By Selina Anderson
As social workers, we cannot be held to account for the unfortunate situation a child is in, but we do have a duty to do our best. One of my main concerns is that the emotional support and wellbeing for children in care is at times not the main priority.
In order for a child to succeed, especially when leaving care without all of the support that others take for granted, the most important thing to consider is their emotional wellbeing. Without this a child will turn into an adult who has never quite dealt with their past and is not used to, or comfortable with, asking for help.
From the age of eight, until I left for university at 18, I was fostered and lived within a loving and secure family with my siblings.
My birth mother suffered from an emotional breakdown and struggled to maintain her mental health, which never really improved. Due to these experiences, I have always had a natural interest in working with young people and sharing their views, which I am lucky to have had the privilege to do so in different respects, and now as a social worker.
Within fostering, a great deal of the children and young people I come into contact with appear to have even greater emotional needs and a complicated family history. However, within the most complex cases I see patterns in the loss of so many ‘protective factors’ that I was afforded, which can block a child or young person from fulfilling their potential.
Reflecting back on my early life, what enabled me to become a strong and resilient person was gaining positive skills, such as the need to remain strong minded and independent. There were a lot of protective factors when I was fostered which made a huge impact on how I viewed the world and promoted my self-esteem. My siblings were good role models in that my older sister was supportive, she went on to university and I followed in her footsteps.
I was able to live locally so I retained my friendships, school and connections. I knew my extended family from a distance, had regular contact with my birth mother and the home where I lived was able to promote my cultural identity.
I think that we need to be able to get past the general duties and expectations of promoting wellbeing and be as creative as we can so these young people have a better chance to survive once they leave care.
Some local authorities have life skills programmes that include all aspects including relationships, peer group pressures and drugs and alcohol awareness. They are individualistic in their approach, which moves beyond checking if the young person can change a light bulb. Social workers could support children in care and care leavers by:
- Trying to help them come to terms with any anger or emotional trauma before they leave care so that this does not follow them into adulthood. This could mean the child or young person having access to therapeutic services which does not have to be limited to CAMHS; this could be through their GP. For some young people, they might respond well to a mentor, a youth worker who they can confide in, or an independent visitor.
- The potential for children approaching leaving care age to experience staying in alternative accommodation so they can get an idea of what this might feel like in reality. Some local authorities support children who are in care and leaving care to meet with other care leavers who are within the supported accommodation so they can get a realistic idea of what to expect.
- Link care leavers in with local and national services such as mentoring organisations and other networks they can gain support through, such as the Topé Project. Social workers will understand the individual needs of the children and young people they work with. Linking care leavers in with these extra services will help them to build up a positive support network and could help combat the isolation they may feel.
Selina Anderson is running workshops on promoting like skills for young people approaching leaving care. Information packs are available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.