Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kiwifruit - a guest blogger. Part 2

This next section is complicated by the fact that the behaviour identified as being intensely annoying to the young people not only involves something that I have done myself, many times, but also something that I have seen done by other regular posters to other groups.

If a young person describes a stressful, or worse still an actively unpleasant situation, from their past life do you ever find yourself saying some variation on, “Of course that wouldn’t happen like that now” or “Standards of training have greatly improved since that happened to you”.

The fact is that it did happen and any targeted support we offer now needs to address the problem and the situation as it was at the time. Lightly dismissing it on the grounds that it wouldn’t happen now effectively dismisses the young person’s trauma as irrelevant to their here and now.

What seems like years ago Eve and Ella attended a conference with me. I vividly remember them describing how the support they received post-18 was compromised by what they saw as the anti-lesbian viewpoint of one of the social workers assigned to help them. I blush with embarrassment when I remember reassuring them that it would not happen that way in, for the sake of argument, 2010!

It is painfully easy for practitioners to assume that all the checks and balances that should have existed actually existed. This seems to be in contrast to our own lives where we know, sometimes from bitter experience, how easily and quickly finance constraints can cancel out any number of previous promises. Telling somebody that in the past a Council acted in breach of their statutory duty might be a valid first step. Where is becomes highly unhelpful is when that first step is where our support for the young person ends.

One thing that struck me during the interview process was the extreme ordinariness of my former foster children. I don’t mean this in any disparaging way of course. What I mean is that unless you knew in advance that many of them had suffered abuse or neglect I don’t believe that most lay-people would pick up on it.

What isn’t clear to me is the extent to which the young person can hide any historical damage throughout their short, medium or long term social relationships. Was I seeing few, if any, signs of damage because they had been overcome or was I not seeing the signs because the interviewee had become expert at hiding them?

What I did notice that none of people I spoke to had entered the professions such as the law, medicine or teaching and that the percentage who had continued their education post-18 was insignificant. Three of them had some tertiary education but in every case this had been undertaken on a part time basis when they were in their 20s. To me this strongly suggests the almost total failure of the measures intended at the time to improve the life-chances of care leavers now in their 20s, 30s and 40s by facilitating their entry into Higher Education. Hopefully this dire situation has now improved with the introduction of targeted money – the pupil premium – into all UK schools.

As an aside. It has been mentioned elsewhere that many foster children and children raised in Care Homes have very little enthusiasm or interest in family history. I can confirm this. Sharing photos of the times we shared when we were both much younger was never greeted with the stream of reminiscences that I had hoped to hear.
August 2012

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