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?

Share this:
twitter facebook

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

Reflections of a Caregiver

I joined the children’s workforce in 1976 soon after newly formed social services departments introduced generic social work, approved schools were closed, observation and assessment centres were the new elite and children in family group homes were moved to family placements. The Children Act received Royal Assent on 16 November 1989, an alleged epidemic of child abuse swept the country, and by the end of the Twentieth Century residential childcare was on trial.

The story first started to unfold in public view in 1989 when allegations of abuse were made by 57 residents and former residents against Ralph Morris the proprietor of Castle Hill School in Ludlow and investigations in Staffordshire, North Wales and Leicestershire followed. My husband and I fostered a boy who had been placed at Castle Hill in the early 1980’s, I visited him at the school with his social worker and met Morris the same day. When news of the allegations reached the media, I did not doubt they were true, there was just something about him that had struck me as fake… just not quite right. Much like my first impressions of the deputy children’s resource centre manager I inherited when I worked for a large local authority in the Northwest. He was using his work computer to write letters requesting porn from contact magazines that he kept in his filing cabinet alongside photographs of unrelated women and children and carrier bags stuffed with letters from debt collectors, refused loan applications, county court summons and bank statements that revealed he was stealing from public funds. After realising he’d been found out he fled, but justice caught up with him and he eventually served time for his crimes. As did Morris who was convicted and sentenced to 12 years on 12th April 1991. Fortunately, our foster son did not witness or experience any abuse during his short time at the school although he knows others now in their fifties who did and have suffered the affects ever since.

By the beginning of the new millennium well over 100 care workers had been prosecuted and more than ninety police trawling operations resulted in at least one thousand investigations into individual children’s homes across the country. For those who may not know, trawling is a questionable approach used by the police investigating historical abuse that begins with a suspect or an allegation and ends with the discovery of crimes not previously reported. Whilst many of these complaints are undeniably true and have helped convict workers who unforgivably betrayed the trust placed in them, not all care workers were abusing children and some allegations were fabricated and resulted in serious miscarriages of justice. Indeed, the police in Northumbria who launched Operation Rose in 1997 were accused of ruining the lives of staff and wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money. This three-year investigation led to 32 people being charged with 142 offences, of these six were found guilty and received custodial sentences totalling 25 years, one other pleaded guilty, and four suspects died prior to trial. Without doubt the participation of field social workers and child protection workers in these operations ensured that a number of guilty people were convicted. But according to the late Richard Webster, the British author who suggested hysteria lay behind some abuse scandals, social workers were also significant in unleashing a witch hunt of extreme proportions upon residential workers who they treated like the poor relations. Careers were lost and lives were shattered as journalists led the way to the false belief that children’s homes are synonymous with abuse and care workers cannot be trusted which has nurtured prejudice, made scapegoats of many and influenced legislation and policy ever since.

Remarkably the rampant onslaught of child sexual exploitation in the same period did not attract the same media interest until revelations of an estimated 1,500 victims in Rotherham sparked a national scandal over a decade later. Only then did the public learn that Rochdale sexual health worker Sara Botham had made more than 180 attempts between 2003 and 2014 to alert police and social services to patterns of sexual abuse but was told the witnesses were unreliable. This was a heinous crime against children on a scale not previously seen but sadly all too often the police viewed it as a crime against undesirables… a lifestyle choice. Children as young as 11 were deemed to be having consensual sexual intercourse when in fact they were being raped and abused by adults according to the findings of Alexis Jay OBE who chaired the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997-2013. The report describes how one mother was assessed by a social worker as not able to accept her 12 years old daughter was growing up when she voiced her concern about her being sexually active, going missing and getting drunk with older males. In another example a child who was just 13 when she was groomed by a violent sexual predator, raped and trafficked was blamed by social workers for ‘placing herself at risk of sexual exploitation and danger. Staff in children’s homes are described as powerless to stop older children introducing younger more vulnerable children to predatory adult males and most disturbingly the report reveals that 15 years after concerns were first being raised by care workers in children’s homes Ofsted rated safeguarding services in Rotherham as adequate in their overall effectiveness and capacity for improvement in 2010.

My own experience of caring for victims of child sexual exploitation during this time leaves me with no uncertainty that the police generally believed these girls were wasting police time and care workers were not doing their job properly. Regrettably this was a belief that social workers were only too willing to accept but belief is not fact. In reality, many care workers were putting themselves at risk in their efforts to keep victims safe by following men who brazenly picked up children in cars from the front doors of children’s homes and gathering vital evidence from number plates and mobile phone numbers to names and descriptions of perpetrators to assist police with the detection of these criminals. Staff working 24 hour shifts regularly stayed up all night walking the streets looking for missing children or waiting for them to come home all too often still under the influence of unknown substances and smelling of alcohol and sex. Or sitting in hospital waiting rooms with self-harming and suicidal children, those waiting for invasive forensic medical examinations and frightened young mums about to give birth. Days were spent trying to bring normality back into the lives of these severely traumatised children and all too often fielding criticism.

Then as the second decade of the new millennium got underway, we witnessed thousands of people rioting in cities and towns across England and five people lost their lives. Two years before this Harriet Sergeant, a journalist, author and Research Fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies had published an article in the Daily Mail about how young boys abandoned by their parents and betrayed by schools were turning to criminal gangs for protection and a sense of belonging. At the time she was researching a report on why so many black Caribbean and white working class boys are failing and as the first anniversary of the riots approached ‘Among the Hoods’ the story of her friendship with a teenage gang was published on 3rd July 2012. It describes a three year journey that took her from job centres and the care system to prison and failing schools as she tried to change their lives. Sadly, there is no fairy tale ending and the book ends with the gang leader and two other gang members are in prison, one is in psychiatric hospital and one appears to be a successful criminal.

By the end of the decade knife crime hit a ten year high with almost 22,300 knife and weapon offences recorded and children as young as 11 were being used to deal heroin and crack cocaine by ‘County Lines’ a multi-million pounds industry linked to murder and sexual abuse. Against this backdrop it will likely not come as a surprise that the number of children in care has risen dramatically. There are now 20,000 more children in care than in 2009, a significant number coming into care are over 16 and now account for almost a quarter of the total number of children in care. For these teenagers this is often too little too late as not only are they vulnerable to sexual exploitation, running away, gangs, trafficking and drug misuse as warned by the children’s commissioner, many are already drug addicted, knife carrying, pimp controlled victims of neglect, abuse and exploitation and the impact of this is manifest in high risk behaviour, acute vulnerability and rejection of the care available. This is evident the number of placement breakdowns in foster homes and children’s homes, the increased use of lawful supported accommodation that was neither designed or, equipped for this purpose and the emergence of unregistered children’s homes provided illegally and used unlawfully by local authorities.

It is little wonder that the care system is buckling under the sheer weight of numbers and this is not the time to waste effort on recrimination, it is time to press pause on the blame game and work collaboratively and respectfully to find solutions.
This must begin with acceptance that we have been letting our children down for years and acknowledgement that harmful and dangerous people gain access to the children’s workforce, wreak havoc and cause reprehensible harm. I’ve met some over the past four decades during my own journey through public, voluntary and private sector care. Part of the problem is that measures introduced were not fool proof in the first place and have since then been rendered even less affective by GDPR with many previous employers now only willing to confirm start-finish dates in references and DBS checks do not reveal undetected crimes or help to predict who will commit the next offence.

Indeed, none of these processes prevented former children’s nurse, and NHS manager Carl Beech from becoming a school governor or working as a volunteer for the NSPCC. Following his conviction for perverting the course of justice on 22 July 2019 the NSPCC were keen to confirm its volunteers are subject to the most strenuous and thorough safeguarding checks. But it has to be said these did not prevent Beech whose false claims of abuse were initially described as “credible and true” by police, from joining the NSPCC in 2012 as a volunteer to deliver ‘Speak Out Stay Safe’ workshops in schools to children as young as five. He resigned and handed back his ID only after being charged with four counts of making indecent photographs of children, one count of possessing indecent images of children and one count of voyeurism in June 2017. At the time this case raised concern about the role of journalists who wrote the stories over two years, alleging a powerful group of men from the British establishment had raped and murdered children between 1975 and 1984. But no action was taken against them and regrettably some journalists still compete for market share and prominence by unleashing embellished reports on the court of public opinion of which Teens in unregulated homes face ‘organised abuse’. How did children’s homes become centres of profit making and abuse? and Privatising children’s homes is playing into the hands of the abusers are but a few. I am not saying these reports are completely untrue, there are without question elements of truth in them all, but all too often truth is being distorted to serve a particular agenda. 30 years ago, poor journalism, unleashed a witch hunt on children’s social care with dire consequences for children, caregivers, families and society. Since then the media has pointed the finger of blame at police and social workers for not recognising and preventing the organised sexual exploitation of thousands of children, parents and teachers for the rise in knife crime and teenage gangs and most recently private sector children’s homes and supported accommodation for exposing children to abuse which has spearheaded a campaign for tighter controls and more regulation.

What the media is not reporting is that on closer examination increased demand and regulation are the main factors driving the increased use of supported accommodation and unregistered children’s homes. Or that that lawfully, provided, responsibly commissioned and quality assured supported accommodation has been in use for 20 years, that private sector children’s homes are not all operated by large private equity backed children’s homes companies, many are owner led small companies that are being adversely affected by unfair regulatory processes. Or that the poor quality and illegal services for would not exist if local authorities did not feel an acute need to use these services and were not paying for them.
The challenge of protecting vulnerable children from dangerous adults has never been greater and in my experience informed opinion this is definitely not the time for more reactive policy making driven by a media led blame culture that has dominated children’s social care for almost half a century.

Guilty Until Proved Innocent

Imagine this….

One of the children in the home where you work is suffering from complex trauma and is functioning well below his chronological age. He does not respond well to the authoritarian behaviour management style of the manager and you are worried he is being bullied.

When his birthday treat is cancelled as a punishment for misbehaviour you are forced to witness his distress during a phone call made to you whilst you are off duty and your efforts to lessen the harsh impact of this result in you being suspended.

At the disciplinary hearing it is acknowledged that you did not receive the disciplinary pack and you discover that supervision notes used as evidence against you have been falsified. You receive a written warning which you consider to be unfair and exercise your right to appeal.

At the appeal hearing you receive an apology from the company for its failure to provide the disciplinary pack, your complaint about falsified supervision notes is upheld but your appeal is dismissed. You accept a transfer to another home and remain in this employment without question until you take a position with another company. But the home you go to is chaotic and you leave soon after. Later you learn that this home was closed by Ofsted and the company went into liquidation.

Years later you submit an application to Ofsted to become a registered manager, you attend a fit person interview where you are asked questions about your employment history and disciplinary matters which you answer to the best of your knowledge. Days later you receive a notice of proposal to refuse your application for reasons related to disciplinary proceedings against you. The notice advises that you have 28 days to appeal.

You make subject access requests for information related to your employment history, but do not receive a reply in the timescales given. Your appeal is submitted but not upheld, you are disqualified from working in any capacity in the children’s workforce and your request for a waiver is refused.

You have the right to submit an appeal application to the tribunal, but you are unemployed and legal representation will cost you ten thousand pounds. By this time, you have received details of your disciplinary from the company and the information reported to LADO.

You discover the nature of the concerns raised were listed as sexual and that you were accused of grooming this child. You see, for the first time the false and malicious evidence on which these allegations have been made. You are devastated by what you read, this matter was referred to the police and social services, your reputation and your liberty and your family were put at risk and you were not even aware of it.

The decision to take no further action does not exonerate you, no action is taken against your accuser and you are denied your right of reply.

IF THIS STORY SOUNDS FAMILIAR AND YOU ARE IN NEED OF SUPPORT OR WOULD LIKE TO OFFER SUPPORT TO OTHERS PLEASE SUPPORT THIS CAMPAIGN AND GET IN TOUCH.

http://chng.it/JD5fvrS6

Memoirs of a Caregiver

Memoirs of a Caregiver

You don’t have to look for bad news about children’s social care, it finds you. For the last 40 years stories of child protection failures and institutional abuse have reached living rooms, workplaces and communities.

I joined the children’s social care workforce in February 1976 not long after the childcare system in the UK had been rocked by the death of Maria Colwell at the hands of her mother’s violent partner, after she was returned to her mother’s care when the courts discharged the care order. At that time concerns about child protection, children ‘drifting’ in care for long periods of time with no hope of returning home and debate about how to deal with young offenders was heavily influencing legislators, policymakers and practitioners. 

Three decades later I was employed in the private sector as a care director with responsibility for a group of small children’s homes and schools. I was by then a registered social worker, had foster children in their 40’s and had witnessed the Noth Wales child abuse scandal, ‘Pin Down’ in Staffordshire, the founding of ‘Child Line’ during the 1980’s and the trials of Frank Beck in Leicestershire and Ralph Morris in Shropshire. I had uncovered institutional neglect, professional misconduct and serious fraud, believed to be in the region of half a million pounds in today’s money during the 1990’s and at the beginning of the New Millennium had welcomed the introduction of National Minimum Standards for Children’s Homes. I had seen the diminishing use of residential care, been involved in two working parties looking into child sexual exploitation and experienced the transfer of regulatory responsibility from the Commision for Social Care Inspection (CSCI)  to Ofsted on 1 April 2007.

In recent years, the shift from public and voluntary sector providers to private care providers has often been blamed for our failing care system but in my experience informed opinion, failure is not sector specific. It is about organisational culture, people and behaviour and it is undeniable that the care system in England and Wales had been failing for a very long time before the shift to private sector commissioning. Also, that it continues to do so in spite of the attention given by ‘expert’ advisors, politicians, regulators and the ever increasing number of professionals involved in the life of a ‘looked after child’ which ›has not translated into positive outcomes for far too many.

Following the introduction of National Minimum Standards for Children’s Homes and the first joint Chief Inspectors report on arrangements to safeguard children at the beginning of the new millennium, I was shocked to uncover the use of dangerous and unauthorised physical intervention in children’s homes that I became responsible for in 2009. Particularly, as there was undeniable evidence in logbooks and inspection reports showing inspectors and social workers had overlooked for some considerable time the excessive use of physical intervention, the dangerous use of prone restraint by untrained staff and failure to seek medical attention for injuries suffered. Records showed that between July 2005 and July 2007 one young woman was physically restrained 107 times for periods of up to 14 hours, her liberty was restricted, she suffered injury and complained. On 2 occasions she was restrained in ‘prone’ position for 62 and 65 minutes respectively and was eventually admitted to inpatient psychiatric care.

“The home records all sanctions and physical intervention appropriately, sampling these documents supported appropriate interventions and sanctions were being deployed.” (Ofsted inspection report 11.09.2007)

This report was published just ten weeks after the inquest into the restraint related death of Gareth Myatt who died at Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre in April 2004 recorded a verdict of accidental death and made sweeping critisms of the Youth Justice Board.

When bringing my concerns to the attention of Child Protection Services, The Children’s Rights Director Roger Morgan and HMCI Christine Gilbert and revisiting it again with her successor HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw following the first social care lecture hosted by Ofsted on 1 February 2012 did not trigger an inquiry I raised them with The Children’s Minister and The Children’s Commissioner. The Office of The Children’s Minister agreed, “… it is essential that evidence of past abuse is thoroughly investigated…” and was hopeful that that the introduction of a new inspection framework would mean future inspections would be much better at identifying and tackling poor practice. The Children’s Commissioner also agreed the issues raised were extremely serious and suggested I “should consider approaching the Local Government Ombudsman to request an inquiry…”

The Local Government Ombudsman advised that only complaints made by the young people concerned can be investigated.

I was dumbfounded that beyond the vindication of Alison Taylor, the children’s home manager who was sacked when she bravely blew the whistle on physical and sexual child abuse in Wales, and inspite of masses of undeniable evidence, that vulnerable children were still expected to know they are being abused, be capable of pursuing a complaint and have the understanding and tenacity to do so. Worse still, was the ‘catch 22’ created by this particularly as there had been countless stories of unchallenged wrongdoing by those in positions of power and whistleblower’s being treated as ‘troublemakers’ since the 1980’s. The most famous of these being the allegations of sexual abuse against Jimmy Saville that were finally exposed around the same time and led to the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse.

By the time the IICSA was announced by Theresa May on 7 July 2014 I was aware of allegations against a childcare worker accused of sexually abusing three girls while working at three different children’s homes. Two of these girls and the homes where they lived at the time of the alleged abuse were known to me, as was the accused. I had attended the first child protection strategy meeting and prepared a report advising  why I believed the allegations to be true. 

When the defendant was described in court as a good person with an impeccable work record, collusion had already been introduced as a motive for malicious allegations. The jury had been told that two of the three victims went to the same school but it was not made clear that this was at different times. Shocked by the inaccuracy of this, I protested the omission of evidence from the defendant’s personnel file, relevant child protection records including information sent to the local authority designated officer and the school’s register. It was obvious this was news to the barristers who uncomfortably explained that new evidence could not be introduced during the trial despite this meaning the potential miscarriage of justice created by this could not be avoided. My concerns were heightened still further when no attention was paid to the ‘under oath’ testimony of a witness who admitted she had not reported a previous related disclosure. And, even more so when barristers advised this serious child protection failure was not a matter for the court, and letters to Chief Constable and the Police commissioner were not answered and remain unanswered to this day.

Unsurprisingly, the defendant was found ‘not guilty’ of all offences against two of the three girls, but the jury failed to reach a verdict on charges in relation to the third girl. Sadly, any hope that this disastrous miscarriage of justice could be lessened in anyway by a retrial was destroyed a few months later when the victim understandably refused to go through it again.

The trauma of this trial will never leave me as I have no doubt these three girls like so many more were betrayed; a guilty person walked free, serious child protection breaches were ignored, no action was taken against those responsible and tax-payers money was completely wasted on a prosecution destined to fail. Worse still was the complete failure to seek an explanation at the time these serious concerns were raised and as a result of this ‘wrongs’ were not corrected, harm caused was not appeased and lessons were not learned.

It felt like history had repeated itself and the emotional price of remaining silent had become too costly when faced with false allegations of professional misconduct I finally wrote to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation (IICSE) on 29 July 2017. I viewed the inquiry as a ‘safe place’ to tell the story of a ‘gagged’ caregiver and I held on to a glimmer of hope that the cult of silence that hides wrongdoing, ignores truth and allows dangerous people to remain in the children’s workforce would finally be exposed. But, this was as swiftly extinguished when I was politely invited to appreciate that it was “not possible to investigate every allegation of institutional failure” in response to the professional experiences I brought to the attention of the inquiry.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel

Soon after, with the support of The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and The Care Leavers Foundation I organised the first Your Life Your Story workshop for care leavers with literary aspirations. The event, facilitated by care experienced authors Rosie Canning, Lisa Cherry and Paulo Hewitt was an inspirational experience that led to Your Life Your Story becoming a small charity. YLYS now brings care experienced adults and caregivers together with published authors, artists and poets to share stories and learn the techniques of storytelling through the arts. Stories are corroborated, past injustices are revealed, supportive relationships flourish and wisdom emerges.

A year after, the first Your Life Your Story workshop the first Your Life Your Story inspired book was published.

The author was known to me as a young teenager in care and our paths had crossed again the year before his 50th birthday. The joy of this ‘meant to be’ reunion will never leave me – it was the best reward ever. Knowing that a young person has survived inconceivable childhood trauma, an ill-informed care system and lived a good life beyond it, is more than any caregiver could hope for. As we caught up on the last 30 years the significance of our shared history emerged and along with it aspiration to amplify the collective voice of care experienced adults and caregivers. In doing so, we hoped to contribute to the improvement of children’s social care by handing down lessons and knowledge from one generation to the next through storytelling and the arts.

David had grown up in the care of the state during the 60’s,70’s and 80’s where he suffered inexcusable abuse, and he left believing nobody cared about the wrongdoing he had experienced. His efforts to speak out were punished, and he was silenced until now. His book ‘Oi’ tells a story that in many ways mirror’s my own, it is a personal journey through decades of a harrowing childcare system.

Although it is true care fails too many, it is equally true that by far the majority of caregivers do not deliberately fail children and they are not the child abusers they are too often portrayed to be. In fact the vast majority try extremely hard to care for children seriously harmed by acute trauma, neglect and abuse, suffered long before the care system intervened. But it is the horror stories that reach the media not stories of the valiant efforts of caregivers to keep them safe. At the height of public outrage about the sexual exploitation of girls in Rochdale there was no interest in stories about staff repairing trauma driven destruction, mopping up the blood of self-harm and walking the streets in the middle of the night looking for missing children. Or those following cars driven by unstopable men who were brazenly picking girls up at the front door of children’s homes, girls pleading with staff to go back because there was a gun on the back seat or the numerous occasions when the police refused to assist. 

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” Maya Angelou

Yet every time there has been a major scandal there has been a hunt for ‘scalps’ and calls for more regulation in the hope this will solve the problem despite research that proves more rules and hard enforcement just does not work. During a recent conversation with a programme maker I pointed out that most people want to do the right thing but because enforcement thinking is geared to the punishment of deliberate rule breakers and does not differentiate between those who try to behave appropriately and those who do not there are unintended consequences. Evident in placement breakdowns, persistently poor outcomes and over-representation of care experience within the prison population, street homelessness, drug addiction centres, psychiatric wards, infants removed from care experienced mothers, early death amongst care leavers and the impact of mistrust and on the workforce.

If regulation is driving improvement as claimed by Ofsted surely there is a need to understand why outcomes refute this.

On 23 January 2019 Amanda Spielman informed the Commons Public Accounts Committee Ofsted was seeing an increase in legal challenges to its reports and in a particular rise in the number of tribunals involving children’s homes. She said, it is understandable but frustrating that, “people will throw everything they can at critical reports”, and added that winning a Court of Appeal case against an academy trust that challenged its damning inspection report was “a lovely Christmas present”. The legal bill for the academy trust was in excess of £700,000, Amanda Spielman could not say how much Ofsted was spending on legal fees when asked, but this publicly celebrated win confirms my worst fears about the dominance of the ‘prove it game’ in regulation.

A year later, observations made in close proximity to Ofsted judgements and decision making practices, in particular the ‘fit person’ process, have reinforced this view, resurrected historical concerns and reopened old wounds. Of course, it goes without saying that it is essential for a registered provider or manager of a children’s home to be a person of integrity and good character, suitably qualified and experienced. But ominously any applicant who is refused registration becomes disqualified from fostering a child privately, having a financial interest, being involved the management or employed in a children’s home or working as a child minder without written consent from Ofsted even though they are not proven guilty of any wrongdoing.  

Previously in situations where it was likely that Ofsted would refuse to register a manager (or refuse a registration) the inspector would inform the applicant of the likely outcome. This gave the applicant time to withdraw their application, which they are well within their rights to do and Ofsted have to accept the withdrawal. Ofsted say this practice was discontinued because in a small number of circumstances they come across people who they do not believe should be operating within social care and want to be able to ‘refuse’ them without giving them opportunity to withdraw.

Given the lack of protection against unemployment imposed by this, it is incredible that Ofsted is allowed to use an exemption in data protection law to refuse an applicant access to the ‘untested’ evidence relied upon by inspectors to reach a ‘behind closed doors’ decision with such far reaching implications. Then to impose a 28-day time limit on an appeal when GDPR allows up to 3 months for the release of information needed to defend the decsion. Most significantly because the impact of refused registration is immediate, the right to a tribunal appeal is delayed, the emotional and financial cost is prohibitive, and the harm caused is irreversible.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

My concern is that what Amanda Spielman described a lovely Christmas present and the rise in the number of legal challenges has not raised alarm. The willingness to accept that this is explained by bad people just trying to hide a critical report or wilful opposition of authority  is as dangerous as the willingness to accept that 96 people “caused their own deaths” at Hillsborough in 1989 and the victims of widespread organised child sexual exploitation were “making a lifestyle choice.”

When I joined the children’s workforce in 1976 children were not being listened to and terrible abuses were perpetrated against them, many of their stories were reflected in the publication of ‘Handle with Care’ the report of an investigation into the care system undertaken by Harriet Sergeant. I was at the commissioning conference in 2006 when Harriet presented her findings to a room full of professionals, many in fractious denial of what I knew to be true. It was my thirtieth year as a caregiver and I had witnessed first-hand the failures so well documented in her report.

Sadly 14 years later I still see a system that is failing the and a workforce under attack. Stories about careers being terminated, providers being put out of business and good people being pushed into resignation, unemployment, bankruptsy, destitution and despair are not being heard and the part regulation is playing in this does not appear to be on the governments radar. Poor inspection reports terminate careers and close homes,  fear of poor inspection reports ends placements and puts good outcomes at risk, and dubious GDPR exemptions legitimise covert decision making processes, make challenge difficult and justice impossible.

Of course this is not to say that when wrongdoing is identified perpetrators should not be held accountable and punished or that ‘unfit’ individuals should be allowed to work in childcare. I am simply saying that it is my firm belief that transparency keeps everyone safe and when things go wrong we need to learn from our mistakes. But we can only do that if we can share openly why the mistake happened and identify the cause.  To do this there needs to be in an open trusting relationship between the regulator and the regulated that removes incentive for hiding negligence and wrong doing, stands up to public scrutiny and does not blame people for making a mistake or worse still for someone else’s mistake.

The problem as I see it, is that the relationship imitates one of parent-child with inspectors putting themselves in a position of actual and moral authority over caregivers and providers and preference for rule focused ‘tick-box’ compliance and petty enforcement will prevent good behaviour rather than promote it. There are without doubt individuals working in childcare that we all think should not be there and examples of caregivers and providers who have escaped accountability for negligence, in some cases serious wrongdoing and even criminal behaviour. But this does not justify hidden processes that adversely affect innocent staff, managers and stakeholders and assume that public authorities,  specifically inspectors, always behave ethically and treat those they regulate fairly.

Common threads running through the perennial maze of children’s social care is the misuse of power, the avoidance of accountability and the absence of apology.

When I reached out to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on 29 July 2017 I did not know that Phil Frampton of the Survivors of Organised and Institutional Abuse (SOIA) and founder of The Care Leavers Foundation had formally withdrawn his support from the inquiry seven weeks earlier. Ironically, I also didn’t know that amongst the concerns that led to this decision was the absence of an investigative approach and the failure to include “whistleblowers” in the Truth Project led by the inquiry.

By then I had resigned my position in regulated children’s services and reported the allegation of professional misconduct threatened against me to the Health and Care Professionals Council and the Information Commissioners Office. Even though no action was taken against me the cost of protecting evidence the allegation relied upon ran into tens of thousands of pounds and put a very big hole in my retirement fund.  Without doubt, defending the truth had demanded a high price but unlike Alison Taylor who lost her career in the 1980’s, I have not spoken publicly about my experiences until now.   

Why now…?

We know that the number of children being separated from their parents is higher now than at any point since I joined the children’s workforce and paradoxically, we also know that too many children in care suffer harm and care leavers are still over-represented in all marginalised groups but we don’t know why. Unfortunately, the search for answers to these failures has led to scapegoating and a regulatory system that is designed around people who deliberately break the rules and must be deterred by punishment.

But regulation has not delivered the improvements promised and there have been unintended consequences. Not least, fear of poor inspection ratings fueling placement breakdowns and increased demand arising from anxiety elsewhere in the sytem that has led to the use of unregistered provision for young children and vulnerable teenagers recently exposed by the media.  Worse still good people are being expelled from the workforce whilst unethical and dangerous practice remains hidden and for some accountability is escaped.

Shortly after Your Life Your Story 2019, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse announced its final investigation into Effective Leadership of Child Protection. In doing so it will consider the evidence of “whistleblowers”, recommendations from inspectorates, serious case reviews and similar reports. It will also take into account learning from past institutional failures and “think” about embedding a “learning” not a “blaming” culture. But I have not been contacted by the inquiry team with any queries about the evidence I submitted in 2017 as suggested in the letter received when I expressed dissatisfaction after being advised that it was not possible to investigate every allegation of institutional failure.

So, it remains to be seen whether IICSA proves to me and other “whistleblowers” that it is any more than the ‘tick box’ exercise that led Phil Frampton to withdraw his support. Or a “talking shop” for highly paid academics and lawyers to produce endless glossy reports as it was described, by the late Anna Racoon, staunch defender of liberty, freedom and most of all the truth, who wrote about this shortly before she died.

At the very least I hope that it triggers change not just another review and in the meantime I will live in the hope that the narrative of lived experience and the collective voice of care experienced adults and caregivers will be heard and lessons are learned.

Amanda Knowles MBE

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter to My Corporate Parents

This letter is a typed and author approved copy of the original letter written by Jackie McCartney, a care experienced adult and caregiver, to her corporate parents on 18 July 2018.

WHAT IS A CORPORATE PARENT?

Looking after children and young people is one of the most important jobs the council do. When a child for whatever reason, can’t stay safely at home, it is up to the local authority to step in and give that care, support and stability that they deserve. Being a parent is to look after, take care, raise, rear, nurture, love, discipline, give direction, strictness, be there good and bad, for the whole of their lives. So, Birmingham corporate parent where were you when

At 17 I had my first home (yes homeowner) but suffered domestic violence when I moved in, daily beatings because I had cooked mash and he wanted boiled.

Where was you when…

I cried every day because I was in so much pain from the violence. I got pregnant by him and in one of his rages he pushed me down the stairs and kicked me so many times I lost my child. A parent would of told me to get out, it was unhealthy and no good for me. Yes, I went back because I had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. After another beating, I walked out. I walked to the only home I had ever known (name removed) I knocked on the door asking for help, only to be told for insurance reasons they couldn’t help.

I was 17 years old and my corporate parents turned me away to be beaten again by that man. I went to Cannon Hill Park and slept there for the weekend. I went to work, very smelly and unkept. A lady there asked me about it, I told her about me and my life. She took me to her home that night and for a short while after until I was back on my feet and so I could heal.

Where were you my corporate parent when…

I got made redundant how was I going to feed myself, pay my rent, searching for jobs. I was lucky yet again to meet a good landlord who said I could walk his dog as payment until I found something but now my landlord was selling his house. Yet again alone, scared, worried. Once more looking for a roof over my head an no one to turn to for help and support. My parent should of been there.

I found another shared house with some girls, but was still alone, they visited family and friends. I had none. I did not trust people, I did not make friends easily. Always on your guard, not letting people in too much. You was a care kid, people still thought you was trouble, that’s why you had been in care. But at 5 what had I done to deserve it and the treatment I had received.

Where were you my corporate parents?

I held down two jobs one in finance and one at a petrol station, just to make ends meet. I made a friend who invited me to her home in Ireland I had nothing to lose no one to care what I was doing.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I started my life over in Ireland I was there for eight years. During that time, I brought a second home and married. I suffered 4 miscarriages, fertility treatment (paid for myself).

Where were you my corporate parents?

I finally had a child after so much heartache, so happy, so proud, so excited but I was also so scared, how could I be a mom, a good mom. I did not know what that was I had never seen a normal family home. I had only seen children degraded, bad mouthed, humiliated, beaten, abused. Made to sleep in the hallway because we dared speak in bed. If we carried on we would have to stand in the matron’s bedroom all night. I had to make my bed every morning as did the other kids because we would not get breakfast otherwise. If you did not finish a meal you got it at the next mealtime and did not get anything new until your plate was clear. You did not make friends in the home, as it was a sign of weakness and would be used against you at any point. How was that a normal family life? How was that teaching you how a family function.

Where were you my corporate parents?

I loved my son so much, I fed him, kept him clean, he wanted for nothing, but I had no family to share this moment with, no family of my own. I finally realised one day there was something missing, love, cuddles, kisses. Everything I never had. Everyday thereafter I learnt to hug and hold him. But not before going to counselling (paid for myself).

Where were you my corporate parents?

I thought nothing could split me and my husband up after everything we had gone through

Moving country/ miscarriages/fertility/money worries/no family/my breakdown but we did. So once more I was alone no home. I wanted to come back to the UK. I had enough strength to start again for me and my son. As he was born in Southern Ireland, he had to give permission for me to take him. He would only do that if I signed over all we had together. I walked away with my son.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I went to the local housing office ready to start over. Only to be told I had been out of the country for 5 years I should go back.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I told them I was not leaving until I had a bed for the night. The joys of a B&B on Hagley Road, not ideal. But beggars can’t be picky. 4 week later with the help of local MP (name removed) we were offered a 3rd floor flat 6 flights of stairs, no lift. Signed, paperwork, got keys. A roof over our heads, no bed, no cooker, no food. I had become at 33 everything you said I would be, on the dole, single, council tenant unwanted yet again.

Where were you my corporate parents?

Slowly me and my son got up on our feet, charity shops, food near sell by dates. I did not realise when I left my husband, I was pregnant. How the hell was I going to do this. I had my baby, a little girl, I was overwhelmed yet again by emotions and feelings.

Where were you my corporate parents?

My lowest night Iay in the bath, an told myself I couldn’t do this anymore I had no fight left. I worked out how to end it all. But not just for me for my children. Because there was no way I was leaving them to the system. To be neglected, physical, emotional abuse or sexual.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I lay there for hours in the cold water, crying scared and alone. I don’t know what brought me back, but I did not go through with it. I knew my children had not asked for this and I had to better than the life I had, had. From here on in we took each day hour by hour, each day I went to bed was another day I had survived.

Where were you my corporate parents when…

I lied to the health visitor, I said all was okay and on the surface it was. I could not reach out for help. I was a care kid and you the system would take my kids away. I was already 3rd generation care kid. I could not let it happen again. Every day I took a breath got up and did it. So tired, so worn out, so lonely, so scared. No one there for me. But 2 children depending on me to make things good.

Where were you my corporate parent ?

There have been many times I asked “where were you”. But you never came, you never fulfilled your obligations to me and turned up to offer understanding and support. You were never there to replace my biological parents you had removed me from. Sad really after all said and done you are my corporate parents. I never left care you left me.

Even more recently where were you in the good times and bad, for example my concerned parents when…

– my son had a cancer scare

– both my children buying cars outright

– my son passing A levels, his apprenticeship and graduation from National Grid (CADENT) as    an engineer

– my daughter’s cancer scare and sexual assault at school

– my daughter passing her GCSE’s, prom and getting a job offer on the same day

– my 22 year old son buying his own house

Where were you my corporate parents?

There have been so many more, good, happy, sad, emotional days that needed sharing, supporting, caring, you were not there.

I would like to challenge each and every one of you. You can’t change the past but, you can have a positive impact on so many of your children for now and the future.

Are you serious about your parenting role for either your own biological children or these wonderful children who need you to show how much you really and truly care so that their daily lives and futures are happy, carefree and supported and they are able to grow into strong confident adults because of your love, encouragement by having a system that actually does care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FINDING HOME

Finding Home: A feeling not a place.

Reflections on Your Life Your Story 2019

Saira-Jayne Jones

Where to begin? I feel as though I must go back to come forward; so I will! October 2018 I attended my first ever Your Life Your Story event following a chance encounter on twitter and somehow following the remarkable Amanda Knowles MBE. Filled with anxiety, trepidation, nervous apprehension I made my way to Cumbria University. I had only just begun to get to grips with my story, my truth, myself; this felt like a massive dangerous leap into the unknown. All of the ‘what if’s?’ had gone around in my head and I’d ruminated over me as a being, my writing, and if in actuality I was kidding myself; my inner critic resounding and ever present. I was reassured however by knowing that Yusuf McCormack would be attending, and I’d previously visited his art exhibition ‘No Colours for My Coat’ on my stomping ground Chelmsley Wood; and then proceeded to steal 6 hours from him over coffee after stalking him on Twitter. With that in mind I ventured into the unknown and made a commitment to myself that I would not allow myself to be dictated to by fear and leave; a pattern of behaviour all too familiar to me as flight is much easier…safer… than facing what I’m afraid of.

I bit the bullet…The next couple of hours getting familiar with my surroundings, wondering how on earth students live in those tiny cells without being creatively oppressed; and smoking where I shouldn’t – some things never change! The event encapsulated the kind of energy where I instantly felt connection. Met with smiles, laughter, friendly banter and the kind of dark humour that I am very much accustomed to; I figure it must be hardwired into our survival. Throughout a full and thought provoking programme voices were shared, the power of our truths unleashed and relationships developed as if we had somehow been there for much longer. The space we held for each other felt safe, honest, un-questioning, non-judgemental and like you were never no more than an arm’s length away from people who just ‘got it’, the facts were unimportant and the connection came through feeling, knowing and the shared threads of existence. We all became more than we were before we arrived, taking away not only the practical writing skills we had been developing but a sense of being in it together.

Leaving and returning back to my reality evoked a mixture of feelings and in the days following my return I felt like I was processing thoughts at warp speed. I was elated at how successful the event had been in terms of learning, that id managed to stay, write, read a loud and that my anxiety hadn’t prevented me from being sociable. However this was coupled with a feeling of being bereft, that something was missing and it conjured up little connections with the past of feeling lost and alone. Luckily once I had given myself time to process all of this and talk it through I realised it was normal to feel that way when you have been somewhere that you have felt truly accepted, connected, where there are no judgements, unrealistic expectations or conditions and I wrote this extract; which now resonates even further following my return from Your Life Your Story 2019.

Your Life Your Story 2018

So now we jump forwards twelve months which is a relatively short space of time in the grand scheme of things, but time in which I have spent generating ideas, exhibiting artwork, creating more pieces, attending Wrexham University and The National Diversity Awards with Your Life Your Story; and ultimately making decisions meaning that Yusuf and I would build upon our connection and work towards developing an arts based training and consultancy project – Artifacts.

October 2019 and this time around things were a little different. My second Your Life Your Story Event, and back to the beautiful Cumbria University with its Harry Potter esc buildings and tree lined grounds. Notwithstanding the sense of familiarity in the surroundings, I was still very much filled with anxiety and nervous apprehension however, this time as we’d been given the honour of delivering our first workshop as Artifacts ‘Reclaiming Our Narrative’; and despite us planning with military precision and having an entire car full of goodies, the incessant and unremitting internal critical monologue was omnipresent throughout the journey. Seeing familiar faces and catching up was incredibly reassuring and knowing that I had connected and stayed in touch with many of the group via social media meant that there was very little ice to break once we’d come together.

Naturally food was the first item on the agenda after all not feeding Yusuf and Dave the fudge termites and Taz the human seagull could only go one way, and would most certainly result in a mini riot!! Soon the sound of our group filled the canteen, with banter and chatter steadily building in eagerness of the opening gathering where we would all join together for the first time.

The bringing together of this year’s group was most eloquently facilitated by none other than our beautiful Dame Longstocking A.K.A Rosie Canning; no address would have been complete without the obligatory headwear to bring regal definition to proceedings!! With her opening remarks in full swing and the gift of a fabulous journal from Amanda the group very quickly began to develop its own energy which felt welcoming and surprisingly familiar; considering this was the first meeting for many of those in the room. After handing out literary quotes to inspire and softening us up with the lovely gift of a sprouting seed pencil we were off with our first little challenge. I’m certain Rosie could be a headmistress in disguise, and Mr Jackson is very adept at story telling managing to involve half the room in his tale of plane flying international smugglers. Time was spent laughing, chatting through the weekend’s program, getting to know one another and the room was filled with the buzz of anticipation for the new day.

Now how do you even begin to introduce the undeniably compelling force that is Mr David Jackson…the answer is you don’t… He does!! The group were treated to a writing structure master class in which Dave explored a very clear and simple yet effective structure with which to approach the task of writing. Dave’s no nonsense approach injected with sound advice and humour made for a productive and interesting workshop and set the tone for a positive, creative and accomplished morning. Tips were shared for breaking down the task of writing into manageable chunks, and an overview given of techniques that were successful when writing his published book Oi. Dave’s approach is incredibly accessible making the daunting task of writing a whole book seem far more achievable for other individuals who have very little literary experience. Dave alluded to the importance of the role that music plays in his writing journey and swiftly gave a rendition of a song that he finds uplifting when he is having a break from being immersed in the writing process. Dave’s workshop demonstrated that although we feel we might not have the time to fit in writing, if we break things down we can find space to write. It was also acknowledged that the writing process can be tough especially when recounting personal histories, and to ensure there is a positive network of people who ‘Get it’ to seek support from, reflecting the importance of relationship building and connection; and it became clear from the feeling in the room that our Your Life Your Story network had already begun further developing. Overall the workshop was a resounding success and gave many of the group food for thought on going forward with their own writing journey, with methods shared that can be easily adapted and combined with other writing tips and techniques.

Whilst absorbed in engaging with Dave’s workshop my mind had been distracted from the reality that we were next, so when the group broke for refreshments the realisation struck me; all that myself and Yusuf had planned for over the previous weeks and months was now upon us; that, and we had to unpack the trolleys of treasure for the first part of our workshop. My tummy was doing somersaults and my legs had begun to shake a little, but then the group embraced us with their reassurances. The familiarity of beautiful Mel and her supportive smile, Amanda with an encouraging nod, Dave who’s heartening humour cut though the nervousness I was feeling, the entire group Taz, Chris, Jamie, Katrina, Ian, Nickie, Jane, Angie, Davie, Rosie and my Fairy Godmother Jacquie all inspired the confidence that it would be okay, we could speak freely and share our truth together, reclaim our narrative together, no-one was judging or giving the side eye because we were amongst our people; our tribe. I also knew that Yusuf my brother from another mother and I had each other’s back and his presence provided the encouragement needed that even if I was liken to a blancmange at points, we could do this together; and the sweets on the table were a tactical move that were sure to go down well and help things along.

Stood listening to Yusuf delivering his Narrative piece and verse, the group sat intently, emotion washing over them as recollections of the shared threads of our histories struck chords. Our shared knowledge and experience of injustice apparent through the resonance of Yusuf’s words, that lingered in the air in juxta position with the man he has become; a powerful demonstration that the narrative others ascribe to us as care experienced individuals is their version of our narrative, their perception, their interpretation of events…We have our own, and it’s about taking that back ‘Reclaiming our Narrative’, and working to remove the power of the labels and stigma we were branded with by the words of others, turning the negativity into positivity, being defined by self and not others; a thread that very much continued through the delivery of my own narrative and verse.

Nerves still ever present but suppressed by the supportive positive energy that had created an aura of absolute acceptance within the room. I could not have imagined being in this position twelve months previous as id sat and watched Taz so confidently deliver her spoken word piece with such conviction. My delivery no comparison to others, unpolished and gathered up from the handout clutched in my trembling grip; for me…enormous…like climbing Kilimanjaro in stilettos…blindfolded!! I can’t comment on the delivery of my narrative or the verse Different & One which I had written following my first encounter with Your Life Your Story. I experience incredible anxiety when I am in the metaphorical spotlight which meant my reading became a bit of a blur, I’d done it…and this time I didn’t need a chair to hold me up!! With creativity on the other side of the blur like a beacon I’d spoken my truth and was looking forward to seeing others unlock their imaginative, creative, free selves with our activities.

We began with a literary exercise and writing a positive and affirming acrostic poem. In hindsight we could have unpicked this task much further if we’d of had the luxury of having more time, not only exploring the acrostic as a writing prompt but also a vehicle for expressing ones inner voice, the things we think but do not say, words we have held on to through shame, fear and pain and channelling this by writing powerful pieces of poetry using words that resonate deeply with us and our truths. It’s also important to acknowledge that we do not have to be writing for a particular reason or purpose, just to see the words held there upon the paper, even if never shared beyond this and your pen; there is something incredibly cathartic and empowering about being the master of your own truth. The break quickly approached as we wrapped up part one and we eagerly encouraged everyone off to lunch so we could transform the tables and festoon them with the treasures from our trolleys, beads, glitter, glue, markers wires and ribbon. Visual artwork was on display around the room and all the pieces for a planned collaborative installation were in place; to add colour, fun and creativity to the graveyard shift after lunch.

Following a promptly issued public service announcement from Dave regarding the consumption of His and only his Black Jacks; everyone was on to further reclaiming our narrative by reflecting on how we define ourselves and how we should reframe or reject the labels used by others to define us. Now for all of us this will be a lifelong process, in some cases some words travel deep, some labels become so engrained within us we look at ourselves as through we are a stick of rock. The purpose of the shredding of the dead wood and the negative labels that represent this dead wood that prevents us from growing to our full potential is symbolic of the continuous effort we have to make in flipping the perspective and looking for the positives even when things seem incredibly bleak and negative. With the power of positive words in mind we were on to creatively speaking our truth, creating the collaborative piece of art the ‘Positivitree’ and individual personal talking sticks that were a visual representation of assertiveness and courage in sharing our experiences, telling our stories and speaking our truth out loud.

We could have almost predicted from the beginning that Rosie and Mel would be like two five year olds as they clambered for glitter and sparklyness; anyone would of thought that we had magpies at the table as the power struggle for pink pearl glitter ensued. In all good humour materials were shared around and discussion developed around the messages shared on the branches of truth. Each individual branch a celebration of the person it represented from Angie’s playful sombreros, to Nickie’s threads that danced around her branch, Katrina’s flash of gold reminiscent of the superhero inside us, Jacquie’s bright green beads of hope and messages of being enough, Rosie’s beautiful glitter adorned wand, Mel’s shiny moon on a stick Amanda’s hearts and unwavering belief, Dave even had a go wrapping ribbon and copper and joined in; although it’s debateable he was only there for the Bostik. We had expressions in threads feather’s ribbons and powerful words from Jane, Ian and Taz, Davie and his creative expression in copper emblazoned in authenticity. As the ‘Positivitree’ came together a vision of our collective creativity, adorned with the positive labels, and expressions of the self, our tribe felt united. You could feel positivity in the room, creative energy flowing and smiles and laughter abound. The realisation that we don’t lose our creativity even if we’ve stuffed it to the back of a dusty cupboard inside our adult self; we just need to make the time and provide the opportunities and space both physically and emotionally to be creative. That art and creativity doesn’t have to be perfect as it’s an extension and expression of the creator; and none of us are perfect….we are perfectly imperfect…Different & One.

To draw a close to the day the final workshop would be delivered by the remarkably powerful Taz Trevorrow who expresses her words with such passion, sincerity and absolute conviction, with reflections on addiction, exploitation and loss being felt throughout the room. Taz shared helpful techniques in prompting the writing process which may be useful to move past creative blocks; kick starting the imagination by using tangible objects to create a piece of writing or to build a character. We looked at putting the self and others into a piece of writing, and using existing pieces and images to aid the writing process. The mixture of laughter and tears in the room indicative of the power of words and language and demonstrating the value of being able to express your inner world creatively; with the exercises opening up new avenues of exploration for people to test out along their own writing journey. As the weekend had progressed it had revealed new opportunities for people to explore their creativity, in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment; with realisations being made that actually we might just not be kidding ourselves and that we can share our truth our way!! And more importantly with the unwavering support of others who just ‘get it’. Going back to the point that the connection is made and relationships built on feeling and shared understanding of those feelings and not facts and the minutiae of experience or circumstance.

On to our final full day and warm up writing exercises before the eagerly awaited master class with Joelle. We’d had pieces preformed to music, been gobsmacked by the bravery and courage taken by Chris in his vocal expression of feeling to the group and the laughter and tears had continued whilst sharing our insights, reflections and experiences through our creative pieces, and whilst developing our writing. Despite the fact that by this point Rosie had to leave us her ‘All writing is rewriting’ was a phrase that was never too far from our ears, like recounting the words of a much favoured teacher; a comforting reminder that nothing we do is complete rubbish as we always have the opportunity to make edits, improvements and redefine the ‘dodgy’ bits; just as we do with ourselves on our own journeys…mistake, modify, master.

So after a full morning and the first Sunday roast of the day, we had the incredible opportunity not only to hear but feel the incredible force and awesomeness of Joelle Taylor slam poet extraordinaire and genuinely ‘sick as fuck’ human. Joelle shared some great tips and techniques for using imagery, metaphor and visualisation in our writing; with our visualisation being Ian delivering his second horizontal soliloquy. There were individuals in the group who had expressed they could not write and then delivered a deep, meaningful, heartfelt piece of incredibly personal writing. Again the workshop developed its own energy as it was very clear that it was a safe creative environment where things could be said without question, we were all together in supporting each other; with Joelle becoming embraced by the group immediately as the threads of familiarity were woven through all of our truths. Joelle who between sharing her wisdom throughout a fantastic master class, stunned the entire room with her raw, emotive, evocative, powerful truth. Soon time for the second roast of the day and with everyone feeling like they have never eaten so much in their lives we de-camped to the pub; does anyone else get the impression that Amanda is a bit of a feeder…

After food and a little fruit infused lubrication we were back in the room for an absolutely stunning performance from the wonderful Joelle, her words reverberating and resonating throughout the room. All sat in complete awe of how she had commanded control of the power of language in tackling the complexity, horror and injustice of lived experience; developing a war cry, a call to arms against the abusive forces that have had significance in our histories. Joelle delivered powerful words reflecting loss of self and others, of adversity, of harnessing the strength of rage, injustice and experience through poetry and spoken word; speaking our truths out loud and un-ashamed. My words cannot do her words justice, it is a case of having to not only hear them but feel them to understand their significance and power; I’d urge anyone to witness this incredible woman in action. I only needed to take a glance around the room to see the impact that feeling those words had for all present. The intensity and passion with which the pieces were delivered is telling of the personal emotion and raw, honest feeling behind them. It was an absolute privilege to witness. And with the power of Joelle’s words resounding through our beings it brought about a certain unquestioning confidence that we can share our truth however the fuck we like, we don’t need permission from anyone; because it’s ours.

So to our final day with Dr George, A.K.A Picasso and a self care session as a big hug to wrap up the weekend. We had experienced laughter, honesty, raw emotions, hugs, tears, truths, full tummies, signing from both Dave and Chris, interpretative dance from Mel and Taz, powerful spoken word and poetry from all, poetry delivered from the floor…Ian again on the floor!! There was conversation, connection and an abundance of tissues, talent and tremendous creativity. We heard the power in the voices of our new tribe members Angie, Davie, Nickie, Katrina, Ian, Jane, Jackie and Jamie and we learnt more about each other and the power of our feelings in self expression through the arts. The room was noticeably emptier now as Rosie, Ian and Katrina were no longer with us, and conversation drifted in the direction of the event coming to a close.

When you go from spending the best part of your life feeling isolated, rejected, lost, misunderstood and always on the periphery, to feeling like you have found your people, it is an overwhelmingly liberating feeling. Knowing that you are not the only one who thinks and feels a certain way and that there are people like you out there that get it…it brings about a sense of unity and connection. Knowing that it is possible that you will no longer be on your own in the world, this is the power of genuine authentic relationships, relationships where there is a feeling of belonging, that you can find the missing pieces of the puzzle, that there are people who can relate to you unquestioningly because you have at some point in your journey felt the same hurts, lived the same pain, anger and disappointment; knowing those shared feelings from lived experience and being willing to hold space for others and support them through. So with a commitment to keeping the network alive and being the difference for each other, the event was bought to a close until next year. However, each person leaving knowing that over this very short but significant time they had each become more than they were before they came…not just facts…but feelings; finding home in ourselves and others.

The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance – An autoethnographic perspective from Katrina Goodman

First published in Career Matters June 2019 / Issue 7.3

Autoethnography – a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural, political, social meaning and understanding.

“There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.”

It’s been 25 years this July since I was officially ‘relinquished’ from care. I didn’t ‘leave’, it wasn’t a choice, but I have always striven to make a difference despite the issues that predisposed my life as a care leaver.

The lived experience

Now writing as a care-experienced academic/researcher, I want to write my story from the inside; to inform, make an impact, change perception and contribute to research policy legislation and guidance practice. I also want to raise awareness of the complexities and barriers faced by career development professionals working with this group. Writing from my own personal experience and perspective is known as the ‘lived experience’.

When I started my MA on ‘The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance’, I wanted to encapsulate and consolidate my employment background and gain a qualification that reflected this professionally. This followed years of short-term contracts in welfare to work and advisory capacities, redundancies, private renting moves and single parent responsibilities. Having suffered a mental breakdown in 2015 and a diagnosis of ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder’ CPTSD) in 2018, this qualification enabled me to have a focus in my recovery. My MA dissertation now forms a cathartic facet in which I am able to articulate the sociological and psychological barriers that have affected my life and career history.

Background

I was born in the West Midlands, the youngest of five siblings. I was fostered 13 times before I was adopted at 18 months old. My adoptive mother passed away when I was 11 and I was then returned to care age 14 as a result of a broken down placement. My transition to adulthood and independence did not include career guidance. Having passed four GCSEs with a disrupted year and change of schools, my first role was on YTS as a travel agent. My foster placement ended within that time,

and I was placed in supported lodgings, and then into independent living. I attended college until I was 19 whilst working part-time in retail and catering. I found it difficult to mix with my peer group at college as they all went home to their families. I went home to a flat and felt isolated so this affected my attendance. I moved to Birmingham at 19 working as a residential support worker at a children’s home, had my daughter at 22 and returned to work when she was 18 months. She is now 20 with a career in property management and lives away from home.

Our children, their future

In September 2000 I delivered a speech at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference; ‘Our children, their future’. I delivered my manifesto as a young person supported by a Barnardo’s project. The statistics for care leavers I quoted were that they were:

  • 50 times more likely to go to prison
  • 60 times more likely to experience homelessness
  • 88 times more likely to abuse drugs.

In my speech I highlighted the need for basic support resources for issues such as mental health, poverty, and housing, isolation from peers, securing childcare, networks, guidance and information. All of this was drawn from my own experiences. I do not feel that my voice had been heard nor my contribution valued. At the time these statistics made me determined to prove people wrong. The most recent figures provided by DfE (2014):

  • In 2010 25% of those who were homeless had been care at some point in their lives
  • In 2008 49% of young men under the age of 21 who had met with the criminal justice system had care experience
  • Only 6% of care leavers are in higher education.

These are not inclusive of mortality rates, mental health issues, benefit sanctions and the day-to-day challenges faced by young people currently leaving the care system. There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.

I attended the Care-Experienced Conference in Liverpool in April 2019. This was the first of its kind for care-experienced professionals to meet and network. Care-experienced professionals in every profession trade and occupation you could name were represented. The age range was from 17-65 and proved that the decades of negative statistics, did not speak for the successful achievements of care-experienced adults including myself. This event has also motivated me to complete my MA and continue further to PhD study in the future.

Positive statistic

I want to represent a positive statistic and contribute to wider research for care leavers. When I began to investigate the data from 20 years ago, there was little or none to represent the careers of care leavers, yet I have discovered care-experienced academics from UK and international universities. Since I attended this event, I have become part of this huge community and network. I have always helped others, fought for others, striven for better quality services and treatment of others,

advocated for others, motivated others, inspired others, and used my negative experiences into positive realities with myself as evidence in my roles. When it was suggested that I use autoethnography as a methodology, it became an ideal opportunity to write my ‘lived’ experiences into my research.

As a qualified careers guidance practitioner, I am able to use my experiences to relate to and motivate others and have a positive enthusiasm for the careers and futures of those I work with. Young people are motivated by role models, people who defy odds against adversity, real life experiences, and I am a good example of this. I enjoy identifying the potential in every person I interview, showing people how to turn disadvantage into opportunity, and I make a difference. Despite everything

I have encountered in my life, I am still determined to make a positive difference to the lives of others. I have never been ashamed of my background or my upbringing. I am learning to be proud of the obstacles I have overcome, I am not defined by statistics, I refuse to be stigmatised or stereotyped. For me this qualification is a continuing journey of self-recognition, development and learning.