What are the best and the worst things about being in care?
“The best thing about being in care is that I love living with my grandma and grand dad. My social worker is a very nice lady. The bad thing is she sometimes asks too many questions and it is always the same.”
“You don’t get to do normal things like other children do. Children who are looked after don’t get to sleep over at other people’s houses, but normal children do because the person doesn’t have to be police checked. But my social worker is fun to be around and gets me nice things on my birthday.”
“What I like is that I am living with my aunty. I like going shopping. I get to go to weddings and christenings.”
“It’s different for each individual. For me you either get all the best things, all the worst or a bit of both when you’re in care depending on your luck. By that I mean whether you have a good social worker, a good foster carer, etc. It’s these people that I personally believe decide or control whether you get the best things in care or not.”
“We get given some really good opportunities. An example of this is shadowing the chief executive of Lambeth Council. Also, events such as award ceremonies give us the chance to meet other young people in care and mean that we can go to places we may not have otherwise gone to. For me there isn’t really a worst thing about being in care except for perhaps the review meetings. But they don’t occur that often.”
“The opportunities to meet new people are great. There are good and loving foster carers who support you and are with you in your worries and problems, along with the social worker.
“I really enjoy the love, attention, support and assistance that I have been receiving from my social worker Sandra and others. Also to crown it is the work experience for care leavers that I was given the chance to do. It really broadened my knowledge on how life is in a workplace.”
“I am cared for and I have a good relationship with my social worker and foster carer. I feel like they care for me not only because their job is to look after me, but that they genuinely care about my welfare. Also I am supported financially, educationally, emotionally and socially.”
“Getting money every week people you’re not related to care about you and people helping you in different things, for example at school: these are the best things. The worst are when you need some help and you can’t talk to anyone, say, when your social worker is not available. You feel bad.”
“Living in care can be good and bad. Most parents do not listen to you when you are at home but when you’re in care someone is always there to talk to and help you in all that you need. Some people who work in care can be rude. They might not even know the reason why you are in care but they judge you the way they want to. And some kids in care can be rude to you.”
Practitioner’s view: John Kemmis
Last week, a group of young people researching and writing for the Alliance for Child-Centred Care’s newsletter came up with 10 top tips for social workers working with children in care. They are:
1. Visit regularly.
2. Don’t make promises you will be unable to keep.
3. Always return calls.
4. Respect young people’s privacy.
5. Treat each young person as an individual.
6. Keep young people informed.
7. Let young people know that an advocacy service is available to them.
8. Let young people know what they are entitled to.
9. Don’t pressure young people to have counselling.
10. Offer young people the chance to read notes taken in meetings.
They also emphasised their desire to see social workers and advocates better appreciate each others’ role. This focus reflects the importance children in care attach to their involvement in the decisions being taken about their lives, to being listened to, to being informed about choices available, and to being supported by an advocate.
While many children in care have positive experiences of being in care, this is not every child’s experience. Also, however good the care, children and young people need to understand their situation, need to know the choices available, and need access to the advice and support of an advocate.
When difficult decisions are being taken, a social worker has to balance all the factors, look ahead to the future and make a decision in the child’s best interest. In these situations, an advocate can help a child or young person express their wishes and feelings.
The Alliance grew out of a project to write a blueprint for a child-centred care system (see Networking, facing page), which every child-care student should read. The key message the 400 young people involved most frequently stated was the importance of relationships. In making any placement plans for children, the fundamental message is: value their significant relationships and ensure they have at least one trusted adult who does not change during their care.
The most frequent issue about which young people ask Voice for help is being moved to a different placement when they do not want to. Stable relationships are central to a child’s emotional well-being as well as to educational achievement and the transition to adulthood. If we listen to the young people, and offer them an advocate, then decisions about placement are likely to be better and have a more positive outcome.
John Kemmis is the chief executive of Voice, a registered social worker and has been involved with developing children’s advocacy for the past decade
Essential information on Children in care
This article appeared in the 6 September issue under the headline “The ups and downs of being looked after”