If music be……..

joy of dance imageA question that has always bothered me but that I have not really crystallised until recent years is the one that asks is social work an art or a science. I recently reread, not every word I admit, Hugh England’s book “Social Work as Art” (1987 pub. Allen and Unwin) and whilst it had, as far as I can remember , little impact at the time I found it a helpful critique of why I and many others struggle with this dilemma. It quotes many academics and eminent thinkers in the profession in their recognition of the issue but they offer little solution. It then returns at the end of the book to some practice models which look very like something I learned on both my social work and counselling courses as process recording. What it does is explore more closely the feelings, body language, expressions, physical condition, and every aspect of the individuals appearance and behaviour as well as what they say and puts that alongside the feelings etc of the worker to construct a whole picture of any therapeutic intervention. As a learning tool it was invaluable to me particularly in understanding myself and my part in that intervention. But it has an “intellectual softness” to quote Hugh England that is unable to be quantified as evidence in reports which go to make decisions in the lives of our clients. It is not able to be offer scientifically based proof that courts for example require and therefore for purposes other than expanding our own understanding of both self and client or for helping to form a working relationship it is dismissed. Social work today wants evidence. Inspectors want measurable evidence of us being busy. We are pushed constantly towards the production of evidence , of fact, of research findings. It wants the intellectual hardness of social science. 

As social workers we need to deal with every aspect of the person, the whole range of human emotion and interaction because these are the things that connect us , that make us human , that makes us whole. Not only do we need to understand all this in ourselves and others but we need to be able to use that understanding to help, to advise, to protect and to repair.  Simply we cannot experience all these things ourselves so how do we get nearer an understanding , a connection with the emotional world of others, an analysis of our intuitive self. Is this where the arts in all  forms come in? Music, art, literature, poetry, dramas, performance all have the power to help us understand, to help us feel, to explore hidden and difficult issues and feelings in a way that science cannot. Poetry for example can distill emotion and put it back to us in a way that descriptive cold academic or evidential style prose never could. Music can move us to tears, reawaken emotion we have long since buried or dispel the pressure of a long hard day. I am thinking here of the times I have driven home with very loud music playing. Art can equally move the viewer to emotional response, drawing them into the image, touching our core. To watch an actor get under the skin of a character can let us into a world we may never experience for ourselves. All of these have inspirational purpose and indeed are now frequently recognised as having a therapeutic value. As social workers we should recognise, experience and use the arts as tools of our trade.


In 2018 I started a very small organisation that aims to raise awareness in the reality of a life in public care and its impact throughout life . The inspiration for this was listening to a song by Eric Sedge a Suffolk singer/ songwriter and immediately connecting with the song. As a long time residential worker and someone who worked in the therapeutic tradition I was there with his struggle to make sense of the path forward for the unhappy child he had adopted. This is part of the words, the poetry of the struggle, of the intent.

I saw you drowning off the headland with the waves coming in, shackled to your history, chained by your father’s sins, So I raced into the shallows, to set you free, But the undertow from long ago knocked me off my feet.

And the waters near engulfed me, but life has made me strong, So I pulled you from the wreckage of a life gone wrong. And we built you the finest clipper, now we’ll be your faithful crew, So set a course for kinder shores and may your path be true.

Eric Sedge. She’s the One. Copyright Eric Sedge 2017. http://www.ericsedgemusic.com


I chose to use the arts as it seemed to me that this could connect people who have no experience of that world with a more intimate understanding than ever statistics and reports could give. It could dispel many of the misconceptions and yes, untruths , about the young people who live away from their birth families in a way that nothing else could. Maybe even improve things in a small way by shifting public opinion.  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said” It is within the power of writers and artist to do much more: to defeat the lie”. There are so many misconceptions about life without your own family that block the way to providing a service that really meets the needs of these unfortunate people.  Many care experienced have used the power of words, of art and frequently of poetry to explore their own story and to share it with others and these first hand witness accounts have great power and offer insights that no one else can give. I have also heard the unconvinced deny these having validity as simply just that person’s view of their world and that therefore it is somehow invalid. And that as they have been in care there must be something about them that would make them a bad witness. Hence the need to dispel the lie. I hope that if someone who is not a care survivor was able to offer insight into this hidden world of childhood that it would be more accessible. When Steve Banks, writer and actor, wrote Kinder Shores the play in 2019 he was able as an outsider to the world of public care to bring the essence of the issues to the public in the most accessible way. It was so accurate, so poignant, that when I first read the script I cried. I then cried at rehearsal and at performance as the young actors were able to give life to the raw emotion. It touched the audience’s heart and consciousness.

So I am unashamedly  using art events to pull at heart strings, to share difficult emotions, pain and inspiration to change public perception, to make anyone who will listen feel the emotion of a damaged and chaotic childhood, not to preach or deliver blame, not to politicise or even to challenge the authorities but to make the feelings real so that they may then be translated into thoughts that will turn into actions.

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words”        Robert Frost


If evidence is needed to back these actions then yes, facts and statistics can be employed but first let us get to the heart us the matter and begin where the client is at with their emotions, feelings, wishes and dreams, fears and pain, despair and hopes and work from there using our social science skills to analyse, plan and negotiate ways forward to a better life. But without that softness of intellect we will quickly lose our way.

carnival 1


Kinder Shores Arts formed in 2018 first produced a CD called Kinder Shores with songs that explore aspects of living away from home. It is still available on Amazon or via Folk on the Pier website. Then in 2019  Kinder Shores -the play written and directed by Steve Banks was produced at the Sheringham Little Theatre to great acclaim. 2020 was to see two art exhibitions by the incomparable  and hugely talented Paul Yusuf together with poetry readings and music in Norwich and Diss but was postponed due to Covid. These were to take place in 2021 but tragically Yusuf passed away recently from the virus. So plans are on hold as is another performance of the play planned for Great Yarmouth.  http://www.kindershores.org.



Thoughts from the storage boxes

The lockdown has not been a very productive writing time for me. A shame, as suddenly there was time on hand but between cottage renovation and moving my mind was otherwise occupied. However two things this week have left me “reviewing the situation ” to quote Fagin ( I loved that character). The first was a visit to Gressenhall Workhouse museum here in Norfolk to discuss a piece of work about the children boarded out from the workhouse. Who knew the origins of fostering were in the workhouse system, not me. I suppose I could have worked it out as our welfare structures today owe much to the Poor Law. It is  a piece of work I hope also to share with the social work archive that BASW (British Association of Social Workers )are doing for their 50th anniversary. The second was clearing out boxes of reports from my outhouse the majority of which were about improving the residential care of children and young people.

Clearing of course requires some reading too before dispatch and I was struck by the depth and wealth of research, advice, guidance, and working tools that were produced during the period between the 1970 and 1990’s. It covers every aspect of residential care, from management and staff support, daily routines, administration, admission policy, recruitment, children’s rights, discipline and control measures and all the aspects of direct work and daily care. Produced by some of the most eminent thinkers, writers, academics and practitioners of the period it should have meant that residential care was, to use a currently overused expression, world beating. A huge success in terms of its outcomes at every level for the young people, for the staff , the purses of the political masters and society. And yet we closed and cut and closed again. Counties like Warwickshire closing all residential facilities. The prevailing political dogma was that fostering and possibly adoption were the best option and significantly easier on the purse strings. Both are easy seductive arguments, saving money a no brainer and of course children will do better in a family environment. Indeed the Parish Officers responsible for orphaned and destitute children back as far as the mid 1700’s knew this to be the case and looked for local Christian families to take the younger workhouse parentless children. The Poor Law Commissioners and Guardians gave us the first Boarding Out regulations. And yet we largely rejected the residential group living option…why?

Of course there are many complex reasons but most of the work done during this period does not tackle the underlying belief systems brought forward from the earlier periods in history and still prevalent in our thinking and our welfare structures. They should have examined the history more closely and it would I think be helpful to teach welfare ,social and industrial history in some depth to social work students today. The historical context is one of the philanthropy of the upper class towards the unfortunate poor, ill and vulnerable at best, and of the punishment of the indolent, criminal, feckless, classes by the wealthy and the Churches at worst. This is still underpinning much of our thinking today.  So if residential  care of the largely working class children who cannot be cared for by their own families ,for all  the reasons we commonly understand and certainly not of their own making or choosing, is expensive to do well then why would this be the favoured option.

Sir William Utting in a report titled People Like Us in 1997  said ,”Everything that goes on in organisations with that objective….(the primary objective of promoting the welfare of the child)….should be put to the test of whether it serves the interests of children. If it does not….it is likely to harm their interests either directly or indirectly. The capacity to apply such a test depends on the organisations understanding of what constitutes welfare.” And so concepts of welfare are coloured by our individual belief systems, experience, societal norms, political thinking and dogma etc. Perhaps both understanding the roots of these and being open to self challenge and possibilities of  variation in that understanding might help us all to avoid the pitfalls of an historically driven belief system.

To be positive. Let us imagine for one moment that as one report suggests we view residential care/ group living as a distinct specialism within the social work profession. Could we then train those choosing that route differently? Offer placements in a range of institutional settings so that staff have a working  and theoretic knowledge of how institutions function. Institutions are extraordinary places and whatever their primary function there are similarities in how they exist. They have a life which does not easily transpose from our usual family based experience. In my early career many of us trained in group work and this would be a necessary part of the training of residential carers. One of the things that in my experience is so hard about group care is how the individual worker can experience their working relationships both with staff and young people, this is very different from that experienced in field work. Sorry that’s an old expression! I am not designing a course here but you understand the drift of the argument for a specialism.

It would have a knock on to recruitment , salaries, conditions of service of course. In another of the reports from the boxes it was suggested that workers in the residential specialism should undergo assessment in line with that of prospective foster carers . The suggestion was made in the basis that they too have 24 hour care of vulnerable young people and though more checks are made today than many years ago they may not be stringent enough particularly in the areas of personality, beliefs, internal strengths and weaknesses, the potential effects of individual life experiences etc. Our standardised interviewing techniques certainly do not allow exploration of many of these issues. I have long since held that residential workers should have a high level of education and academic ability as well as all the other attributes one would associate with a caring role. Salaries would of course have to reflect both these levels of achievement and training as well as the complexity of the work. They are living and working alongside some of the most damaged and vulnerable young people in our care.

I cannot redesign the whole system in detail in a blog so forgive me if the arguments are somewhat brief and therefore thin. I am floating an ideal and some ideas from the boxes, none of which ever really saw the light of day in the last century. A very respected manager of mine and latterly a Director of Social Services once told me that residential care was very scary to manage. Maybe as decisions are made by politicians who don’t understand or want to spend money on these difficult to like or love working class young people and managers who find it all scary these ideas will never see the light of day in this century but I can hope.


lockdown, Reflection, silence, Uncategorized, what we have lost

A silence in town tonight

There’s a silence I have never heard. Out here in the evening town I feel as if I am breaking some ill defined curfew, I expect to be taken off the street by armed men, I feel guilty. It’s just the dogs last walk and I have no garden will be my defence. There is no curfew yet we are hidden in our homes to deny an unseen viral enemy the pleasure of using us as a host for its evil intentions. I am walking through town and though my footsteps are gentle soled and softly trodden they echo between the closed shops.

Sorry closed until its safe to open again……..Closed on government advice……..Closed due to the virus…..Closed even to our most valued customers…….Closed…..closed…closed.

They all have their version of sorry we are closed some friendly and cheerful, others offered with great sadness and some just formal and direct but strangely they still,have their evening lights on inviting me to view goods I cannot buy, tempting and taunting me. Past the Church now the tower illuminated to light the way to roost for the peregrines and pigeons but no worship. It feels solid , stoic and as if it knows that this will pass as have other crisis and disasters in its long history. It has a catatonic feel, still and unmoved as if to say if I don’t move then I know everything will be OK. The faithful will be back.

The pier stretches before me into a silky black sea, calm tonight with no wind. Its outline etched into the sea by lights which draw me towards a walk seaward to the theatre. I would, oh yes I would but it is barred, barricaded against me, against invaders or intruders on its calm. The theatre lies sleeping in the silence, dreaming of glory days to come again with just ghosts to fill the seats for now. Back towards home then and the pub has lights on at the bar. A lock in or a secret drinking club where a password or coded knock is needed to gain entry? I peer, sort of hopefully, through the windows and can see no one but I imagine I can hear faint laughter, football on the TV, glasses clinking as the boy collects them and a fight starting out back. Well it is Saturday night.

In this silence there are new and unfamiliar sounds accompanying my walk. In the flats and houses interspersed between the shops I can hear conversations, even a row or perhaps a heated debate, music, the TV, a dog barking. Mine barks back so loud it is as if he has brought with him his own small megaphone. It shatters the night, the silence. When the shattered pieces fall and settle I am comforted by the sounds of life trickling out through curtains and blinds.

walking aloneI can wandered the streets at will as there are no cars to avoid, no people with whom I have to engage in a strange courtly ritual dance in order to never meet. I can hear the sea, household life, my breath and the dogs name tags jingling. I can hear the town breathing and the sea washing the beaches clean and polishing the stones. I am walking in a post apocalyptic townscape not sure if it will ever be the same again wishing for the closeness of friends and family, for music to make my chest pound and my blood pressure rise and a play to make me cry into the darkness of the theatre.

I arrive home, it is warm and light but I cannot break the silence. The TV is off, free of prefect politicians trading transparency for truth, repeat programmes and celebrity endorsed ways of keeping busy. I have embraced the solitude and it has folded me into its peace so I sit ,reflective in the quiet while the dog sleeps, and write. I may never get this again.


silence quote


childhood, Getting older, handkerchiefs, memories, memory, Uncategorized, what we have lost

How Kleenex killed the handkerchief

Shock horror I have run out of tissues and there are none to buy. Just one of the things that we might run short of at the moment . So what are we to do? They are a token of how we have become reliant on certain products in our wonderfully materialistic lives. This huge loss in my 21st century existence led me to think about the loss of other things for example the splendid handkerchief.

Now rarely used it’s history goes back to Egypt in ancient times but became popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. In England it is recorded that Richard II( 1377-1399) used squared pieces of cloth to wipe his nose . I imagine they were not the neatly hemmed pieces of linen I remember my father using . These were beautifully white, boil washed and then perfectly ironed into a pile of neat squares to be placed in his bedside cabinet. Indeed they were part of my domestic education as the first attempts at ironing were to iron the handkerchiefs with progression to more complicated items once they were exactly square and flat with no creases.

My father’s usage generally complied with the usual definition of a handkerchief ” a form of kerchief typically a hemmed square of thin fabric which can be carried in a pocket or handbag and which is intended for personal hygiene such as wiping one’s hands ,face or blowing one’s nose”.  My mother’s handkerchiefs gave an indication of other uses as although she did use them for personal hygiene and for wiping our faces and hands as children usually accompanied by a little  motherly spit to dampen and us pulling faces were smaller and often very decorative.  They had embroidered motives, lace edges or corners, printed pictures of cats or dogs, images of somewhere that she or someone else had visited on holiday or a day trip. I recall one with an Swiss Chalet though I don’t recall who went on such an exotic holiday. These were often presents arriving in decorative flat boxes at Christmas or in a small packet as a holiday souvenir.

Fashion has dictated many of their uses. Made in silk , or some other expensive cloth and in a variety of colours and prints they were frequently used for decorative purposes. These had no practical purpose except perhaps as a symbol of the class and status of the wearer. In the 1930’s and 1940’s they were made very popular by film stars like James Cagney and Fred Astaire who had styles of folding and wearing named after them along with intriguingly named designs such as the Winged Puff.  In the 16th century ladies of status would use them as fashion accessories though they may have also used them to occasionally discretely cover their noses! In the 18th century they were often dropped as a sign of flirtation or courtship or given as a keepsake, a charming custom.  Of course fashion will dictate colours and prints, Disney prints for children, floral and lace for a lady, silk for the gentleman.

Practicality has encouraged many other uses. The large spotted handkerchief that carried a piece of bread and cheese in a children’s adventure story; my Gran wrapping leftover food at a cafe to take home; carrying and wrapping of various treasures; wrapping round the face for protection against dust or smells or dare I say viruses; a bandage over a small injury; clearing spills; wiping away tears; even hiding behind, or waving to get attention or in excitement. They have been used in dancing, think Morris here,although most of the white handkerchiefs waved at the worlds biggest Morris dance directed by the wonderful Richard Digance at Fairport Conventions cropredy morrisfestival every year are now paper not neatly hemmed linen.  Today commemorative hankies are popular for weddings, christenings etc. Crafts people have invented ways of using vintage hankies as tablecloths, bedspreads or dolls and angels for the Christmas tree. And of course not to forget the ageless image of the holiday maker with the knotted handkerchief sunhat. A knot reminder, tie a knot in your hankie and  at best you may just remember that you have forgotten something!

So if this modest accessory has had such a place in our social history  what happened to it?  Well, Kleenex happened. Kleenex was developed in America in 1928 and in 1932 was marketed as ” The handkerchief you can throw away”. Its utility was going down, no more boil washing. It did however hang on in there as a fashion item for a while and even had something of a resurgence thanks to the pocket fashion of the stars and fashionable gentlemen.  And now it seems that we cannot do without it, we are panic buying tissues and stockpiling in case of shortage!!! Perhaps we could go back to the beautifully hemmed pieces of linen, even making them which could be an activity while we are isolated and teach children how to sew. A personal note here, my paternal grandmother had a one time worked in the household of a someone rather grand as an assistant seamstress and even when very old I recall her hemming squares of material in the smallest, neatest, most even stitching I have ever seen. Still never matched except by machine.

Maybe one of the lessons we may learn at the end of this period in our lives is that there are some things we can manage without and perfectly acceptable alternatives that are reusable, decorative and multi-use. The humble perfectly formed and ironed handkerchief being just one of those.obama with hankie


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.


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.


  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, Getting older, music, social work and child care, Uncategorized

Stuck on an incoming tide.

Oh my ……..I have been quiet of late. It’s all been rather hectic, in a good way I hasten to add. Change is one of those life events that scares most of us although there are many who, probably whilst denying how difficult it is, talk about it as “a good thing” or”just an opportunity to be grasped”. There’s a school of thought that reckons we are in a constant state of change and I can subscribe to that in a very broad sense but believe me there can also be a severe lack of movement forward in one’s life . Without any technical term it’s “the state of stuck”. It is a position often not recognised until some movement has been achieved and one can look back. Psychological constipation maybe?

stuck image

Here’s one of those Hemingway writing moments coming up…. just sit at the typewriter and bleed!  I have just looked back at my last few years and begun to understand just how stuck I was. It was uncomfortable being in that place but even more painful to look back at my pathetic attempts to make my world more amenable. Don’t get me wrong it was not too awful or else I might have done something radical sooner. It was more along the lines of living in a cosy fog in a pretty graveyard. Nothing terrible, nothing challenging, no excitement, nothing to look forward to except more of the same. I lived in the prettiest town in a charming comfortable cottage among lovely people. How could I be dismissive of all of that? So many would happily choose just such an option with gratitude. My grandfather whose level of praise never rose above “nice” or “quite nice” was the most contented of men. He would have loved it . Perhaps surviving being in the Army Medical Corps during WW1 had much to do with it.

It’s a beautiful morning on the beach and the tide is coming in so are the fishermen with their morning catch. The beach is difficult to negotiate with the tractor to pull up the boats even with generations of experience.   Gently shelving with a combination of soft sand and pebbles it draws the tractor down into impossible ruts rendering it immovable. A fisherman is clearly struggling to get enough traction to pull out his boat, the tractor is stuck and the tide moving steadily towards its height. Slowly the tractor disappears under the water no longer able to struggle and the engine sputters to a halt. The fisherman turns his boat to another landing-place to save his catch, his livelihood depends on it. The tractor will wait for another tide, rescue, repair and return to its work on the beach. The dog and I watch this drama unfold in the warming early sun.

I  too was stuck on an incoming tide. Retirement and aging brought losses I could not have imagined. There’s much truth in not really knowing what you have until its gone. Trying to revive the scrap end of my career believing that my passion for my profession,my experience and former glories would carry me through left me frustrated and further devalued. Social work has changed, the tide of change had overwhelmed me but I was still struggling to stay afloat. It had given me up rather than me giving in gracefully.  In my pretty cottage that was the person I had been, I could not see myself in another incarnation. Bricks and mortar however lovely can be a trap, a prison. My history with that cottage had made it so for me. So I moved my home, myself and all that I had been and would be to another landing-place.

Moving is something that I know from experience will give me new vitality and new challenges. Its pretty drastic and financially not always wise! But if it works….. and it works for me. Here, by the sea with the constancy of the tides, the sound of the rolling stones, the freezing east winds and the beautiful classic summer days, there is a new life. Age is a great driver, time gets shorter but it does not preclude another chapter to the exciting rollercoaster ride of life. I had given my self to my career. It had left me stranded and lonely. I now have my family close by and that is an absolute blessing because as a social worker I know the damage that the loss of family can bring more than most. They can bring a sense of belonging that can never be replaced no matter how good friends and acquaintances are, or how busy and successful you have become. I have shared the care experienced child and adult’s lack of real belonging in some ways until now. It is a loneliness of a different quality to that of not speaking to anyone over a whole weekend or going to the theatre alone.

My long-term partners death , whilst desperately sad, has released me from the waiting. I can share with those who wait for change to come to their chaotic childhoods, for parents to return and how the waiting prevents moving on.  If only we could somehow all have the chance to leave the baggage of the past where it belongs. For those I have worked with in the care system and afterwards this is the most difficult aspect of recovery, a physical home and material things can be provided and measured but the psychological repair can take a lifetime and the services are simply not there for them . So the Kinder Shores project has been wonderful. Changing lives through music has been therapy for me too. My new relationship has opened doors for me to engage with music in a way that has brought me to a new world of possibilities, opened my soul to new creative possibilities and to new friendships. The Kinder Shores project for those who do not know is providing services for young adults who are care experienced. See http://www.kindershores.org for information and CD sales.

I will always be a social worker but now I can release myself to a new life backstage with music, theatre costumes, family, a great companionable partner to share these things with, the beach and even a boat on the Broads. A blog, a Charity and even a book which will now come unstuck too I expect.All these things seemed so far away a few years ago. But like the tractor I waited for a new tide, was rescued, repaired and came to a different landing-place.

siutcase image

www. kindershores.org

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

Transitions:Face up and jump…….

Hemingway said “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. I have been struggling for the past week or two to write anything. I have struggled to write the Corve Lane book or this blog. Several blogs have been started but none finished. I am beginning to understand why thanks to Mr Hemingway.  There are good, and bad, things about having been brought up in the psychodynamic tradition of social work. One is the understanding that a block in one area of your life is often related to something going on in another area of your inner world. Locate and deal with the real issue and things may come right. The anxiety manifesting itself may reduce and the block be removed. This creates a struggle for the individual in this case me. We are much better at dealing with his process in others as there is no personal emotional agenda to muddy the process. It is why social workers and therapists require good psychological support and supervision as any processing of our internal world is very complex. But that may be a topic for another day. Today I bleed a little. Blood letting is required. This will be a new experience for me and many who know me. Stay with me it will soon be over!

The irrational fear is that if I complete the book then that will be the end, of my career, of everything as I have previously known it thus creating a very scary space or even a vacuum. The real problem is that I need to revisit my past to establish whether or not I made good decisions, have any regrets, or indeed whether or not the productive period of my working life stands up to scrutiny. Not the judgement of others but by my own standards and to my satisfaction. I know that until I could do that, write this piece and begin the transition to the next phase of my life then everything else is pushed to one side.I knew when I left Lostwithiel temporarily that I needed to make a physical move to wake up my thinking, to reawaken my self to begin this work. To begin with this was simply a sense of what I needed, I was not clear about the next steps or how it would proceed.

What I have come to understand is that I have not just begun a major period of transition in my life but that I am suffering from the series of losses that comes with that transition. Transitions are continuous throughout our lives. Clearly some more major than others, puberty, marriage, parenthood, death of parents, leaving school or jobs, the list is very long. Some are sudden, unpredictable and have immediate life changing implications, some are of our own choosing, and some have unintended consequences. Frequently they cross over every aspect of our life, physical, emotional, financial, relationships, attitudes, abilities, interests or our place in the world. I respect the fact that many organisations and employers now provide pre retirement courses, and I know that I thought and planned many things I would do to take me through the transition. But each transition is unique and though there are many generalizations that apply there was so much I didn’t and couldn’t have predicted. There are two choices it seems when faced with life changing events the first is to do nothing, the second is to face it, create  the struggle and work towards an understanding that will help develop a new stage in your life. No brainer for me, so I have quietly been facing the struggle. I am beginning to emerge with a new understanding not just of myself but of the later stages of my life. I had to “run away” to do it and that may be a bit extreme for some but my sense that it would work for me was right. I have had to  abandon avoidance as a strategy.

For me the first understanding was to give myself permission to grieve for the losses that middle age and retirement bring and to understand them in the same way as any other serious loss in our lives. I remember the struggle I had when I realized that I had become the older generation in my family ,that I was effectively an orphan ,with no parents still living. There are layers of grief to this and it was a while before I got to the real issue for me.  The child in my adulthood was alone. I had to let go of the child at long last and was totally responsible for my adult self. This time I am letting go of my years of being at the height of my productive self , both as a woman and as a worker. I’m not going to list all the obvious changes in any detail, we can all recognize them. Those I have planned for and can deal with. The big and critical questions were for my inner self. I didn’t want to retire. Nothing to do with less money but because the space it would create for me would open me up to those issues . Had work simply been an avoidance of some sort? Had  my dedication to my work been  more self-serving than self-sacrificing? It had been my life. Cut me and I have social worker stamped through me.

As a woman I am childless, a subject no doubt of much speculation over the years, but strangely less so to my clients than others. It was a choice on my part nothing else. Here was a question to be revisited in the face of the menopause and all the delights that brings with it not the least in my case the loss of my sexual self. I’ll spare you the details. Not going that far! My personal and intimate relationships have been dodgy( but fun) to say the least, the long-standing one that would have persisted ending in a very unhappy situation. So what does all that say about the person who dedicated her life to the difficulties others face and to helping the vulnerable and to addressing their relationship issues. I have had to revisited my motivation in a deeply personal way that I have not had to do before.

It is worth every step of the struggle. This is the way forward for me. Not to deal with the obvious, yes money is tight and the bones don’t move as quickly as they did but  taking up marathons, all night clubbing, facelifts, tattoos, fast cars and all the other things that people do was not the option for me. It would be a superficial and empty gesture to my past life, to its pleasures, glories, happiness, successes and failures. Checking it out, revisiting decisions, examining the big questions in my individual existence, sifting through the mistakes , recognizing the losses was for me the way to move through this transition to a new understanding of myself. I will continue to work towards peace with myself as my life progresses. But I have removed the block. This needed to be written and acknowledged . I am still learning and working but in a very different way. I agree with George Burns ” Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65 I still had pimples”change image 2

Back to the writing. Coming up . More lessons from the past. More comment on the state of social work and best of all some guest blogs from adults who have been in care offering their thoughts looking back at their lives.