The Children’s Rights Movement by Sean Geoghan ‘Trailblazer’ in the rights movement for children in care. Television Director, Screenwriter, Award-winning Filmmaker. Lecturer. Mentor. Media Assessor. Advocate.

“I am a firm believer in the power of shared experience & storytelling for healing, but you are kidding yourself if you think it is healing when the same organisations that are begging us to tell our stories do nothing 2 help us change the trajectory of our story” (Anonymous CEP Contributor).

The close relationship between the care community and the Charity sector goes way back in time and it has undoubtedly brought many benefits – at times operating as a huge support to the work of the care experienced advocacy movement. But there are also examples of how its proximity and at times the outright control over our lives during the difficult but important task of self-determination has proved a largely deeply uncomfortable experience. The duality of ‘care’ and Charity in the minds of the public is complex and the effect has been to create layers of problems for us, often based on the public’s misconception. – from pity, sympathy through to abuse and anger – as a response to what others see as our ‘condition’.

But it’s not solely about misrepresentation. It needs to be recognised too that the mission statements, aims and objectives and direction of their very business models – the lack of CEP representation above the line – that has also impacted dramatically on our ability to develop personally and collectively. And where we have we see the power of the Institution and big money, that is able to adopt all too often policies that we have developed as their own.

The bespoke interests of a proliferation of Charities are mostly welcomed. The preponderance of them within the care sector has been significant in helping a great many children in care and care leavers. And a natural tolerance exists between the care children’s right advocate and the majority of them. That is when our interests collide and where the respect for the lived or care experience person is evident.

But we are at a point in our two histories where many care experienced people are repelled where they once felt included and there is a feeling growing widely that as a community that we have been inhibited, not encouraged, in our ability to organise due to their activities. The role of the proxy advocate can be to block us from advocating for ourselves. And all too often our own potent experience has been devalued by the use of promotional, fundraising, or advertising techniques. The manipulation of our stories and images – at times against our wishes and not directly in our interest – can be viewed as a modern version of the staging and manipulation of images that are today seen as unacceptable but were a major source of fundraising and increasing public awareness from the time of Barnardo’s through the post-war period and up to the later part of the 1900s. Testimonies and images from our community were once routinely used to facilitate fundraising or raising awareness by children’s Charities. Such obvious exploitative practices have – it can be argued – been replaced by more subtle abuses of our voices, experiences to facilitate the needs of Corporate & Charities who profess to speak on our behalf.

It’s worth a look at the history of our two lineages. The Children’s Rights Movement and the Charity sector. Their development one from the other and jointly – in an attempt to untangle the relationship and look to where we hope to get to next.

The origins of public provision for deprived children can be traced back to the Elizabethan Poor Law. The response to that provision – appalling, degrading, and punitive – was widely deplored as it was felt that the offer of charity merely encouraged the poor and wretched away from salvation and useful labour into a life of idleness and greed. But society’s ills were not solved by the use of or the threat of forced labour camps. Poverty, illness, and squalor combined to fuel a continuous supply of wretched, abandoned, and impoverished to the Workhouse doors. In the early 1700s, the situation for struggling parents was particularly acute in London. Mothers unable to care for their children as a result of poverty or illegitimacy had few options, leading to some abandoning their babies. It was estimated that around a thousand babies a year were abandoned in London alone. This was the situation that confronted Thomas Coram who founded The Foundling Hospital in 1741 in London, as a children’s home for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.” Coram set the course for Children’s homes and the Coram charity supporting vulnerable children and young people.

It was a Victorian missionary, Thomas Barnardo who took the concept and developed it. Barnardo was on his way East to convert the Chinese when his course was altered by the chance encounter with an orphan who showed him first hand the widescale homelessness, effects of alcoholism, sexual and physical abuse within the middens of London. As an Evangelist, Preacher Barnardo could draw in mass audiences and access the necessary private sources of funding to transform the lives of thousands of ‘waifs and strays’. Barnardo’s is a major Charity today and their founder and patron is widely acclaimed as creating the first of many children’s homes in 1867.

What is less well known is that Thomas was not a Doctor, that his mission as a saviour of children coincided with his mission to rescue non-Christian souls (including Catholics). That as his Empire grew Barnardo – who worked tirelessly in his mission – began removing children from their birth families without consent which he described and justified as ‘philanthropic abduction,’. It’s well documented that Thomas Barnardo had a photographer’s studio where he staged photographs of children – placing them in reconstructed imagined scenarios to depict their poverty and abuse – to construct ‘Before’ and ‘After’ narratives he then presented to Women’s Groups and large scale speaking events to create the impression that he and his organisation were ‘rescuers’. Barnardo’s would in later years be complicit in forced child migration, where children from poor backgrounds were taken without their parent’s consent and sent to former colonies, right up until the 1970s. Least well know is that Barnardo was not the author of the many techniques he developed expertly to create sympathy and bring in the funding and drive up the catchment into his emerging ‘care’ empire.

Twenty-five years previous a shy German Minister new to Britain called George Müller had it in mind to open an orphan house in Bristol – to prove he said that God existed. He prayed that he might be given £40 as an encouragement in his work and subsequently received gifts of around £50 from unexpected sources. Mulller with his wife began in 1836 with the preparation of their own home at 6 Wilson Street, Bristol for the accommodation of thirty girls. At that time, there were very few orphanages in the country – there was accommodation for only 3,600 orphans in England. In his Annual Report for 1861, Müller informs that there is still “entirely inadequate accommodation” in the UK and that admission was by votes for most of the available homes. This, he said, made it “difficult, if not impossible, for the poorest and most destitute of persons, to avail themselves of them. … .. Thousands of votes, sometimes even many thousands, are required, in order that the candidate should be successful. But the really poor and destitute have neither time, nor money, nor ability, nor influence, to set about canvassing for votes; and therefore, with rare exceptions, they derive no benefit from such Institutions”.

Although Müller ran the orphanage on Christian principles, no regard was made to the religious denomination of the orphan. Müller’s requirements for admission were that the child be born in wedlock, that both parents were dead and that the child be in needy circumstances. He would later alter his criteria to include children out of marriage. Muller at no point sought fame or reward, never deployed children in his care as material for funding or promotion. He never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes he built cost over £100,000 to build. By the time he died in 1898, Müller had received £1,500,000 through prayer and had had over 10,000 children in his care. The Muller homes were still in operation in the 1960s – as a charity. They and the land were finally turned over to the Bristol Council.

Most Charities today receive the greatest part of their income from national aid agencies not from individual donations. The public view remains; that they are there to provide assistance to those considered ‘needy’ ‘vulnerable’ or ‘suffering’. The word ‘charity’ originates from the old French word charité which roots come from the Latin word ‘cartias’ – commonly translated to mean a distinct form of ‘love’ or “Christian love of one’s fellows.” Originally, charity came to mean ‘love of humanity’.

It is undeniable that both Muller and Barnardo both ‘loved humanity’. They devoted their lives to the welfare of children but it’s notable too that they were different kinds of men and went about their task in totally different ways. George Muller of Bristol’s Müller never fund-raised or asked for money. He famously turned down funding from what he senses was a destitute woman. The fact he is the lesser-known in his work doesn’t diminish him or indeed the good Thomas Barnardo but it does beg the question. How do Charities exist without the express need for self-promotion and perhaps without purposefully meaning to demean the care experienced do they go about the business of advocating ‘on our behalf’ if they are also soliciting and promoting false narratives about the care experienced and experiencing?

Our earliest charity organisations were founded by religious groups, the nobility, and wealthy individuals toward helping and caring for the sick, the neediest, suffering, and poor members of society – usually orphans, widows, and the sick or disabled often ‘sheltering out of sight’ in hospitals, orphanages, and poor houses. Historically the base logic of charitable institutions view recipients of charity as tragic and pitiable, their circumstances the ‘problem’ not social barriers, not systemic issues that are oppressive wherein good citizens should feel pity for the person’s tragedy or inspired by their achievements. This understanding of charity began to shift after a public court case that brought some bad practice to public attention and saw Barnardo stripped of his Doctor title as his management of the children’s homes empire he founded and the finances he accrued through public giving made more accountable.

The Charity Organisation Society was founded in 1869. It coincided with a growing concern amongst some middle and upper-class members of British society that the Poor Law was being ‘abused’ – that people were claiming relief outside of workhouses. Its primary aim was to determine who the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor were; with the belief that money was not being used effectively. They began a pattern of methods that have become familiar today: to work out whether or not people needed monetary help, they would repeatedly visit the person claiming in their home, trying to ‘scientifically’ ascertain their needs. This was the beginning of social work as we think of it today. Even in this early stage, its main purpose wasn’t to try to help and support people but was to ascertain who really needed help. Suspicion and gatekeeping have formed a major part of charity ‘help’ from its beginnings.

The inequity of child labour and the need for access to education and welfare reform were the key campaigns for the Victorian children’s rights advocates. Legal and attitudinal battles driven by principles of justice, faith and empathy from many worthy advocates of the day. Among them Charles Dickens, the renowned author and advocate, and Lord Shaftesbury. Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was a proponent of the Ragged Schools movement, which gave poor children some education for the first time. Part of a movement to champion children’s rights in and outside of parliament Shatesbury tirelessly worked developing and promoting laws such as the Ten Hour Act, at first rejected by parliament that aimed to restrict child working to ten hours a day.

In the context of human struggles, the idea of a rights ‘movement’ for young people living in care seems, at first sight, a little pretentious, as well as perhaps veering on the romantic. After all, we think of ‘movements’ as reserved for the great historical struggles, such as civil liberties, peace, labour, women – though not all social movements are as progressive. Yet, although large in numbers, these and other great movements are usually made up of the combined actions and endeavours of smaller local groups sharing similar goals. It is the local associations, branches, youth, and community groups that are the bread and butter of national organisations. And these great movements do not suddenly appear – ‘or rise like the sun at an appointed time’ – they are present at their ‘own making’. They often have very small beginnings and come about through the beliefs and activities of a few. (Mike Stein)

In his book, Careless Lives: The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care, Prof Mike Stein marks the birth of our emancipation as 1973 with a group of young people living in children’s homes in Leeds, known as Ad-Libbers, who came together for the first time to talk about their day-to-day experiences and to campaign to improve their lives in care. This local youth group goes down in ‘care’ history as the first known organised group with the purpose of giving young care experiencing people a voice for the first time. The second significant marker was to come two years later through parliament. The Children in care and Children’s Act 1975 is a legal landmark in regards to children’s rights. It recommends specific new duties for the care experiencing or those faced with adoption or care proceedings that all parties must for the first time ‘ascertain the wishes and feelings’ of young people.

At a time when it has become unfashionable to speak of parental rights over children, legislation is passed putting the law respecting “rights” over children into a state of unprecedented complexity. The reason is that, although securing the child’s welfare is now the dominant aim of our child law, there is no shortage of persons claiming authority to decide where a child’s welfare lies. Nowhere is this more true than where a child comes to the attention of the welfare authorities. Children In Care and Children’s Act 1975

The introduction of these new “consultative rights” are significant by bringing in the ‘Welfare Principle’ for children and young people. This development placed the interests of the ‘child’ as paramount and separate from what had been legally binding beforehand as the interests of ‘the family’. The 1975 Act had also made provisions for the separate representation of children in court from their parents through the appointment of their own representation on courts settings of a Guardian ad Litem. It is an apparent coincidence that National Children’s Bureau set up the Who Cares? Project in the same year of 1975.

A one-day conference where for the first time ever young people from children’s homes across England and Wales were brought together nationally. The intention was to listen to the views of young people about their lives in care in the hope that the NCB could use the outcomes to potentially impact on good practice, on policy change as well as further research. The Bureau sought funds for two development workers tasked across the UK to “engage with young people living in children’s homes in a dialogue with adults about their experiences of care”. Four regional groups were set up from the South East, London, Birmingham and Leeds. Each group to identify a task to be carried out locally. And jointly they would “find ways to bring their group’s views and concerns to a wider public, in particular, by influencing those responsible for shaping their lives, including teachers, local councillors, and social work staff.” (Mike Stein. The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care)

A day conference was held in each of the regions to which all young people over the age of 12 living in children’s homes were invited, accompanied by their ‘carers’, their house parents or social workers. Significantly a small number of adults, selected and prepared by the Bureau, were elected to lead the event. This illustrates how in those days enfranchisement of the care experiencing (no after care groups) was a new phenomenon and that adults were still required to manage and act as a conduit for our testimonies. That the purpose of the rights movement was driven by our testimonies, poor experiences and stories. And that the development of our own rights movement was managed and to a large extent predetermined by the focus of the Charity. It is a major step forward that young people wishing to take things further were given the chance to join an ongoing regional group. And one of the major outcomes was that local groups held ‘open days’ to which social workers, teachers, magistrates, residential workers, and local councillors were invited.

The Who Cares? initiative was like a petri dish for ‘care’ experience and data. The NCB was able to conclude from the feedback to its Development Officers that young people living in children’s homes right across the country “shared many common experiences: their lack of knowledge about their own lives and about the care system generally; their lack of power and control over their lives; their fears and worries about leaving care and coping with life after care; and their wish – too often thwarted by movement, disruption and staff turnover – for a stable trusting adult in their lives”. In 1977 Who Cares? published the first Charter of Rights for Young People in Care. (link) This represents for the ‘care advocate’ a moon landing moment. It was the start of something bigger and it allowed direct challenge to the way children and young people in care were understood and treated by child care professionals. It made the profession for the first time accountable. The idea of rights for children in care would begin to gain professional and political ground so that ‘clients’ of the care system were not subservient to official practise but we began to be seen as having ‘rights’ as well as ‘needs’. Conversations within social work would lead to a call for better training and to raise and improve on codes of ethics that would place for the first time the ‘client’ at the heart of good practice.

This shift towards rights was also reflected in wider debates in social work about the status that should be attached to the views of ‘clients’, especially adults, including their participation in decision making and their right to quality services, as well as to complain if they were not satisfied with the service they received. This new way of thinking also represented a serious challenge to the status of professionalism, especially the established view that the professional always ‘knows what’s best for you.’ (Mike Stein Careless Lives: The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care)

The NCB had led the way by focusing on ‘care’ issues its demise led to the setting up of the National Association of Young People in Care in 1979. NAYPIC was the first and arguably the only national organisation to be run solely by and for young people in care to date. The new role of self-advocacy was about to arrive and replace the models of the proxy advocacy groups. As effective as they were they could never guarantee a constant input of care experienced views or provide pathways as NAYPIC planned to do.

NAYPIC started with regional representatives at its heart with ‘in care’ groups made up of young people and adult members from Bradford, Coventry, Hounslow, London, Leeds, the North East, Wakefield, Wandsworth, Westminster and Scotland.

The aims of the new organisation as defined in its constitution were:

1. To improve conditions for children and young people in care;

2. To make information and advice available to young people in care;

3. To promote the views and opinions of young people in care; and

4. To help start, support and develop local groups.

Membership was to be open to ‘anyone who is in care or has been in care in the past and other people voted in by a local group.’ Importantly, the age limit set for its paid workers below 25 years of age would ensure that it remained that way – its reach into children’s homes and foster care offering pathways for a regular supply of fresh faces and new ideas into the organisation for many years to come.

NAYPIC was intent to develop groups at grassroots level and provided leaflets in how to run a group as well as a membership pack. It had a National Executive as well as Regional Offices with paid representatives from Bradford down to Devon. Local groups could affiliate to NAYPIC and be entitled to have one representative on the management committee, ‘which should be a young person in care.’ The constitution importantly stated that co-opted adult members were not to form more than one-third of the management committee. This would ensure that it would always operate in the interests of younger people from care backgrounds and these voices could not be used or manipulated by older non-care experts, allied adults, or professionals.

NAYPIC’s first campaign was to Ban the Book – the hated clothing order book, that many young people had to use to obtain their clothing. Other key campaigning activities included access to files, participation in reviews, highlighting the plight of abuse victims in children’s homes, bringing to public attention the use of physical restraint and the ‘liquid cosh’ in dealing with young people in lock-ups, improving provision such as the grant available to care leavers, organising to block the forced sale and closure of residential care homes, improving representation from within foster care. NAYPIC utilised surveys to garner the views of its members. It set up Conferences and ran workshops to get feedback on issues that care experiencing and care experienced faced. These workshops would also highlight the creativity of the care experienced and produce the first care videos (link) and poetry. These videos would be available for sale and were utilised within teaching and very effective in public awareness.

NAYPIC’s defining moment was surely its highly important and pivotal Report to parliament called ‘Sharing Care’. An encyclopedic collation of the views, experiences, and suggested improvements put forward by young people in and ex care themselves written by a care experienced person. The Report formed the basis of NAYPICs evidence to the parliamentary committee on Children in Care known as the Short inquiry that was set to try and improve the legislation and the conditions for people in care at the time. Major policy areas for NAYPIC – from assessment to access to files, attendance at reviews, use of punishment and control, lack of privacy and personal rights, the unacceptable amount of fostering placements, the rampant racism, poor education outcomes, lack of after-care support, and notably the need for a complaints system. All of these policies bar the last would be adopted by the policymakers, create best practice, produce radical changes to provision. It notably also brought the issues of race, gender, disability, and the abuses – neglect, violence, and child sex abuse – that were systemic in the care system.

‘Sharing care’ is NAYPIC’s stand-out contribution to the rights of children and young people in and ex care. It was described as “highly influential” by the Parliamentary Committee on children in care the 40-page report, with its concluding children’s charter was said to be ‘methodical, comprehensive and representative of an increasing number of children in care’ who are “becoming vocal in expressing their views”. The contribution of care experienced experts (all of us) was recognised both at a general level, of the need to listen to the views of young people – referred to in their Parliamentary Report for the first time as ‘children’s rights’. Later the House of Commons Committee on Children in Care stated, ‘children’s rights are now being recognised as never before.’ It was the setting up of NAYPIC and the Report ‘Sharing Care’ that marked the beginnings of the right’s movement for young people in care.

NAYPIC operated on the basis that young people be involved in decisions that affect their lives. That their ‘wishes and feelings’ be considered by the courts, as well as those making decisions about them in care or accommodation. Local authorities were also required to ‘give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin, culture, and language’. They were also for the first time required to establish complaints procedures including ‘an independent element’ and publish information about services. This led to the first children’s rights officer in the UK and a small number of local authorities introducing complaints procedures for young people in care. The impact of ‘Sharing Care’ was not just felt in parliament but right across the ‘care’ landscape and in a raft of more specific and bespoke initiatives. The views of black and mixed-race care experienced people led to a video called Black And In Care (link) where NAYPIC members were interviewed on camera for the first time about their experiences in care. It highlighted the creativity of the #CEP as well as their collective experience and views on how to change things. This video led to the establishment of the Black and In Care movement and a worker employed by the Children’s Legal Centre who organised a Conference in 1984 at London Kingsway.

The one area that NAYPIC failed to impact at a legislative level was in its call for a Complaints procedure. The Short Report concluded that the “crucial nature of the decisions made every day by social workers has led to a widely perceived need for a system to provide for the possibility of complaint or appeal against decisions”.

A booklet released by A Voice for the Child in Care at the same time points to the use of complaints procedures as “fail-safe” mechanisms, which” balance the power of the social worker and the rights of clients.” The National Council for Voluntary Organisations supported a complaints procedure saying it would “enhance the service”. This one issue in the NAYPIC policy document would have profound impact on the care system for decades to come.

The 1989 Children’s Act remains a milestone and marker and has had such a huge influence over the ‘care’ landscape that it is still referred to and still remains in place. It’s significant too, that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was due to be adopted in November 1989 (although not to be ratified by the UK until 1991), and that it includes the landmark Article 12, recognising for the first time “the human rights of children as individuals in their own right, including the right of children to participate in all decisions that affect them”.

At its height NAYPIC was recognised by Government and senior policymakers, achieving recognition in the field of child care policy supported by the A.D.S.S., the S.C.A, the National Children’s Bureau, the National Council of Voluntary Organizations, the National Foster Care Association, Community Service Volunteers and many others. Significantly it was invited to every briefing, Conference, and Workshop and its views were sought from every Research facility and every teaching body. NAYPIC was not just a key player in the children’s rights lobby but officially recognised as the only ‘consumer’ group for young people in care, giving the organisation the highest degree of legitimacy.

In Wales, in 1993 NAYPIC Cymru changed its name to Voices from care Cymru (VFCC). By 2001 it would become so influential it was able to affect the recruitment of the children’s commissioner for wales – the first children’s commissioner in the UK. In 2005 it was guaranteed as a registered Charity. Remarkable considering back in 1975 NAYPIC was not considered eligible to do so and relied on grants and Department of Health funding.

NAYPIC itself after such heady days and making such a profound impact slowly unwound over the early 1990s. It was involved in the most high-profile survey and within media for championing the untold and hidden experience of survivors of child sex abuse. This would see it come under the most intense scrutiny. Today of course we can see that the stories and experiences of victims of CSA were accurate and deliberately confounded by politicians, police, and administrators. Child sex abuse of both genders by both genders was endemic and systemic within the residential settings and foster care placements run by all our Local authorities, Charities, and Religious Institutions.

NAYPIC experienced an internal spilt. Its demise came about partly because the grassroots of the party stuck so ruthlessly to its core principles. Its mandate and its constitution. Unable to access Charity funding from the beginning and hampered by Government finance it came under pressure by its Governmental and Charity funders to accept a management structure by an adult group that required all future NAYPIC Reps and Officials could only be sanctioned by the same group. NAYPIC was wound down in the mid-1990s and would be superseded immediately by A National Voice, a care-led initiative, and a year later First Key and The Care Leavers Association which stands to this day.

A year later in 1996 came The Voice for the Child In Care – not Care Leaver led – that would morph into just ‘Voice’ and later become part of The Coram Organisation – it’s now known as Coram Voice. The Children’s Legal Centre which came to an end as NAYPIC did, transitioned into the Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

In Scotland where a Who Cares Conference had been held in 1978 and a NAYPIC group had also been running – it would take another ten years until 1998 when a Scottish care experienced peer-led group would be become fully recognised by the Scottish Office and with Local Authorities. It was the Save the Children Fund who provided funding to set up an office space and employ Development workers for the very first time. Who Cares? Scotland was up and running. In its early days followed a structure based very much on the NAYPIC approach of an NEC, funded Regional workers, running Conferences and forging campaigns (establishing ‘rights in care, improving pocket money and clothing allowances to start). It sought to drive up local members with membership packs and produce resource packs for local groups.

Today a plethora of Advocacy Groups and Charities now operate where none did before. They have evolved from the early groundwork of the AdLib Leeds group, the NCB and Who Cares, of NAYPIC, and the Children’s Legal Centre. There are today niche organisations that focus whole teams on areas that were once policy statements on #CEP policy documents. The law importantly also guarantees advocacy groups in every Local Authority through Participation Teams for both children and young people in care and those leaving or left care. Some of these groups are highly effective and well run. In Kirklees, the Children In care Council and the Care Leavers Forum are run by a CEP. In Bristol likewise, a CEP oversees the advocacy and after care for the 600 plus children and young people there.

But there are huge concerns currently about the unhealthy relationship between some of the Charities – at least some concerns about reported poor practice – and their engagement with this generation’s care experienced and by implication our community more widely. The most recent care-led group RECLAIM have drawn attention to the need for space, that too often Charitable activities can be exploitative in the same way we saw back in the Victorian times – only far more subtly and more pervasive.

Charities, local authorities, and support organisations claim to ‘listen to us’, to ‘hear our voices’, or to ‘speak for us’. We can speak for ourselves. Campaigns are often approached extractively to elicit ‘a story’ – whether it’s a success story or a trauma story. We don’t want others to profit from our stories. They’re exactly that – ours. Often it takes us years to get to a point of being comfortable with telling our story. Participation work can be tokenistic, using the same voices again and again, drowning out the diversity of care-experience. We want people to recognise that asking for our stories in campaigns can feel exploitative and cause harm. This all needs to stop, and we need to be enabled to genuinely shape campaigns, practice, and policy.

We acknowledge that there will always be power relations that affect how we work with others. For example, not properly remunerating a care-experienced person for participation at events when external ‘expert’ speakers are paid generously. Why is their labour seen as more valid than ours? Why does support for care experience end at age 21 or 25, when we have a whole life to live beyond that? We think it’s important that support for care-experienced people doesn’t just disappear. Older care-experienced people are left to cope alone when we would really benefit from support. We want to change that by recognising our community healing is bound to understanding our transgenerational history, collective trauma caused by systemic harms and mutual support across generations. RECLAIM Care Manifesto.

​There is clearly a need for the younger #CEP to understand their own history. To reclaim the very stories, views, and policies that emminated from the community which have been commodified as part of the business model of these Advocacy Charities.

The care community has never been more visible or vocal before than it currently is on Twitter. As well as the Charities, we have 152 Local Authorities all obliged to run advocacy groups for care experiencing and experienced. And yet the views of the #CEP – especially those less vocal, the marginal, the unsexy, the unacknowledged – these voices don’t have the same cache or capital to them. Within an obvious digital divide, in all the clamour for attention, the power of the Advocacy Charities, the numerous ‘niche’ projects that require attention and support, the Academics and the narrative that abounds about ‘care’ success that favours big personalities and hyper celebrity. And among some is the complaint about their stories being ‘stolen’ or ‘amplified’ often from Twitter feeds by Corporate Bodies – many in competition for the views and experiences of the #CEP – or PhD Researchers who believe a gift token is an adequate reimbursement for a life lived in chaos.

Our own history and legacy suggest that the current clamour for wishes & feelings of the young #CEP is at odds with their own self-interest as it has, bizarrely, both disincentivised and disenfranchised our young. These advocates will never reach the position of CEO. And sadly the very people we need to drive on children’s rights are dispassionate about both organisations in general and sadly also for the time being about the Care Review.

The opportunities for the care experienced to express their views may indeed never been apparent. But they have never been more valuable. For the views of the #CEP have now been commodified. The fact is that ‘care’ experienced testimony has become (no slur intended) a source of capital for Charities. That the overall lack of narrative or policy tends to make their own findings have more significance. And the basis upon which these Charities exist is that are delivery agents of and constantly in search of our voices. They exist to propagate the ‘views and feelings’ of the #CEP and their cache is greater if what they can reproduce comes from the most marginalised or the most maligned or misrepresented sector of our community. In their desperation – when they can’t access a #CEP representative – some Corporate bodies are not above ‘outing’ an Associate that may not have agreed to their identity being used as a promotional or marketing add-on. It is surely a GDPR issue for business’ to utilise the status or experience of a care experienced person to improve the #CEP representation within their own ranks. This, to give the impression that the #CEP lies at the heart of (higher level) decision making within these organisations which is not actually the case. And maybe that is the heart of the matter. That #CEP inclusion should go to the very top of these organisations and bodies. That the role they have set themselves in ‘amplifying’ the views of the #CEP community may be at odds with self-advocacy in general as well as the individual’s needs and feelings.

The role of the proxy advocate can – instead of guiding and accompanying the #CEP – lead to apathy and a disinclination towards a political solution. Children’s rights replaced by an ethos of selective success based advocacy, of individual and not collective pathway advancement based on a Corporation’s demand for and reliance on positive outcomes to justify an Agency’s existence. It’s the drip, drip promotion of ‘success’ stories required by the Agencies to illustrate their own successes that can lead to such alienation.

The concern is that policy is the defining factor for much of these Agencies and the data is no longer going to be made available. As organisations grow out of touch the marginalised, the extreme, the diverse expression of #CEP experience lies beyond their capability. And such groups will exist only to keep themselves afloat while we sink or we swim.

Early advocates for Children’s rights (this term did not exist) clearly couldn’t come from within the care community itself. It would take hard won legal reforms, from maverick politicians and from Union members, post-second world war Labour wins, the sixties social revolution, the small gains and historically hidden work of many iconic unknown activists and documentarists that would lead to a social revolution that would form the seedbed for political action for the care experienced themselves. We are grateful to them all.

We are eternally thankful for those unacknowledged advocates – who spoke back to power – from within our own ranks from days gone by. Who. as survivors of child sex abuse, victims of harsh regimes, of racism, violence, and neglect, of siblings lost and families torn asunder made their grievances known. Their voices and testimonies are lost in time, to be found within the archives of our CEP legacy that still lies secured fast in Officialdom. Those stories located within police statements, within the redaction of our files, and the Social work commentaries that document our families and little lives. Those who agitated as whistleblowers, angry young people moved on into secure accommodation, given the liquid cosh, forcefully removed from their homes or placements, moved out of care prematurely.

Countless children and young people, their parents and families often, who challenged the very people supposed to protect us, Staff and Social Workers, Administrators and politicians given charge of us – as Corporate Parents – who were most often our worst enemies our abusers. Who demanded our silence. We give thanks to those silent advocates that victims and survivors would gravitate towards – Teachers, Domestics, Care Staff, Police Officers, some Field Social Workers – who stood up for us or offered us solace or escape. We give thanks to their contribution to our late emancipation. With no complaints system in place and no one to listen or create pathways for us, how could we ever hope to advocate for ourselves?

Can we now?

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A Colour Full Life ‘A tribute to Yusuf Paul’ by Tasmin Trevorrow

From this window, like the moon, we close the distance

The distance between you and our collective sorrow

With thoughts and verse, a kaleidoscope of painted hues that we somehow hope will capture the essence The essence of you.

Man of purple: the serene stability of blue transcending all inflicted wounds

bleeding calm instead of hate combined with the fierce energy of red resolute committed fixed certain uncompromising.

Representing wisdom and dignity both of which you treasured.

Power and ambition both of which you grasped.

Devotion and creativity both of which you lived.

Man of Black: without black all colours have no depth

No depth or variation

Representing Strength and Authority both of which you embodied

Elegance and sophistication both of which you carried so well.

Like the first flash of dawn you brightened our lives with the colour of hope,

hope that our united voice could make a difference.

That our swallowed pain could come forth in restorative truth manifested into life giving

power… Power and strength for future generations of the forgotten child.

You took the box full of darkness meant to destroy you and peeled it from your innocence

You found an adventure of colour in penned word and painted canvas

You brightened everything with your passion

Though your days with us were brief you brought life love and peace

We will not look for you only in memory

We will see you in in every inspired work of art

In every poem of justice hoped for and truth told

In every beautiful rhythm of world music echoing eternal tones

Although we now grieve your loss

You will always dwell in that sacred place

Of our collective love

Where no wraith of loss will ever be able to hold you captive again

May you continue to inspire us

Until we again see your beautiful face

In that place where no tear falls and there are no more goodbyes

Until then we will salute you and celebrate your life full of colour

Your Colour Full Life.

Taz Trev

A tribute to Yusuf Paul McCormack – UBUNTU

“Ubuntu is the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you cannot exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality-Ubuntu-you are known for your generosity.

We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas we are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the evening of 18th March 2021 during world social work week celebrations, Your Life Your Story hosted UBUNTU in honour of the life and work of Yusuf Paul McCormack a much loved director of Your Life Your Story, founder and co-director of Artifacts and highly regarded member of the care experienced community.  “Yusuf captured the essesnce spirit  of Ubuntu  in his love of humanity, connection and kindness, in his pursuit of unity and social justice. In his generous heart, kinf spirit and gentle nature he created a sense of belonging and connectedness for so many who felt they never did… ” Saira Jayne Jones director of Artifacts and YLYS. 

In this painting and accompanying poem ‘A Colour Full Life’ Tasmin Trevorrow captures the very essence of the man, all that he was and how we will remember him. Jackie Mcartney met Yusuf five years ago at a care leavers event and spoke about how he had supported her work with care leavers and helped her to find her voice. 

We saw in the video’s of his work his efforts to ‘Be The Difference’ and with more contribututions from Daniel Bennison, Dr Josie Pearce, David Jackson, Amanda Knowles and members of the audience this event truly was testimony to his love of family and his tireless and selfless endeavours.  

We heard from Greg Hartigan his lifelong friend who grew up with him in Father Hudson’s homes about the boy he was, and how he survived against the odds of unthinkable cruelty and hardship. Then from David Jackson, a more recent friend, about what his friendship meant to him and of his commitment to inclusion and ally ship and the evening ended with a call to action…  Members of the audience were asked to make a pledge to ‘BE THE DIFFERENCE

Poems from the event will be posted on the website and a video of this event will be made available on YouTube and if you are interested in the work of Your Life Your Story and Artifacts please don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

 

Smoke and Mirrors

On March 12th 2021 Evette Stanley the National Director of Early Years Regulation and Social Care at Ofsted publicly welcomed the Independent Children’s Review. In this public address it is acknowledged that Ofsted need to play their part. It says they want to encourage flexibility but are too often hampered by the restrictions of current legislation.

For this reason, Ofsted say they have asked the review team to take a fresh look at the regulatory framework they work under. They say this is because key aspects and specifically the Care Standards Act need modernising.

Whilst this news is welcomed it will be of no comfort to those who have suffered discrimination and significant harm under Ofsted’s interpretation of the present arrangements.

The number of individuals who have suffered the shame of disqualification from the children’s workforce and the number of children’s home closures and reasons for them is not publicly known. Ofsted say this is because it is not in the public interest. The concern is that this lack of transparency and unyielding determination to defend the right to rely on untested information and conciliatory avoidance has wreaked havoc in children’s social care and prevents proper scrutiny of regulatory decisions that affect so many lives.

It is of course true that too many children have been harmed and that care fails too many. It is good that the review aims to consult with children and adults with lived experience of children’s social care. Although, it is difficult to see how meaningful this will be in such short timescales and without taking into account the views of those who provided their day-to-day care.

As I see it, modernising the legislative framework in the proposed way will not bring about the necessary improvements, that will require significant cultural change and a new approach to regulation. Specifically, a regulatory system that draws on findings from behavioural science, transparency and ethical practice.

Without this, the reliability and validity of regulatory processes and the judgments made based on them will remain questionable.

Amanda Knowles 2021

Talking Circles

At YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY EVENTS the opportunity to SHARE OUR STORIES, to listen to each other and learn from each other isTalking-Circle-Instagram-Post an important feature of what we do. With the help of Artifacts we explored the concept of talking circles and created our own talking sticks at YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY 2019.

The TRADITIONAL TALKING CIRCLE is a very old way of bringing NATIVE PEOPLE of all ages together in a quiet, respectful manner for the purposes of TEACHING, LISTENING, LEARNING and SHARING. The value of coming together in this way was summed up in the feedback from the group “it is good to be with people who just get it”….

Sadly we were not able to come together as planned at YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY 2020 but  again with the help of Artifacts we braved technology and came together for our YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY Christmas event ‘The Gift of Experience – The Truth Unwrapped” on Zoom.

It is difficult to believe that just a few weeks later at the beginning of 2021 we sadly lost our beloved brother Yusuf and our tribute event in his memory will also be held on zoom on 18 March 2021 during world social work week. Tickets for the event UMBUTU are available at Eventbrite.

With all of this in mind and uncertainty about whether YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY EVENT will be able to go ahead as planned this year we thought the opportunity to meet online in a ‘Talking Circle’ would be an appropriate way of keeping our community connected and extending it to others. These will be held on the 2nd and 4th Thursday monthly beginning on 8th April 2021.

We look forward to seeing you there.

Please contact amanda@ylys.org for more information

My Career in Children’s Social Care… where do I begin?

Where do I start with my career within Residential Care??

I began my career in 2004 working with Children and Young People who had a range of complex needs including Autism, Epilepsy and Learning Disabilities. At first this was a whole new experience for me coming from my background of Graphic Design and then a Cook/Chef.

I enjoyed my time working with these Children and although I suffered injuries due to their condition or communication difficulties, I took this in my stride and worked hard to make a difference in their lives. There was laughter, tears, temper tantrums and injuries, and that was just the staff!!! Working in children’s social care meant early mornings leaving my home, coming in late at night when my children were almost ready for bed (They were teenagers and I was a single Mum). It was hard for us all but my dedication to those less fortunate than my own children was high on my priority list. I then left to work with Children and Young People who had suffered traumatic events in their lives which unfortunately left them being unable to be cared for in their own homes or with their own families. These children were abused, neglected or in the care of a main care giver unable to give them the most basic care and attention that is required for each child to fulfil their potential.

Throughout my 17 years working in the children’s workforce I believe that I have always given my best and have always gone above and beyond to help these children and young people move forward, to have better self-esteem, self-respect, more opportunities, and a promising future. But I do understand some children are unable to move forward in residential care, and they get caught up in the never-ending cycle of their lives. Some are so neglected and abused before they enter the care system that they are unable to trust the care and empathy on offer.

Being a residential care worker is not an easy job, it is not a 9 to 5 position, it is very long hours, sometimes without sleep, staying overnight at the home where you work, absorbing the emotional verbal and physical abuse young people direct at you like blotting paper and leaving work still thinking about the children and young people you look after.

Completing what appears to be never ending paperwork, ensuring that all the regulations and standards that are inspected by Ofsted are adhered to. Supporting other staff on challenging days, tears of sadness, tears of happiness, tears of frustration and not all related to the children and young people who are in your care. Sometimes it is due to the staff you work with or the company not appreciating what you do, yet as a carer you continue to give the children the care, support, understanding, empathy, warmth and security. They are vulnerable and sometimes a risk to themselves, others and society, so you do your best to safeguard them in the hope that they come to no further harm. Don’t get me wrong there are really good days, like spending the day at a Theme Park, shopping, visiting interesting places and just laughing and being together.

As a residential care worker you give up valuable family time, Christmas. Easter, Birthdays etc as care is not Monday to Friday 9 to 5, these vulnerable children and young people need 24-hour care, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. Your family see you tired, emotional, injured with black eyes, cuts and bruises, burns and bites, to name but a few. My own children, family, partner and friends have been overwhelmed with some of my injuries. My partner has often been the victim of many stares from others when out in the community due to me having injuries that are visible, these people obviously thinking I am a victim of domestic abuse.

I do remember one really horrible injury which left me with a huge black eye, bruising to my cheek bone and believe me I looked horrendous. Having gone to accident and emergency to check that my cheek bone was not broken I was greeted by the receptionist with the words “domestic abuse?” having informed her that it was a work injury she then stated “I hope you had them arrested”. Mind boggling!!

This resulted in me putting a photograph of my injury on Facebook asking if any worker should have to suffer this. There were a few comments stating that this is part of my job …… let me assure you it is NOT!! The residential care worker should have the same support as the Emergency Services. We do our job to help others, vulnerable children and young people, we don’t for it for the pay… that’s a whole new story!!!

Another comment made to me when I was working with a young person at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation was that “these girls ask for it.” I was incensed… people do not always see the bigger picture and understand what is involved with looking after and caring for such vulnerable children. This is NOT a job it is a vocation!! Many people would not have the patience and understanding to last one day let alone 17 years as I have done.

I have worked in many roles since beginning my career as a Child Care Officer, progressing from a Residential Childcare Worker, Senior Residential Care Worker, Team Leader, Deputy Manager, Peripatetic Senior and Support Worker.

A little over 6 months ago I successfully applied for a Deputy Care Managers position within the company I worked for. I was excited as this was a step forward and with my knowledge and experience I knew I could put my heart and soul into this new role. Then, due to Ofsted refusing to register the newly appointed Manager I was asked if I would like to take the role instead. I was a little unsure at first but after talking to the Responsible Individual and the CEO of the company I felt that they were eager for me to accept the role and appeared to have the confidence in my abilities as did my Manager as he had recommended me for the role. The stress then begins …….

I was asked to complete the SC2 form which is the application for the role of Registered Manager required by regulation. It is a long form with numerous questions to answer which is part of the process. On completion I sent this off along with my NVQ Certificate, my DBS form, and the name of references from previous employers.

Having completed this I then had to complete a Fit Persons Questionnaire, which is much like an essay about your experience, knowledge and skills and your understanding of the legislation and standards within the Child Care industry and how you would ensure these are met in the home you have applied to manage. Then had to complete a Health Declaration and this was then taken to my own Doctor to complete, costing money and having to wait for the surgery to complete this which took almost 6 weeks. In the meantime I was asked to work 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, to ensure that the home was set up ready, this involved ensuring that the relevant paperwork was up to date such as The Statement of Purpose, The Safe Area Report, The Homes Development Plan, The Health and Safety File and numerous other items. This at first was quite strange for me as after having done 17 years of shift work and not working every day I was now working every day which felt strange.

After being contacted several times by Ofsted requesting additional information for my registration, I was finally asked to attend the Fit Persons Interview. This was 3 months after I had completed my initial SC2 form. This in itself is extremely nerve wracking, especially for someone like myself who does not like interviews and always feel that my mind goes blank. During the fit persons interview you are informed that if your application is refused you will be unable to work with children for 5 years. At this point I was extremely stressed and felt like I had entered into a career suicide!! At the end of the interview I was informed that I would be contacted with the outcome. I waited and waited…. and was eventually an Ofsted Inspector phoned to ask if they could arrange a further interview with regards to a safeguarding incident from 2017 which had been bought to their attention when they had contacted one of the Local Safeguarding Board in areas that I had worked. I agreed to attend and during the interview I was asked if I recalled the incident, I confirmed that I did and went on to provide my account of the event.

The incident had happened in the August of 2017, I was a Senior Residential Care Worker at the company I had worked for. At the time of the incident the home had no Manager and we had recently admitted a new Young Person who we knew very little about, (it is not uncommon for Local Authorities not to give all the information) but what we did know was that he had no respect for females, he had been and could be verbally and physically aggressive towards females and did not like to follow boundaries. He was a tall, well built, Young Person and on the day in question he had requested to have further free time in the community but I was unable to give an answer until I had spoken to his Social Worker, the Regional Manager and the House Team.

It was agreed that he could have 2 hours free time and then return to the home for his evening meal and complete some work with staff before going back out for a further 2 hours. This was not the answer he wanted, and he became verbally aggressive towards me, so I asked him to perhaps think about what I had said and then come back to me after he’d calmed down, but he became even more agitated and began to shout. At this point I felt in a very vulnerable position due to being aware of his aggression and I was standing on the landing outside the office at the top of a flight of stairs so I explained that I would return to the office and close the door. With that, I stepped back into the office and closed the door. He then began to curse and shout that I had broken his foot and when I opened the door and he glared at me stating that he was going to call the Police and have me arrested as I had broken his foot at which point other staff members became involved. They took him away from the area and requested to see his foot, he refused this and also refused medical attention.

I was asked to leave (suspended pending investigation) the property which I did at 17.30. I was shaken by the whole incident as within all my years of working I had never had an allegation made against me. I returned to my own home awaiting the outcome. I was contacted the next morning at 9am by the Responsible Individual for the company informing me that LADO had been contacted and all information had been passed on and LADO said that there was nothing to answer to and there was no safeguarding case. I was asked to return to work, however to go to another one of the companies homes. I was also informed that there would be an internal investigation. From when the incident happened in August and being informed that I had to attend a Disciplinary Hearing in November I had not received any support or supervision. I attended the Disciplinary and awaited the outcome. I was informed that I was receiving a Final Written Warning (I had never even had a warning before in my whole career). Due to how I felt about working for the Company I decided there was no point appealing the decision and decided to hand in my resignation.

This was 19 weeks after my initial application had been submitted and after I had given this account to the Ofsted Inspector whilst notes were taken, I had to wait again. Then four stressful weeks later I received a letter from Ofsted which I opened with some trepidation. The letter was a Proposal for Refusal. I was gutted. I had given 17 years of my life to working with vulnerable children, only to be refused registration due to an unfounded allegation because in the eyes of the Ofsted Panel I had put the safety of myself ahead of that of a child when I closed the office door to prevent the situation escalating further and to keep myself safe.

I have spent the last few weeks in a state of disbelief and I have had no alternative but to resign from my post at the Company. I am currently unemployed. The company have withdrawn my application so I am still able to work with vulnerable children if I wish to do so.

At this moment I feel like I have been punched in the stomach. After my dedication of working with children, going above and beyond, keeping in touch with some of the young people I have looked after, keeping in contact with many of the brilliant colleagues I have worked with and putting my family through the hell of my stress, injuries and uncertain moments I truly do not know whether I want to continue.

I now believe that if I had known how stressful and heart wrenching applying for the position of a Registered Manager with Ofsted I would never of applied. These people do not know the real me, they do not know what good I have done, how many children I have had a part of changing their lives for the better, being there for colleagues, managers, family members of the children I have looked after, the hours I have worked and the nights I have not slept, the tears I have cried for the disclosures I have heard, the trauma that these children have suffered.

The process of becoming a Registered Manager puts your career and livelihood at risk and to find out that you are being refused …. Devastating.

If my life story helps another worker to be aware and understand that Ofsted are NOT FAIR I feel that I am still helping.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.

Authors name not published 

My experience of toxic staffing relationships in children’s homes. By Ben Westwood

Hi folks, it’s taken me a very long time to feel comfortable enough to write this post. The things I’m going to talk about are quite recent experiences in my life, only a few months ago in fact but I’ve had to go through my own processing too.
Also, it’s just really uncomfortable that ‘working with young people’ and ‘being dismissed from my job’ even come into the same sentence. But I guess that’s even more reason why writing this post is so important.
And also because only a year ago I was raising funds to help me move myself and my stuff down to Somerset, where I was then due to start my role working with young people.

I’ll backtrack a little briefly for those that don’t really know me. In a nutshell I was in care and a frequent runaway living on the streets as a child and young teen. Then three or four years ago I wrote a book about it. (Poems From a Runaway)
A children’s home company I’d been working with brought a few copies of my book and offered me an interview to work with them, and then offered me the job. How great was that I thought. Maybe I’ll even find my tribe there in colleagues.
We’re all human, and I did come across a lot of goodness, but still it didn’t work out like that at all. In fact I’m left shocked at how it felt to be on ‘the other side’ as it were. It’s best I now explain.

Perhaps before I go on, it’s worth admitting and questioning was I a ‘really good person for the role?’ Perhaps not even i dunno, but I put that partly down to struggling with getting my driving lessons and tests booked speedily (covid really didn’t help) and partly inexperience. There were other things I needed to brush up on. The methods of TeamTeach and other such resources for helping to work with and understand young people. But I think what was hampering progress even more, was the fact that I’d been coming home complaining almost every day about work, but never really about the young people I’d been working with.

Truth is, for much of my experience at the company (I worked in two homes) I felt more like an agency member of staff than a part of the team. Despite handover meetings etc, I was often outside of the loop with what was going on at the home or young people’s lives. Established staff would often talk about situations and events among each other whilst I had to pretty much tug their sleeves to say “I’m here, a member of the team, can you explain to me what’s going on please?”

I’d already had worrying signs when the company had offered me the job pending the DBS checks but had taken months to respond to the two or three emails I’d written explaining that I was concerned they’d gone off the radar. But once we regained communication I’d soon forgotten about that.

I guess I’d had a niggle in the back of my mind once I moved down here of how close the homes were to a person in my life that had been complicit in allowing some pretty heavy stuff to happen to me after whistleblowing events over the last few years. Still now though, and after what I’m about to tell you, I’m not really confident they are linked. It was just one of those things in the back of my mind that had come to surface once in a while.

We’d been working with young teens of which some were struggling with their hygiene. I got on the staff whatsapp group and said that I thought it would be a great idea if me and the other new member of staff were to get a present for all of the young people there to say that it was a pleasure meeting and working with them.
Because they were all young lads we were working with, I suggested some high quality shower gels I’d once come across as well as shower sponges or those ‘manscrubber’ things, because I remember how much of a hygienic revolution it was for myself as a young adult to discover the benefits of using a sponge instead of seeing half of a shower-gel bottle disappear down a plug hole.

The top managers of the company seemed to think over the whatsapp group that it was a nice idea, although no one else bothered to reply. I just had a sense after that things felt weird.
I’d already brought it up once in the office before that actually, and despite understanding and weighing up the rules on gifts due to safeguarding, I didn’t think there was a problem with it. Was everyone getting an equal gift? Yes. Was it from just one member of staff? No!

However, in both of the homes I’d worked in I was getting tip-offs from the young people of when staff members where acting bitchy behind my back to me.
I’d been asked to help one of the young people I’d often worked with to run a bath when I’d struck up a conversation about how great I thought epsom-salt shower gels were(he was a sporty young person).
“Oh yeah by the way, the staff all think you’re weird” he said to me.
I asked him what he meant when he responded that he’d heard the staff saying that what I’d put over the whatsapp group and mentioned in the office was weird.
I’m actually really grateful for him telling me that, but at the same time it’s uncomfortable to both work and have that in your head.

I think this young person trusted me though. There were things in the home that I was far from happy about. This particular young person was the complete scapegoat of the home and when it came to how staff interacted with him, it was obvious many of the staff had a bee in their bonnet about him. Often referring to incidences that happened before I even arrived, and a sense of non-forgiveness.
I’d began to question why as a staffing team we weren’t intervening enough when the other small number of residents were pushing him against the wall, punching him, and roughing him up every day. It was obvious this lad wasn’t a fighter, and it was horrible to see.

I was often responded with stuff like “Oh it isn’t that bad” , “they are just being kids” etc etc.
I do know that my relationship went sour quite immediately with two of the young people when one day I said “Come on lads, leave it out, you’re kinda bullying him now.”
It was no surprise those lads took a dislike to me after that if I was the only one there saying it.

Also having staff offices in immediate hearing shot of young people’s bedrooms is perhaps a bad idea. Especially when staff are mocking other young people in the home with their everyday language, labelling them mockingly as ‘special’. Like say the young lads name was John, they’d use it as everyday reference, things such as “Oh Max didn’t enjoy it there, he walked into a room full of John’s and looked at me strange like he didn’t want to be there.”

I questioned with my manager why this sort of language was being used within the home towards the young people living there and was told what I presume is bantered around other sectors – “Oh but people have to let off steam, you can’t take everything at work too seriously.”

Things started to feel a bit weird though when I was left out of IRF incidences and then told I wasn’t pulling my weight when I blatantly was. I remember one night a young lad had been in a heightened state and during a sleep in I’d woken up having heard the commotion.
I then came out of the room I was in and was asked by the two staff members on shift with me to not worry about it and go back to bed. I didn’t really feel comfortable doing that, so I got dressed and went downstairs to the event because I felt it was the right thing to do.

The young lad had been throwing bricks, and no round of applause needed but I’m still quite proud of the brick i caught that was heading for the back windscreen of the homes car. The young lad was sat down in the office and loosely restrained until he’d calmed down.
The two staff members were adamant they didn’t need me around, and so when it seemed like I had no longer been needed and knowing I’d be doing the cleaning in an hour or so (because I was literally always still cleaning until last minute) I returned to bed for an hour.

A couple of days later I was pulled aside by my manager and asked why I hadn’t left my room to help with the incident and had been told the two other staff members had complained about it. “But I was out of my room, I was there with them outside” I replied.
I was shocked to learn that there was no mention of me whatsoever on the IRF’s either. Apparently I was fast asleep during it all!

It was obvious that I wasn’t fitting in. Then I got a phone call from someone that had worked for the company briefly before having to leave for personal reasons. I’d really enjoyed working with them actually and thought they seemed good at the role. They had used the company for a reference and although their other references were up to scratch, the company seeking the reference had been told by the company I was with that this person shouldn’t be allowed to work with young people. They still got the job they were going for though thankfully.
I’ve since spoken with this person that has gone on to say it was a horrid experience working at the homes we were at.

The relationships and dynamics had got a bit weird. Like it might sound a bit weird the way I put this, but it felt to some degree like me and the young lad were the scapegoats, dodging the crap of everyone else. Even that young lad told me that the staff didn’t respect me. And he wasn’t wrong.
Standing up for him had made me a bit of a target to some degree. The two lads that had been bullying the other one were now frequently attempting to ‘rush’ me. Sure I got a few surprise body punches, and drenched in anti-bac a few times. They weren’t fully grown blokes though, so it didn’t actually bother me half as much as the issues with staff relationships and the workings of the home.

When incidences had happened like this, I’d often get sent home. Things were looking up once I attended my first TeamTeach training, i thought it would be useful. Still I wasn’t a part of the team though, some of the team including deputy managers had previously worked together in the same prison so I guess there was always going to be a click. Let alone the feeling that being a care leaver myself I was more likely to them sort of more in common with the prisoners they’d worked with than the guards!

I remember one staff member no longer working there telling me to be careful of watching for those lying, explaining that one staff member would simply lie through their teeth and accuse other staff members about stuff every now and then.

For sure the driving thing hadn’t helped. And in raw honestly it was party due to covid but partly due to me struggling to keep on it. I do have to take some blame for that as its an essential part of the job. Still I was able to go out on walks etc with young people. I was soon transferred from that home to another one which i had high hopes for when I got there, and really enjoyed working with the young people there too.

I’d already bonded with some of the team before my transfer there when I was attending training days. There were some tasks where we had to work as a team, and I think others could see that when I was asking my work team questions they were blatantly pretending not to hear me, claiming they had been a little tired. I’m not stupid though, I know psychological abuse when I see it.

Luckily at the training day I moved over to train with some of the people working at the other homes, and felt the energies between us communicated a lot better. I felt accepted among them I guess.

The peace was soon about to end though when one of my shift partners had just got a bit too much up her own backside. I was constantly mocked and undermined for my lack of experience, and being asked not to make gut instinct decisions that managers had no problem with.
Who was doing all the dirty jobs like cleaning toilets, ovens, feeding the chickens and clearing up spilled-over bins on all my shifts? Muggy old me. (The manager would sometimes feed the chickens on her way in to be fair).

Then it was obvious that I was starting to experience gaslighting and being undermined on pretty much every shift. Other staff members that I’d got along with had noticed it and mentioned it to the manager. I pulled up my colleague one morning about what she’d said to me, some ignorant generalisation about kids in care. I told her it wasn’t fair to label everyone like that.
Later that day she had the front to say to me “I need to talk to you about earlier when you shouted at me and told me to shut the eff up?”
I know i didn’t, or wouldn’t, say that and whilst writing this I’m starting to wonder if that particular conversation was being covertly recorded in an attempt to stitch me up.

Even though I got on better with much of the team at this place, working with that shift partner was just doing my head in and I felt my mental health start going downhill rapidly. Everything about working there was starting to frustrate me.
I’d already given warnings to my new manager about certain decisions she was taking, such as not buying another charger lead for the house tablets because the one the young people were using was broken and they had to apparently ‘learn how to start looking after them’ (it’s just a lead for goodness sake!)
Indeed the car window did go through that day. I knew something like that would happen, nobody likes to be treated like that. Not that I’m condoning it but I knew immediately that I was likely to react just the same back in the day. I think power just goes to a lot of people’s heads. A lot of young people in care won’t tolerate it though!
Can’t help but wonder that the young person was being a bit stitched up there. Hopefully was just a bad decision though.

I knew my time was coming to an end though when I was pulled into the staff office and told I was being put on a ‘performance improvement plan’. I’d already heard of this briefly beforehand whilst researching on toxicity in the workplace and was given the heads up that if this was to happen then they likely wanted me out of the company.
The atmosphere in the office was a sudden shock for me, I wasn’t actually expecting it and it put me on edge a little bit. I was offered to take up the rest of my leave, which I really wish I’d taken as I was completely shafted by the company afterwards which left me struggling to pay the rent.

I wasn’t totally convinced they wanted me out though at that point, like maybe they just wanted or needed me to improve. I could accept that I think, I know there’s a lot I need to brush up on still. Who doesn’t after only 6 months or so in the job.

I was still doing the jobs others were offloading onto me, covering for other people’s weekly reports, up into early hours of the morning catching up on paperwork etc, guess we all do that though maybe, i dunno.

Anyhow, my time at the company was about to come to an abrupt end one day when my shift partner, and new deputy manager (who i actually really liked) had helped a young person purchase a sim card. One day the young person asked me to get it for him so that he could register his phone.
I’d felt a bit iffy about it so decided to ask my deputy manager what he thought, which he said it was ok. The young persons safety plan was in the process of being ‘liberated’ to some degree anyway and many of his safeguarding restrictions in the process of being eased.
However, although he had been with the deputy manager sorting his sim card out that night, the young person had not handed the sim card back in and had managed to somehow call a girl he had become interested in.
Hands up to my error there, I should have checked in on it and had presumed my shift partner and deputy was on the ball with it.

The next morning it was made apparent that our young person had been making phone calls and I was asked to help find the sim card before being asked by another member of staff to return to the office.

I was instantly told that I was being dismissed for this having already been on a performance plan. No questions, no basic suspended pay, no investigation, nothing.

I was then told that if I was seeking a job in the safeguarding profession and would require a reference then the company would have to explain that I’d been dismissed.
Fair enough, but at the same time the company are now completely stonewalling me and totally ignoring my requests for a letter explaining my dismissal. This has hammered my confidence in regards to looking for work, like where do you start explaining all that and being confident that people have faith in what you say?

Oddly enough, I’ve been on twitter this morning explaining that I’m about to write this post. I’ve just had a weird fake message from HMRC saying they are launching a fraud case against me. Let’s hope this isn’t connected. I really hope not. (There’s my overthinking mind for ya!) But with such strange behaviours already experienced, u never know.

But it’s all been a bit strange you know.

After my 3rd request asking for a letter explaining my dismissal being ignored, I’m kinda done with this company now. A complete joke, and it is likely obvious I’m sort of suspicious about them now.

Even more former staff members have been in touch and had givin me the heads up not to hold my breath waiting for a response.
With staff constantly complaining about being refused annual leave and with myself experiencing being told to ‘see a doctor’ when I asked about resources relating to ‘mental health in working with young people’ this company totally needs a shake up.
I know they’ll read this no doubt, and are likely to be offended. But that’s just not my problem anymore.

Perhaps I was too weak in not speaking out when I should, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that I can totally understand how new team members can find it awkward rocking the boat. Like I rocked it a little, but perhaps not enough.
The whole thing stinks for sure though.
Onwards and upwards mind. New paths ahead.
I’ll be launching my bead shop, check it out 🙂

Ben Westwood.
Benwestwooduk.com

Let’s talk about truth shall we…..

Before the care review steps into the battlefield of vested interest that exists between practitioners, services and sectors, it first needs to look closely at the environmental impact of government policy on social care. In my opinion, it will look much like the impact of supermarkets on the high street, globalisation on local economies and climate warming on the planet.

Two decades ago, legislation was introduced to create a level playing field for all providers of social care services across all vulnerable groups. With this came independent regulation intended to protect the public and soon after, the arrival of Ofsted claiming to be a force for improvement willing to inspect without fear or favour. That has not been my experience and in my opinion this legislation has passed its sell by date and so has the fear led approach to regulation that arrived with it.

This is evident in the increasing monopolisation of the ‘market’ now reminiscent of so much that is bad about the power of money and privilege over vulnerability. That is not to say that I think all business is bad because I don’t. My thinking is more to do with who holds the power and what safeguards there are in place to prevent the potential for that power to be misused.

It is in my view time to lift the shroud of secrecy that allows Ofsted to hide truth behind untested freedom of information exemptions and the willingness of the powers that be too collude with this. It cannot be right that in the year this legislation came of age that qualified and experienced caregivers are being expelled from the children’s workforce, that children are moved from placement to placement because providers fear a bad Ofsted rating and more time is now spent in an office playing a ‘prove it’ game on paper than is spent actually caring for the children and young people.

Or, that beyond my immediate professional habitat, there are media led scandals that fill the public with dread whilst the number of children coming into care is increasing. That in lockdown alone Ofsted have registered 177 new children’s homes when they know there is a national shortage of managers, they are ejecting suitable applicants and registering others with a dubious track record, and many of these providers are completely new to the world of children’s social care.

That I witness the aftermath of care in the number of young people living in substandard accommodation and the willingness of local authorities to place them there, the number of children removed from care experienced mothers who have been left without support, the number of adopted children returned to care in their teenage years by parents who can’t cope and above all the number of children condemned to a life without love and the visible consequences of this in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and graveyards.

This care review will not even scratch the surface of what needs to be done until the mist clears and the environmental causes of this are understood and tackled with the same priority that is attributed to other threats to society and the planet.

Amanda Knowles MBE

TAKEN AGAINST YOUR WILL by Jackie McCartney

The smell of sweat
Heavy weight upon your chest
Rough beard on your skin
Cuts your body to pieces
Nauseated with body odour
Aggressive hands all over you
Screaming in your head
No no no leave me alone
You switch off
It’s not happening to you
You leave your body to keep safe

When you awake
Your bruised, sore an ache
But no one notices or cares

DAD by David Anderson (contains strong language)

I hated my Dad
I’d wrote it on my bedroom wall
In black marker pen
Behind the wardrobe
Beside the mouldy carpet
That lay in a pile in the corner
The week before mum went to hospital
She’d taken a nervous breakdown
He told me it was my fault
He had a hangover that day
They took me away soon after
My mum visited sometimes
She was a good mum
Though not one for kissing it better

I hated my Dad
He left for London
Days after I was taken away
To get a ‘good’ job
So, “things will be better, you’ll see”
I didn’t see him for a year
I blamed my mother
Took explosive and violent tantrums
Either before, during or after every visit
At the time, I didn’t know why
I thought I was a bad person
That my Dad was right
To have called me a little bastard
Or a useless little cunt

I hated my Dad
He turned up unexpectedly one day
With the barmaid from his local
He always did like a drink
He was balder than before
She was blonde and silent
I burst out crying
Hugged him with all my might
I told him I loved him
He arranged to see me the next day
Under the clock in the shopping centre
I wore my best clothes
He didn’t turn up
I went stealing instead

I hated my Dad
As I grew up
I found out what a father could be
My anger consumed me
I lashed out at the wrong people
Latched on to the wrong people
10 years later
I saw him at my Grandad’s funeral
He made my little brother cry
I gave him a black eye
The fight split the family further
He died an alcoholic soon after
I didn’t go to the funeral
Even though I loved my Dad

Now, as I write these new lines
My two boys lie sleeping
Their lives are full of love
Security, surety, serenity
They have never known
What it is to be alone
To wish for a ‘good’ Dad
They tell me they love me
As naturally as the leaves fall
I am soothed and smitten
I vow to do more for them
Keep the flame of love burning bright
So they grow up to be good guys
And hopefully love their Dad