care and history of social work

What am I looking for?

It was Cromer Carnival recently and I went to watch the parade. The town was packed, people waiting  along the route looking towards the direction of the approaching procession and excitement could be felt in the air. Kids, some in fancy dress waved long  tails of  multicoloured fur on sticks and ate chips while they secured their place at the front of the pavement. Local people waited hoping to see their friends and relatives go by and holiday makers happy to have an evening’s entertainment for all the family. I was taken back to a holiday for young people that I had arranged many years ago , under the Intermediate Treatment funding,  to a youth camp site  near Cromer and our visit to the town to see the carnival.

The history footnote here is that in the very early days of Intermediate Treatment, the fore runner of Youth Justice, we used the funding rather non specifically for holidays for young people who we considered to be unlikely to have time away from the issues they were facing at home and to give them new and exciting experiences which maybe  be more attractive to them than criminal activity. This was usually done as part of a weekly activity programme and as a general preventative support strategy.

So we are waiting near the cinema and the group are pushing out into the street to look in the direction of the  expected parade and then one  young chap of about 12 or 13 looked at me and said” Miss what am I looking for?”

This memory prompted me to think about the nature of deprivation. The deprivation that is not obvious, not as visible as the scruffy and dirty clothes being worn to school or the sadly increasing queues at food banks, the kind of deprivation that cannot be measured by statisticians and inspectors. Indeed the kind of deprivation that social workers have long since ceased to address as part of their work due to lack of time, funding and the inability of anyone to be able to successfully measure the outcomes of their efforts. Fortunately there are some projects often run by charities, community groups and churches that fill this gap to some extent. This is the deprivation of social, cultural and life experiences, the opportunity to extend the boundaries of daily existence to learn new skills and ideas and to acquire through these experiences a sense of self and direction in life.

Of course education provides some of these opportunities but less so in the current educational climate geared to measurable success ie exams. It has always struggled to provide these experiences for the children of poorer families. They have not had the resources to pay for trips ,provide packed lunches or appropriate clothing and resources for their children to take part. Parents who themselves have had limited life experiences will make choices about opportunities for their children based on their own perspective of what would be worth the money. So if they have never been to the theatre for example they are likely to feel that their limited finances would not be best spent on that trip even when it is offered. I have never been a fan of the expression ” the cycle of deprivation” but it could be used to describe the passing on of a very limited life view from one generation to the next. It is , of course, creating a culture of its own and there is a view that no one should be trying to find ways to change that and to do so denies those families choice. I struggle with that knowing that there is so much wonder ,excitement and joy to be found in the world and hold to the opinion that everyone should have the chance to find their own way into sharing new experiences and  cultures. Not understanding the concept of a carnival or that milk comes from a cow in a field( same young man) is a level of poverty of life I find unacceptable. Today in the age of amazingly easy access to information and knowledge these examples are probably outdated and would not apply but the principle remains.opportunity 1

Is it any different for children in public care, many of whom will come from backgrounds with very little opportunity of any kind? Targets are certainly set for educational achievement and have made us more attentive to ensuring good school attendance and outcomes even though for some this is a struggle with all the other competing issues in their lives. But how would we measure the giving of life experience and its outcome which for some may be more important and critical to how they live their adult life, the job they choose and their sense of self belief than their O level tally. Perhaps it is why it is not a priority. Recording of a child’s care experience is now so sanitized that records are unlikely to contain more than a passing reference or request for funding. So it is difficult to measure retrospectively and for young people looking at their records to pick up threads of childhood experience extremely complicated. Those in good foster homes probably fare better as the family will have interests, hobbies, holidays etc that they will share. But I have known children in foster care who have not always been included or have been given the choice to reject activities and often that rejection is based on a fear of something new. For those in residential care their experience will be limited only by the imagination and previous experiences of the care staff and is therefore something of a lottery.

Digging into the dim and distant past of my career there was a time when social workers would put together ideas for trips, activities, experiences, theatre ,music, some free( I could always talk some freebies out of someone) holidays etc. I have tried all sorts of things from taking children on a trip to London who had not been on a mainline train never mind the tube even though they live only 20 miles away from the city,  to a UB40 concert at Wembley , climbed mountains, canoed, camped, cooked outdoors, theatre trips, stately homes, amusement parks and yes carnivals and everything in between. Funded largely by the Local Authority who to their credit thought that it was a good use of their finances, or from free offers and sometimes from local businesses who would want to support children in the community without  using it as a publicity stunt and guess what social workers gave their time for free or were able to take some time in lieu with their employers blessing. These may have been golden days but I now meet adults who have those memories, for whom the events opened doors that they have since used to further their careers, education or a life long interest and many who have shared something they did then with their own children.  It seems to me that even in these days of austerity and stricter health and safety requirements the lack of funds and the need for a risk assessment should not prevent us from giving such a gift to our young people.

PS We might even have some fun together!! xgreat experiences are better