Care Home kids on BBC3 last night presented an accurate and honest examination of the issues facing young people who are involved in the care system. The experience of the presenter provided a thoughtful commentary on the issues that the system faces today.
I wanted to consider three particular aspects of the programme. The first was a phrase used by a young woman care leaver. When asked what she thought of the support she had received since leaving care she was positive about many aspects of it, however she was critical of what she termed the “emotional support” that was available to her.
It seemed tragic to me that the most vulnerable of young adults are deprived of the understanding and empathy that is crucial to their ongoing personal, social and emotional development. I wonder why this is the case? Do we as social workers and professionals in the social care field possess the required skills to empathise with out most disadvantaged service users? Are we able to go to the complex personal spaces that these young people inhabit? Can we as professionals develop the skills to engage in the most intimate of dialogues with the most disadvantaged of young people?
In Scotland there has been a move to disaggregate Throughcare and Aftercare services from local authorities and move them to the voluntary sector. I believe this is morally wrong and an abdication of the local authorities responsibilities to our most vulnerable young people.
The second theme that was of interest to me was the disconnect between some foster carers and some of the young people they cared for. In the programme one foster family described how challenging their assessment period was, they stated that more than half of the families who started the process did not complete it, suggesting that the assessment process was more than rigorous. Why then do placements disrupt as a result of the “behaviour” of the children? Somewhere in here seemed to me to a blaming of the victim. The young people who I spent twenty years working with came from complex, abusive and frightening places, there experiences were beyond any reasonable understanding of “troubled”; abuse, of all forms was commonplace and the messages received from parents were more than confused. There was no consistency, the children I worked with had no parental role models and they were exposed to disruption violence and uncertainty. Why then were foster carers using the paradigm of behaviour to explain their actions? This seemed to me to be setting the children and the carers up to fail, perhaps the preparation groups need a greater emphasis on understanding the extent of the difficulties young people face and the need for there to be responses that are proportionate and supportive of all involved. The link between care and incarceration was considered and it seems to me that investment in developing better fostering services would negate the cost of incarceration, and the repeated costs of recidivism.
Finally and on an optimistic note it was heartening to see the influence that some residential staff had on the lives of young people, it was uplifting to hear that Ashely (the narrator) had obtained a degree, he himself cited the support from a residential worker as an important motivating factor in this. The power of the relationship was such a positive. I could write thousands of words about my admiration for residential workers, I have been privileged to work alongside some wonderful, committed, dedicated staff whose unshakeable belief in the young people they care for has been and continues to be an inspiration to me.