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, 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.

 

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1969,bath rails, dishcloth cotton and hotpants; A Welfare apprenticeship. Part 1

It’s 1969. The summer of love. A levels over. School behind me . I need a job. Actually I need a job fast as Dad is seriously unhappy with my plan to sit in a field and do the whole drugs ,sex and rock and roll thing. The first two are certainly out  and the latter he said wouldn’t last and dismissed it as a noise! He was wrong about that but right about getting a job. As luck would have it he had a plan and ,with some inside information, he knew there was a job in a 60 bed Elderly Person’s home on Canvey Island. It’s still there, run now by a private company  rather than the County Council. At this time the County Council ran its own EPHs(Elderly Person’s Homes) overseen by the Welfare Department. Here is the history bit to put all this in context.

Pre the Seebohm reorganisation of 1971 there were three separate departments running social care services; Children’s, Mental Health and the Welfare Dept. Interestingly I have written them in a sort of order of precedence  and in 1969 that’s how it appeared .The Children’s Dept were seen as the senior dept, qualified by a Child Care Letter of Recognition considered the superior qualification. Then came the Mental Health Dept who did rather important stuff with psychiatrists and had two duty officers when there was a full moon which we didn’t quite understand. Then there was us. We did the more obvious and practical stuff; services for the elderly, those with physical disabilities and the homeless.  We provided,under  Part 3 of the 1948 National Assistance Act ,accommodation for the elderly and homeless families. For the disabled and housebound aids , equipment,  dishcloth cotton and seagrass for home crafts. 

So my apprenticeship began as a Care Assistant in an EPH. The Matron believed in “deep end” learning so there was no induction as we now know it. Vee and I started on the same day and our first task was to take an elderly gent for a bath.I’ll spare you the reasons why. First, find the right man, then find the bathroom, then work out how to get him in the bath safely, and then decide, while he was having a soak in some bubbles, about the false leg. It was the old kind largely metal and with lots of strapping for attachment to the owner and it needed washing too.We were unsure about whether it should be in water or indeed how to return it to the right place on the owner comfortably. That’s induction. After that the job just got easier. And if you can rise to these moments and respond with laughter and keep the patient’s dignity then you have passed the first test. There was another lesson for me, in the moment with that man I learned that together we could make an embarrassing event dignified and caring. I have remembered it often.I loved it there but I had ambition.

I became a trainee Social Welfare Officer.There were a dozen or so trainees across the county in all three departments. We had regular training with Miss Lang and Miss Behr with the expectation that we would go for qualifying training and then return to work for the  county for at least two years. It was an excellent, sound grounding before formal training. We were financially supported through our courses which were full time and anywhere in the country. Outcomes were good and many of us stayed in social work throughout our working lives not the short periods common today. It is a system that may have lessons for today. This was an apprenticeship by any other name.

The Welfare Dept building has gone now but the memories are still there. This was an office like no other, the characters who dispensed welfare to the needy and vulnerable were  eccentric,odd and strangely committed. On my first day the Area Welfare Officer asked me what was wrong with me. Not understanding his meaning  I had no answer so he dismissed me with “Well time will tell”. That is for others to answer now.

I often visited with the officers learning by the old “sitting by Nellie” method. My favourite by far was the wonderful Arthur , the keeper of the Part 3 waiting list for places in the EPH’s. Several visits a day were on a carefully planned route to ensure we passed an ambulance station, he had worked for them at one time,  EPH or similar at the right time for coffee, lunch and tea. His favourite for tea being the EPH in Basildon as he was partial to the cook’s caraway seed cake. He checked whether the potential applicants were still ambulant by asking them to walk across the room and whether they needed to be moved up the list due to any deterioration. His records were kept up to date by use of a “NO  CHANGE” or ” ADMITTED” stamp and all the application forms read ” Pleasant and affable ground floor hostel case”. He was universally liked, welcome in people’s houses and always remembered to spend a few minutes with those already admitted to care when he visited for tea. Little things matter.

Of the others well… the SW for the homeless had long arms that could “goose” me however carefully I went into the room but taught me a great deal about being with even the most difficult of homeless families. He had a genuine co-productive relationship with the clients even when being firm about collecting rents in the temporary accommodation. Then I learned about filing from the SW for the blind whose filing system was large brown box in the middle of the floor into which she would upend herself and fling files in all directions till she got what she wanted. She always found the right one. The SW for the disabled fell asleep all the time often when on duty ,we could always tell as the queue in reception suddenly moved very slowly. And last but not least, Mrs Lord who was into ballroom dancing ,wore hotpants at 50+, had lipstick on her teeth and an apricot poodle.Dogs were allowed in offices then. And little old hippy chick me.sw-student

In Part 2, lost cats, seaside holidays, home handicrafts ,the little old lady with her handbag, and more valuable lessons from the Apprenticeship.

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Social Work is LOVE made visible

“All you need is Love”claimed Lennon and McCartney. Bruno Bettelheim in a famous misquote said ” Love is not enough”. Can both be true? Love is a difficult word for social work, it does not sit easily in our professional vocabulary. But I was curious about why that should be the case and how we managed to work as professional carers particularly in residential child care without a clear understanding of the role of love. It is an inquiry I began when I was doing a Masters in Social Work at UEA some years ago. I have only ideas and maybe can  open the debate. It is, I think ,too complex a topic for just one blog.  I would like to free us to use the word more comfortably and move it to a position central to our work.

Perhaps both statements are traps if we believe either to be a definitive statement. Love is a word we use glibly in the everyday, using it to describe how we feel about everything from our new shoes, lipstick or sofa to our dearest and closest relationships. We are immersed in the symbols, images and commercialization of love particularly at this time in February when Valentines Day is upon us. Specific attachment to a feeling in differing circumstances is an issue when we only have one word for such a complex emotion. One “word” does not fit all.  In Greek there are a number of words whose usage indicates the type of love  being described. This  gives that specificity that we are unable to achieve with our one word which is frequently too powerful  or too poor to match our dialogue.  During that research I came across a definition by Eric Fromm. Fromm (1900-1980) was a German psychologist and psychoanalyst whose most popular work was “The Art of Loving”. Coming  from that book it most adequately describes the love that both has motivated me through my career and describes what I feel and want for those I work alongside particularly those who are in public care where we are in a parental role.

” the most fundamental kind of love ,which underlies all types of love, is brotherly love. By this I mean the sense of responsibility, care, respect and knowledge of any other human being, the wish to further his life.”

Camila Batmanghelidjh , of the now defunct Kids Club, once wrote that she felt “our structures are failing children because we are scared of love. The expression of our humanity terrifies us into political cowardice”. I believe we have become scared of the expression of our humanity and for very good reasons. But while we continue to fail to recognise our emotional connections to those we serve then we lose the opportunity to build the relationship that may make the qualitative difference to our therapeutic intent. Our requirements to measure and quantify our work may have sanitized it to a being an administrative exercise only.

There was an earlier point in working with young people in public care when love was a concept frequently caught into the design of therapeutic establishments and their programmes of care. Maurice Bridgeland(1927-2013) an educational psychologist in “Pioneer Work with Maladjusted Children”published in 1971, looked at many of these impressive pieces of work and they clearly look to the concept of love as both a motivational force and a core element to the repair and recovery of the youngsters in their care. It is interesting to note, and this is certainly an issue for another day, that there were a number of failures and closures of programmes and it would be interesting to understand why. Bettelheim’s work has been somewhat discredited and Kids Club folded fairly spectacularly in recent times, however there is much to learn from their work and maybe we need to be clear that “Love is not Enough” and it is not all we need to provide . As professional carers and corporate parents we need to pay attention to the rest of the Bettelheim quotation which continues to say that love “…must be supplemented by deliberate efforts on the part of the parents”. As professional social workers we have to use all our knowledge , skills and experience to make deliberate efforts to be the best parent or carer we can be  but never lose sight of why we are there and what quality we can add to those efforts by recognising the core of our emotional connection to those we serve. In this way we may hope never to see a poem like this again written by this young person in care.  (Leeds AD lib magazine 1973)

Unloved is to miss the love,lonley-child-imagethat all parents should give

Yet they put you aside

Put you out of their minds

They put you in care

There is no love there

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Loneliness and the SmallBIG things

Jo Cox’s campaign launched this week about the hidden epidemic of loneliness made me think about how this plays out in our child care practice. I understand a little about loneliness having lived and worked on my own for many years. The transitions are particularly difficult, retiring , moving house, leaving partners, loss of parents and these can touch us at any age. I was lucky, having a pretty grounded childhood my coping skills and emotional resilience allowed me to overcome the loneliness quota that these changes delivered. However in social work we are largely dealing with those whose lives and own childhoodhave not given them the skills to cope.I have rarely heard the word loneliness used in general description of the challenges our families face and yet it has such a devastating impact on every aspect of someone’s being.

Let’s just consider some of the difficult transitions that our families and their children meet. Many of these can be considered to be of their own making and some are undoubtedly of our making , many have legal backing  but whatever the source they are none the less traumatic. Imagine for a moment the awful depth of silence in a house when your children have been taken from you, toys left where they  were  played with last and beds remaining unmade with crumpled pyjamas. Your days,which were filled by these children who are never coming home,  changed forever even though you know that you have not been the best of parents and your own issues have taken priority. It is hard to imagine how all this feels but we should try.

The world is just as empty in this scenario as it is for the elderly couple separated for the first time in their 60 year marriage by illness or death. In this case we rightly feel huge empathy and understanding but it is more difficult to feel the same for parents who have appeared through wanton fecklessness to be unable to care for their children. The distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor has been enshrined in our welfare consciousness since the Poor Laws in Elizabethan times and seems to still be with us in making some judgements today.  We see these parents as undeserving  but they too have a massive void to fill.  The chances of them turning their lives around given that desperate loneliness are slim and our perceptions of non compliance with our requirements may be explainable if seen in a different context. If we believe they do not care, are just angry with us , the system or being caught out, then we are kidding ourselves and need to reconnect with our simple humanity before recording behaviours and events for posterity. The pain of a review or a “contact” visit must be immense and unthinkable for most of us. Perhaps we should all engage in some role play and walk out of court  with the words of the Judge ringing in our ears saying that our children have been freed for adoption. It may be one of the loneliness places we have experienced.

Most of my professional life has been spent with young people living outside their birth families and in public care. I continue to be in touch with several “young people” now adults with their own families. They have between them experienced most forms of care from adoption to residential homes and prison. They experience a different form of loneliness. This is the loneliness of loss of roots, of belonging, of an assured place in the world, and of no family of their own. They are alone. Even when their care experience has been good they feel alone . They do not have the reassurance of a presence of unconditional love that will walk alongside them wherever life takes them. In this lonely existence we can begin to see how many of their poor life choices may relate to the filling of this chasm; choices that will fill the emptiness; that will drain the vacuum filled with despair, pain, anger and frequent self-hatred.

My friend David Akinsanya wrote recently in the Guardian( www. theguardian.com/profile/david-akinsanya)  of how the birth of his son gave him a reason to live, a reason to be and to experience real love and happiness at last. He was in care throughout his childhood  and apparently successful as an adult he had waited all his life to feel this love and sense of self. He is now in his 50’s. He is no longer alone in the world.

What can we do as social workers. First we need to reconnect with the idea that our families, children and young people are not just cases to be managed, and their lives not  just producers of statistics for inspectors and politicians but real,human,vulnerable and sharers of the same emotions as us. It may be a current buzz word but I am a fan of the ideas behind co-production or working together with our families in an equal relationship. But Jo Cox wanted us to think about the practical small things that we can all do every day that will make a BIG difference to others lives. We can do this as professionals. The next time we are in court with a family offer them a lift,  wait with them, buy them a coffee, walk with them out of court because that congratulatory talk with the barrister can wait. Be alongside them. Remember with a young person the day their parent died or to congratulate them on their exam results and send a personal card  rather than a text. How about being with parents on”contact” visits rather than using ancillary workers, drive them there and get rid of impersonal taxi rides. And never ever give bad news over the phone unless impossible to do otherwise, visit. I could go on but you get the idea.

These are smallBIG things that may for just a moment make the world seem a less lonely and scary place.

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The Has Been Cavalry

A quote from the wonderful Jon Boden’s lyrics on the album Songs from the Floodplain as a starting point. If you haven’t heard it then here’s a link http://www.jonboden.com. But I am not ready to “line up with the has been cavalry” quite yet…..or am I ? One wonders indeed what it is a retired social worker can do with themselves. Don’t get me wrong , I would not be retired at all if I thought there was something I could offer to the profession without huge cost to everything I hold dear. But having compromised for some long time in order to earn a bob or two I found I could not continue any longer. This sounds like I was working simply for the money. Not at all, I could manage on my pension but I loved working in children’s services and the money was a bonus. I believed, that although I disagreed with many things about the organisation, the clients were getting a good service from me. I was able to use my experience to work round some of the nonsense in the  department.  I gave up when the organisation was more interested in the completion of an education plan on time than finding a new foster home for a deeply unhappy young woman who had been ejected from yet another family. Keeping Oftsed happy is the new currency. Perhaps I should feel some sympathy for the managers who will have to answer difficult questions or some collective responsiblity for the organisation but I didn’t. I was prepared to deliberately let the organisation down so I thought I had better retire. Or was it retreat? So what can be done with a retreating vintage social worker?

We are a new profession, at least in its modern version, so we have not yet encountered the issue of a retiring group of career social workers. Previously staff were mostly volunteers or middle class ladies doing good community works through charitable organisations, churches etc. They rarely needed to earn their living from their charitable works. I recall when I started my first job as a Social Welfare Officer trainee in the old Welfare Department that there were officers there who had got their jobs from adverts in “The Lady”. The Lady, for those who don’t know, is the UK’s longest running women’s magazine started in 1885. It was the end of the 1960’s and who knows what these ladies thought of the hippy styled young woman with ideas of social change and justice that joined their ranks. They probably thought the profession was going rapidly downhill.

History footnote. The Welfare Dept was one of the pre Seebohm departments of the county council. It provided services for the elderly including accommodation in Elderly Person’s homes under Part 3 of the National Assistance Act 1948. Under the same legislation it provided temporary   accommodation for homeless families. Services were also provided for those with physical disabilities including the blind and deaf who had specialist workers.

The profession has made huge and rapid changes since those days. More Welfare Dept stories later! The speed of change has been so rapid it seems to have left us collectively gasping for breath. It is difficult in the chaos of rapid change to hold to the core beliefs and principles that underpin everything we do and are. I hope this blog will help us to do that, to hold on , to believe and to remember why we work in the space between the state and the poor and marginalised. (Holland and Scourfield 2015. A Very Short Introduction to Social Work). We need urgently to regain our sense of self and the confidence we felt at the beginning of the modern-day profession as in doing this we may be clearer about our direction of travel in the next phases of our development. If we do not do this then there are others who will take advantage of our chaos and make decisions for us. We currently have an administration who have brought forward a bill which will mean we are the first caring profession to be directly controlled by government.

So there is a role for a retreating vintage social worker. I can tell stories, share ideas and thoughts that may help us to put into context the issues we face today by using our past glories and errors. When life was simpler it was easier not to lose contact with our beliefs and values or our reasons for getting up in the morning. So starting with a definition that everyone including our clients can understand would be helpful, or looking to our professional knowledge and skills to help ourselves or giving us back our desks  in an act of respect for our professional status might be a beginning. We seems to have more in common with our clients in being an oppressed minority than we would like to think.

So I am “lining up with the has been cavalry” and we are marching forward. It is a line of attack for our profession and our clients. It will be an interesting journey. We may even have a laugh on the way. So come with me and enjoy your, my, our profession again.