‘Is it right that a kid should simply pass through the system and then be forgotten?’

A residential care worker shares their views and experiences of being allowed to see children after they leave care

Photo: REX/Cultura (posed by models)

by David*, a residential care worker.

Meeting Martin again for a catch-up over a cup of coffee had made my day. A former resident at the first children’s home I’d worked in, we had developed a strong and trusting relationship.

Whether shopping or playing football together, cooking, laughing, or talking about his hopes and fears, I had become an integral presence in his life. To listen to this happy 17-year-old telling me how he was doing – adopted into a loving family, studying for exams at school and really engaging with life – was a joy.

However, as perfectly natural as it is for some young people to want to see a member of staff again, a residential child care worker’s job description and contract don’t allow for it to happen. That this should be recognised as a core aspect of what we are about appears to be lost on some service managers.

When I and other colleagues have challenged certain managers on this issue, they simply parrot that the rules are in place in order to protect us from any risk of being compromised by the young person.

What if they were to accuse us of behaving inappropriately? This school of thought betrays a shocking attitude towards young people and to some of the relationships that are forged between them and staff.

Is it right that a kid should simply pass through the system and then be forgotten? Why should they endure the loss of someone they have grown to like, trust and respect?

A colleague once bumped into a teenager who had been in our care. The young person was evidently pleased to meet him and suggested they get something to eat. Over the next hour the girl explained what she was up to, that she had got a job in a shoe shop and was living in a nice flat.

My colleague thought it particularly poignant when she thanked him for all the care and support he’d shown her when she was in care. When a manager overheard this colleague recalling the chance encounter, he was disciplined and reminded of “the limits of his duties”.

Thankfully, more enlightened managers don’t recognise such ‘limits’, and I know of one who helped a lad to decorate his flat after he’d left the residential home. He told me: “The last thing this lad needed was after-care professionals, or more strangers, coming into his life at that point.”

The young person had already dealt with five social workers during his time in care and when he asked this manager for help, it was forthcoming. “A no-brainer,” as the manager said.

When children know they are leaving care – or indeed, when they know a member of staff is leaving – it’s not uncommon for their behaviour to deteriorate. They know this means the end of a relationship they have enjoyed and valued, and that it signals yet more disruption in their lives.

Given this emotional dynamic in residential care, retaining contact with the young person is a natural progression and something they clearly value and appreciate. And when you’ve seen their enthusiasm as they tell you about their new life, it’s clear that this communication is important to them. How could it not be an essential part of our role?

Being able to share these success stories with other staff is also uplifting and does morale no harm. It can be a difficult and demanding job at times, but to know that a kid we’ve cared for is now finding his or her place in the world is a wonderfully reassuring feeling.

When Martin phoned me that morning, it was also a ‘no-brainer’. As we left the cafe, I explained to him the rules about staff contact with former residents and so he asked if we might meet again in six months’ time. Of course we will.

*Not his real name

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5 Responses to ‘Is it right that a kid should simply pass through the system and then be forgotten?’

  1. Clare Gibb September 11, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Absolutely a no-brainer. We are acting as corporate parents and we are not birds in the wild. Therefore, we should not just shove the children we care for out of the nest to fend for themselves in some horrible Darwinian experiment.

  2. Ezzie September 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    I think that we should have some sort of database where children can contact their former care workers on reaching the age of 18 if they so choose. As a social worker, when undertaking life story work and completing the children’s life story books, I have always felt it important to include the array of workers – from judges to guardians (Now FCA’s), soc wrk managers and agency decision makers etc- within the narrative and to include photographs with a paragraph about that person’s role and their relationship with the child. It is ok to tell a child that you loved them when they were in your care. We are all human and feeling excited about your LAC child’s first day at school or being proud of their exam success is an important piece of their history that they should have. For any worker who has a particularly close relationship with a child I also feel it is a positive thing for the child if they are able to access the worker at a later date. For example, in adoption work or where children have had numerous foster placements, the child may have many questions about their childhood that isn’t always documented. Lets make it ok for children to access their workers if they so wish.

  3. John Ramsey September 12, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    There is a website, Careleavers Reunited, that seeks to keep carleavers together and potentially in touch with staff. There is also a facility for writing descriptions of children’s homes; I sometimes think how sad it is for children that spent all or part of their time in a home, to return and find it demolished and built on. bad enough for the staff that worked there!

  4. Tina September 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    It’s the most natural thing in the world that when we grow up we always want to go back to our roots, whether it be in the care system or not. Allegations and protocol are serous issues. Just arrange it ‘appropriately’ and professionally so that the young person and the previous carer have no doubts about child protection issues. It’s called covering your back. We all know what its like out there.

  5. Tracy Tweedy September 13, 2014 at 11:22 pm #

    The staff at the children’s home I lived in saved my life and I am not exaggerating. My social worker kept in touch long after I left care and without her and the other staff giving me that total commitment I can honestly say I would not be here now. Now I am 44, studying for my psychology degree and have been a foster carer for 20 years. My social worker is now very poorly in hospital, I visit her because she means the world to me and I hope because I can bring a smile to her face when things are difficult for her now.
    Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the relationships you forge with the young people in your care, you can never care too much. If my social worker had not put herself on the line for me (several times!) things would have been very different for me. If any managers are out there reading this then maybe they need to wake up to the idea that a child is for life and is not just a case.
    So ‘Thank you’ for all the social workers out there that bend the rules sometimes to make children’s lives better, believe me it is worth it.