‘I was being patronised’: a care leaver’s experience of a social work degree

A care leaver and social work graduate talks about their experiences at university, and how the barriers for care leavers in higher education need to be challenged

student
Photo: Drobot Dean/Fotolia

by Anonymous

As a care leaver who has attended university twice, it was important to me that I wasn’t treated differently from my peers, a feeling shared among other care leavers who go into higher education.

Throughout our lives we have felt different and have consistently faced disadvantage. Usually we entered care due to reasons beyond our control. Often it is abuse, which has impacted on our development.

On my second time at university, I did a social work degree. For lecturers teaching social work, one would assume that as the course content is focused on understanding inequalities and how children’s development is impacted upon – while also focusing on strength-based practice and how this assists us to abolish the barriers faced by vulnerable people – it should be natural to understand that although care leavers can overcome the adversity faced in their early years, there will always be triggers that reignite the anxiety that is buried deep inside us.

Mental health conditions are common among care leavers, but since 1995 and the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act, which has now been replaced by the Equality Act 2010, people cannot be discriminated against because of their mental health as it is a protected characteristic.

Therefore, we should never be made to feel inadequate due to our mental health, which can be understood because of what we were exposed to in our developmental years.

Preconceptions

At university I only disclosed my status as a care leaver to enable my lecturers to better understand me and signpost me to available support, should I need it at a later stage.

After that I didn’t want to be treated differently and, most importantly, I would never expect a lecturer to disclose my status as a care leaver on my behalf.

This is because, no matter what course people are on, everybody has preconceptions about care leavers. Whether they take the pity stance or the ‘you must be bad’ approach – this is the stigma we are faced with throughout our lives.

I was once outed as a care leaver by one of my lecturers in front of a new group of people. I hadn’t bonded with this group and I felt so embarrassed for being labelled like that. That was a breach of my confidentiality.

My background

Being a care leaver at university was difficult. I have been through quite a lot and when what we were learning related to my background, I had to learn how to be reflexive in lectures.

At the beginning of the course we were learning different communication techniques to use with children. I remember drawing a life snake and we were writing down our most significant life events and the course leader was going around listening to everyone’s stories.

I remember her making me feel like she couldn’t be bothered to listen to my story and I felt I should have maybe left some ‘drama’ out and not been so honest about my background.

On reflection, I could see how wrong that was, because the whole point of the lecture was to teach us how to listen to children and young people and how to gain their trust, so they feel confident sharing information honestly with us.

At the end of the first week, I asked if I could have a meeting with the course leader, so I could explain why I thought it was important that I contribute honestly regarding my background.

I thought my course mates could gain insight from my experiences and it could help them better understand their future service users. My tutor replied by asking me if my social worker had worked through my attachment difficulties with me, before telling me I did not need to be liked by everyone. I was shocked.

No support

At a different university the tutors were fantastic and taught me to embrace my past, as it will help me in my future work, but now I was being patronised and made to feel inadequate.

Learning about child abuse was difficult for me, but I was never offered any pastoral support. It was also difficult when we spoke about loss and endings as I had friends in care who had passed away from drug overdoses.

On my placement I witnessed bad practice and I tried whistleblowing. As a result, I was taken to an internal fitness to practice procedure. The accusations were completely unfounded, and I got an inconclusive outcome, meaning the university should not have put any conditions on me being there.

However, I was made to go to an occupational health assessment.

Because I had disclosed anxiety and depression and said that the fitness to practice proceedings had made this worse, it was now being suggested that I was not fit to be a social worker.

This really upset me and made me want to give up, but I am not a quitter. I attended the occupational health assessment with the knowledge that I was protected by the Disability Discrimination and the Equality Acts.

I know that social work is about promoting equality and challenging barriers, so it seemed ludicrous to me that my ability to practice was being questioned. The occupational health assessor agreed, and wrote a letter stating I could continue with my course.

‘Trouble’

When I returned, I had to go in the year below because I had missed so much time. The tutor never tried to introduce me to the group and everyone felt quite distant at first. I later found out the course leader had warned everyone about me and said I was trouble. At this point, I wasn’t surprised.

I was never encouraged to share my experiences, even though since the introduction of the social work degree it has been compulsory to include service users to provide insight. I was very isolated on my course, and it was so different to my other university experiences.

Even the named worker at the university, who was there to provide support to care leavers, did not know what to say about my problems.

I did eventually go to a Dean when my criminal record was used against me and I was told that the university were showing potential placements my DBS before giving them a copy of my placement request forms.

They were very supportive, and to my surprise I got an apology from the course leader, but after that they were still negative, and suggested to pupils that we would not all necessarily pass and some of us were not dressed right for social work.

During some lectures I remember questioning how much of this attitude towards me would impact on how my course mates might interact with their future service users? Would they think its acceptable to treat their service users how they had treated me?

Disadvantage

My main point here is that those teaching at higher education institutes need to acknowledge how few care leavers reach them at all (6% to be specific).

This makes us a minority, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a focus on how we experience university. As they are mainly made up of people from middle-class backgrounds, it is imperative that care leavers are not put at a disadvantage or made to feel embarrassed about their identity.

As many people continue to tell me; just by making it to university I upset the odds and should be immensely proud of myself. Even though I faced more barriers at university, the resilience I have established (and continue to build on) throughout this chapter of my life will be outstanding, and hopefully my story will make more young people aware of their potential and eventually that tiny 6% will increase to match that of others accessing higher education.

If we have achieved higher education, we have not let our childhood and youth define us. Therefore, we do not need ostracising as a direct result of our identity as care leavers. We deserve to be treated equally and to have equal opportunities.

For anyone who has had similar experiences, don’t let small-minded people hold you back. From my experience, the only people who will try and hold you back are worried that you will outshine them in your first few years of practice. Keep going, I promise it’s worth it.

This piece is by a care leaver and social work graduate.

18 Responses to ‘I was being patronised’: a care leaver’s experience of a social work degree

  1. Too old for this stuff November 24, 2017 at 12:33 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this. Over the last 25 years of being involved in SW education, I have been appalled by some attitudes of SWs to care leavers entering the profession but also heartened by some more sensitive people.

    Many of us in SW have dealt with difficult experiences and it bugs me that this isn’t routinely recognised.

    I was not initially open about my mental health battles and I still struggle to tell people as I think that there are still negative attitudes expressed by SWs

  2. Lydia Lewis November 24, 2017 at 2:25 pm #

    You come across as a very confident and resilient individual and the fact that you have overcome what appears to me to be a terrible experience, is testament to that. I think you are exactly the sort of individual that social work needs to attact as a practitioner. In my opinion, placements can be the making or breaking of Student Social Workers and whether or not you survive in this type of situation is dependent on:

    1. Support from fellow students or personal networks;
    2. Your relationship with your personal tutor;
    3. Your character and/or emotional strength;
    4. The quality of those providing support or mentoring during your practice placement.

    So, it’s thumbs up to you for showing such strength of character leading to you overcoming the odds. Also good for you speaking out about your difficult experience. This will give others an opportunity to reflect and learn. All the best with your career.

    • Sylvia November 26, 2017 at 12:03 am #

      Reading your story made me feel so proud of you though I’ve never met you. I am a recent graduate social worker with much similarities to your experience on my social work course. In my situation I have a physical disability and was emotionally traumatised by my course leader”s attitude towards my acceptance on the course. I persevere and graduated with a top honors degree . In retrospect I wish I had step out of my co mfort zone and challenge her behaviour towards my disability. I now have a top degree but now experiencing seizure which I belive was brought on by suppressing all the pain to complete my degree now I asked myself was it worth it. Big praise going out to you, you will surely be a great social worker

  3. Esther November 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm #

    I read this article in tears as I can finally relate to someone who shares my experience. I left University in 2004 (2 years after leaving care at 18 years old) at the beginning of my second year for the same reasons highlighted in this article.

    Becoming a social worker is my life’s passion. I have given up a very well paid job to switch careers at the age of 33, after taking time out to get to know myself and reflect on my time being in care. As a care leaver, studying social work can create triggers, but with support and positive reflection it really does make you a better person and allows you to put things in perspective.

    After 12 years I am returning to education and loving every bit of it. I am looking forward to starting my degree next year and a new career as a social worker. The one thing I will do differently is demand support when I need it, instead of waiting for the support to be offered.

    Thank you again to the writer for sharing your story. I wish you all the best.

  4. Leann November 24, 2017 at 9:11 pm #

    It’s shocking that you’ve had this experience but please don’t feel that about all of us within social work and I hope that you have being able to use your experience in a more positive way. It’s a really shame that your university didn’t see how this would benefit your peers.

    Also you are not alone. I was a young carer and it was something that I was completely open and honest about. I didn’t want to hide it and I believed my colleagues would benefit – which they feedback that it did.

    However, some lecturers viewed it differently. When the put me on a placement for young carers, I did naturally struggle. To add that my practice teacher was changed three times within 90 days, including my role within the organisation – I was completely confused and had no clear guidance. When I disclosed this to my lecturer, the organisation were upset. But it was naturally an issue with me and I got told to lower my expectations. Just like to say – I didn’t.

    My confidentiality was breached – the lecturer told someone with my current employer that I had accepted to a social work post before I told them.

  5. LAURA November 24, 2017 at 9:18 pm #

    I am so sorry to read you were treated this way. You sound amazing and your ability to relate to service users and of course your own knowledge, skills, abilities and personality will make you an amazing social worker. All the very best for your career and life 🙂

    Laura 🙂

  6. Andy Walker November 24, 2017 at 9:57 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your story and experience as a fellow SW student and ex-service user myself, testimonials like this only fire me up and inspire me to keep pushing against those attitudes in our profession

    I love the tenacity and boldness of your spirit standing up to bad practice – it is truly encouraging to see, I as a service user had some good and some bad experiences of social workers which made me want to pursue the profession myself.

    I can see that you are going to be an fantastic social worker! do not let the opinions and thoughts of others quench that burning passion to see change, keep fighting the good fight!

    – A brother in Social Work

  7. StepgSteph November 25, 2017 at 8:18 pm #

    Thank you for writing this. I had an awful time at uni with insensitive and downright insensitive and discriminatory lecturers. My circumstances were different but I’m now thriving in my area of social work. Good luck

  8. Faye November 26, 2017 at 12:58 am #

    Amazing and would love to work with you – I am going to keep this article.

  9. Lynn November 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm #

    For a caring profession we are surprisingly uncaring about the struggles of colleagues and students!!

    • Planet Autism November 30, 2017 at 12:08 am #

      …and especially so of families.

  10. Shirley Thomson November 27, 2017 at 8:40 am #

    Thank you for such an open and honest reflection. I believe it is time more therapeutic understanding is in SW training. Your story provides us all where our profession should improve.

  11. Ted November 27, 2017 at 5:55 pm #

    Thank you, thank you thank you

    As a recently qualified graduate I can relate a lot to this piece.

    Its such a shame that such insensitive behaviour was instigated by those teaching you how to be a social worker.
    Good luck and thanks for sharing

  12. Angie November 27, 2017 at 8:46 pm #

    Thank you for sharing. Hopefully the tutors (And others) at the universities you attended have read your honest article and are able to reflect on their own practice and on how their behaviour and attitude not only impacted on you but on the practice values of many future social workers. It’s very disappointing.

    I have just graduated and I had to suggest and organise including people who have experienced care/care leavers in the course content. The feedback from other students was phenomenal explaining that hearing real life experiences had more of an impact then any of the lectures by the tutors, giving opportunity to reflect, understand theories in practice ad ask questions.

    Including people who have used services personal ecperiences in the education of future social workers is vital if only to educate on what not to do (ie. Break confidentially, patronize and discriminate).

    Again thank you for sharing and good luck in your future career.

  13. Planet Autism November 30, 2017 at 12:12 am #

    “people cannot be discriminated against because of their mental health as it is a protected characteristic.”

    Only it is something that social workers do daily, discriminate against service users with mental health issues to the degree that it is used as a reason to take children away.

    Do you see the irony of this?

    I’m really glad you touched on the fact that the course leader’s attitude would affect graduate’s attitudes in their careers. Shocking to have a SW course leader like that training future SWs. I wish I could say it was also surprising.

    “On my placement I witnessed bad practice and I tried whistleblowing. As a result, I was taken to an internal fitness to practice procedure. The accusations were completely unfounded, and I got an inconclusive outcome, meaning the university should not have put any conditions on me being there.

    However, I was made to go to an occupational health assessment.”

    Sadly this is what happens, when honest decent SWs speak out about unethical practices. It’s the same in the NHS.

    Whatever happens stay true to yourself, stick with it, if you see bad practice continue to speak out. And remember to translate what you have been through in your training, as regards bad attitudes and discrimination, into something you will never do against parents.

    • Anonymous November 30, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

      Not you again! Can you PLEASE STOP with all this “pity the parents” thing? You are starting to sound like an advocate of “parental alienation syndrome”, or maybe someone who believes in “false memory syndrome”!

      Yes, some parents do have their kids taken into care. But it is NOT always the result of some “evil” Social Worker or Health Visitor “discriminating against service users with mental health problems to the degree that it is used as a reason to take children away”. Sometimes such measures are absolutely necessary. Or do you refuse to believe that child abuse actually takes place?

      Some kids are placed in care because they are abused – physically, sexually and emotionally. Some are neglected and left to fend for themselves – maybe having to eat out of litter bins, or go to school undernourished, filthy and poorly because their parents refuse to take them to the Doctor. Some kids are shouted at, sworn at, told they are stupid and useless. Some kids are shaken, slapped and kicked. Do you wish to deny this happens?

      THESE are some of the reasons kids are taken into care, and NOT because workers are deliberately discriminating. Indeed, if parents are accepting of support (even where they have mental health issues) as opposed to remaining in denial, and abusing or refusing any offers of support made, then it is likely their kids will remain with them.

      It is upsetting to see such an insensitive comment about people’s being taken into care posted in response to an article by a care leaver. Do you deny that there may have been a genuine reason why the author of the article was in care?

  14. The Voice Of Reason November 30, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    You think this just happens during Social Work training? I’ve had it happen both whilst studying, and when at work as a qualified Social Worker.

    The impression that I get is there are some people who get into jobs like Nursing, Teaching, Social Care, etc. who are totally uninterested in being genuinely caring and understanding. Instead, they are just there for the kudos, the pay, the power, and a quick promotion. Many of them seem to be working in these jobs because it is a “family tradition” and they have a mother, father, or both parents who are already Nurses, Doctors, Teachers or whatever. They use these family links to help them get work, to help them get advantages over other people at work, and to help them avoid any problems at work. For example, if they commit malpractice, they know they can get away with it, because the family member who is also working in that profession will help them out. They always have the pick of the best job opportunities, too, because their family and friends who already work in that profession “tip them off”. I’ve seen this so many times, and if people think that NEPOTISM and CRONYISM don’t exist in Public Sector professions, jobs like Social Work, Nursing, Teaching etc. they are so, so wrong.

    Nepotism is defined as “favouritism shown to relatives when conferring jobs, offices, rewards… ” (Oxford Dictionary). Cronyism is similar, but defined as “favouritism shown to intimate/close friends” (Oxford Dictionary). People use Nepotism and Cronyism to gain unfair advantages at work. Where Nepotism and Cronyism exist in a workplace, there will always be problems because:
    a) People relying on Nepotism or Cronyism may lack the actual skills and/or qualifications necessary to do the job.
    b) They may be overly “cocky” and have a sense of being able to “get away with murder” because they are always protected by family and friends even when they do something bad, or wrong.
    c) Promotions, training and awards may go to the wrong people, who do not actually deserve them on merit, but instead get them given by family and friends.
    d) Management and leadership may be poor, because they only people to get promoted will be those using Nepotism or Cronyism – this will lead to a “closed” management structure, where managers all know (and back) each-other against the rest of the workforce, so no new ideas will be introduced and few changes in practices take place. Workforces like these can stagnate because managers subject to Nepotism or Cronyism can adopt a very rigid attitude of “this is how we always do it, and if you’re not one of us, we don’t want you”. Management who use Nepotism or Cronyism can form a “clique”, and they risk becoming very domineering.

    The biggest problem with Nepotism or Cronyism is the fact that it permits staff to adopt lax attitudes. If a person knows that they will always have a job, always be given promotions, rewards and so forth just because they are related to someone else in the job then they know that they do not have to work very hard. They also know that they can have a bad attitude, but still be permitted to keep their job. Furthermore, people who rely on Nepotism or Cronyism know that because they have relatives or close friends in the same job, they can “ask for favours”. This often translates into an ability to get “insider knowledge” ahead of colleagues; so, for example, they may know about an upcoming promotion opportunity before everyone else. Or, it may mean that they can make mistakes at work, or commit bad practice, but get away with it; however, if anyone else did this, they would be disciplined, or sacked. Nepotism and Cronyism are dangerous and deeply unprofessional.

    I state that these issues are problems, because they have produced ALL of the people who patronised me, both whilst studying, and at work. I may not be a care leaver in the sense that is written about in the article above, but I do have experiences of growing up in difficult circumstances. I have a parent who has long term mental health problems, with periods of mania and delusions. Add to this, I was fostered for a while. I started education early due to these issues in my family, and whilst at school, had “care” in the form of a “proxy parent” who would collect me from school and look after me if my mentally unwell parent could not, and my other parent was at work.

    I have a pretty good idea of what it feels like to be patronized and treated differently to other people. For me, the experience began as soon as I started school. What annoys me intensely, is that I DID NOT EVEN KNOW ABOUT MY PARENT’S MENTAL ILLNESS AT THIS TIME. However, the information was spread all around the school I attended, so I actually got to know about my own parent’s mental illness via gossip of a negative nature that was circulating round my classmates. Form the age of THREE YEARS OLD, I have had to listen to comments like…

    “You can’t be that clever” or “You must have had a tutor” (because people assumed that I could not achieve anything academically because my parent was mentally ill). I’ve had someone say my parent was a “retard”. I’ve even had the mother of a once close friend at school label my family “corny charity cases”. And people think this doesn’t HURT?!! This continued through Primary School, Secondary School and Sixth Form. I also noted that people would treat me differently because of what they knew about my parent’s mental illness. I got unfairly labelled “naughty” more often than other kids, and even if it was my fiends and not me who were badly behaved in class, I always got punished. As I got older, I noted that people (including teachers) seemed always to want to label my behaviour or appearance as “symptomatic” of “emerging mental illness”. I got the impression that it was assumed automatically that everyone in my family was, or would become, mental! So, if I spoke quietly because I was shy around people I’d never met before, this was “pathologised” and it was assumed I was “anxious, stressed and had a general anxiety disorder”. Doing perfectly normal teenage things like listening to loud music, immersing myself in teen subculture, and suchlike were interpreted as “further signs of being mental”. For example, worries about my grades at school or about my appearance (which are usual for ALL teens) were labelled signs of “obsessive-compulsive behaviour”.

    HOW can a person ever feel normal, and fit in, if everyone else around them is automatically treating them differently because they have been in care, or fostered, or have a mentally ill parent, or a sibling in a wheelchair, or similar? It is obvious to me that the author of the above article has experienced this. Just because somebody knows something that may appear negative about you, is not an excuse to treat you differently, or to patronise, label and stigmatise you. For a start, people DO NOT ASK to be in care, or disabled, mentally ill, or whatever. Secondly, who says these things deserve automatically to be labelled as negative? WHAT exactly makes the care leaver, or the child with a mentally ill parent, or the kid in a wheelchair… or, indeed, anyone who is “different” like this, WORSE THAN or LESS THAN anyone else?

    What reason is there for patronising and stigmatising a person due to their upbringing and background? NONE of us chooses this – we do not choose when, or where we are born, or who we are born to. We rarely, if ever, choose the early experiences that shape our lives. So, WHY should a person be made to feel diminished, or singled-out, because of these experiences?

    Just like the author of the article did not choose to be in care, I did not choose a mentally unwell parent. I did not choose fostering. I did not choose to be placed in school early. Likewise, I did not have any choice, or say, in what other people came to know about my family and background at an early age. NO CHILD SHOULD HAVE TO FIND OUT ABOUT THEIR OWN PARENT’S MENTAL ILLNESS VIA GOSSIP GOING ROUND AT SCHOOL! To this day, I remain deeply offended that this information was spread around the school. This was a complete breach of confidentiality. The discomfort that I experienced at school as a result was utterly unmeasurable, and intolerable. To spend one’s life being humiliated and patronised due to a factor that was not even within one’s control in the first place is beyond offensive.

    For me, this did not end at school. As a young adult, I had experiences like this at University (and, yes, it was whilst training as a Social Worker). There was a girl on my course called Katy who pretended to be my friend whilst we had to work together on a joint assignment. There were three students in the assignment group. Katy and the other girl contributed NOTHING to the whole assignment. Instead, they would just chat and socialise every time we met up to attempt to get on with the work. In the end, I wrote most of the assignment on my own, because otherwise we would all have failed it due to non-submission. I am deeply upset that the two other girls in my group got the same mark as me for doing no work. But, if I had not written the assignment on behalf of the group, then I too would have failed. Katy would pretend to be friends to my face, and then gossip about my personal circumstances behind my back. How is that acceptable, from someone who was training to be a Social Worker? But, she could get away with it because her sister worked in the Human Resources department of Social Services. Katy’s family connections always protected her. Even when she lied to University tutors and said that she handed essays in late due to illness, or due to her claim of Dyslexia. The truth was that she handed the essays in late because she had gone on holiday – she even admitted this to people on the course.

    On another occasion, there was a woman who made the comment “all mental illnesses are genetic” in a class about the origins of mental ill health, and its relationship to trauma. I attempted to correct her, by asking if PTSD is genetic, but she persisted in insisting that genetics are the only “cause” of mental illness, and then went on to say that people in families where someone is mentally ill will “inevitably become ill too”. She appeared to firmly believe that if one person in a family was mentally ill, then ALL were, or soon would be. I was so upset I left the room. Afterwards, I heard that the woman in question has a learning-disabled child. HOW would she have liked it if I had said in class that everyone in a family where one member is learning-disabled MUST have learning-disability? Or, if I had somehow inferred that she had caused her child’s learning-disability? I could not believe that somebody so insensitive was studying on a health care related course! It is NOT just teachers or lecturers who can get it wrong. It is also fellow students. Irrespective, I received NO offers of support, or expressions of concern, either from the course tutors or fellow students.

    I have had this same insensitive attitude at work. On one occasion my manager in an integrated health and social services team (who was a qualified Nurse) made the comment “Are you like your… (insert descriptor of mentally ill parent)?” Imagine the shock, horror and hurt that I experienced hearing this! The comment was made after I returned to work following time off with a bad chest infection. My manager seemed to be insinuating that he thought ALL my family were “mentally ill”. I then was left with the feeling that people in the office had been gossiping, and asking if I was actually ill in the same way as my parent. Imagine how humiliating it is to come back to an office where you sense this! I felt constantly belittled, diminished. Another colleague once made the comment “oh, depression is common” in response to my appearing tired and “washed out”; I got the sense that she somehow thought this was helpful! personally, I hated this constant jumping to conclusions. Of course I was tired and run-down. Firstly, I have anaemia and chronic sinusitis. Secondly, I was working in an office of patronising colleagues and managers who thought they could talk to me like dirt because I had a mentally ill parent. But when I made a formal complaint about my manager, friends of his in the office “tipped him off” and he resigned rather than face investigation. Meanwhile, just like the author of the article describes, I was made to go to Occupational Health, told I was “stressed” and “not coping”, and listened to inferences that I was “not suitable for Social Work”. HOW does my manager making a clearly offensive remark mean that I am not suitable for my job?

    I can absolutely identify with so many of the experiences described by the author of the article. I can identify with being singled-out and treated as “different”. Sometimes I have felt as though I were “inhuman”; that people treated me like a “thing”, or an “experimental subject” not a real person. I have felt like an involuntary “teaching aid”, and felt treated like a “research participant” rather than a genuine human being with the same thoughts, feelings and needs as everyone else.

    At NO point have I felt as though people I was around understood what it was like to be a care leaver, or to have been fostered, or to have a mentally ill or disabled parent, or come from a dysfunctional family. Often, I also felt that if I attempted to tell people, they accused me of making a scene, fussing, or being melodramatic. My experiences in this respect reflect those of the author. Other times, it felt as if people tried to get too close, intruded and fished for sensitive personal details. What right does anyone have to ask “are you like your…?”. Or to ask me what it feels like to have started school early. Or to make comments like “why can’t you just get over it”, or tell me to “get counselling”. What right? Especially when what is causing offence is THEIR ATTITUDE TOWARDS ME.

    I can totally identify with all the rubbish that you get forced to listen to if you complain about people’s insensitivity and negative attitudes. Whilst I may not have spent a long time in care, I still felt singled out as “different” and treated as “odd” because my parent was mentally unwell, and because I had been placed in education a year early, plus I was sometimes collected from school by a “carer”. But when you try to point out that people are treating you differently, and that this is offensive or patronising, people treat YOU as the “problem”. They punish you, try to threaten you to get you to shut up. They infer that you are too sensitive or that you can’t take something they meant as a joke. They accuse you of drama. They infer that you are “mental” or “making it all up”.

    Everything that the author of the article writes is something I have felt and can identify with to some degree, myself. I just wish I could have put it so articulately! I know that feeling of being treated as “odd” and ostracized. The feeling of being silenced and robbed of a voice. The feeling of being shunned and not having your personal experiences recognised. I also recognise the attitude described so well by the author – the attitude of privileged snobs who believe they have the right to tell you that your background and experiences mean you will somehow be no good at the career of your choice. As if THEY have the right to dictate this! Most of these people have never had the experiences I have had, or the author has had – so how could they possibly know what our experiences make us “unsuitable for”?

    Personally, I firmly believe that with the right care, support, encouragement and nurturance care leavers, and other people from dysfunctional or underprivileged backgrounds may be excellent candidates for care work such as Social Work, Nursing, Medicine etc. Also for Teaching and Lecturing. For Police and Probation work. For Law… Indeed, for many public sector careers. Why? Because they have personal insights and experiences that may help them better to empathise with service users, and better understand people’s care needs and other important circumstances. Also, because they have shown that they have immense inner strength and determination – the resilience to overcome difficult personal circumstances and attempt to make a success of themselves. These are not qualities to be sniffed at. They are very valuable qualities indeed.

    Many of the public sector professions, including Social Work, are all about understanding and working with underprivilege, power imbalances, inequality, dysfunction. Who better to appreciate this than someone who has experienced it themselves? I, too, am aware that just by making it to University I upset the odds. This is why I believe that so many people have been negative towards me. I have already outshone the achievements of ALL the people who have been unpleasant to me. Indeed, right back at school, the kids who were saying nasty things about me did so because they did not get as good qualifications as me. I firmly believe that if somebody feels the need to be nasty to you, it is THEIR problem, not yours.

    The reality of life is that with the correct support and encouragement, care leavers and people from difficult backgrounds can achieve just as much as anyone else – indeed, in some cases, MORE. Just give them the chance!

  15. Blair McPherson December 1, 2017 at 10:48 am #

    Your experience shows the challenges and dilemmas faced by students from minority groups. You have some valuable insights to offer the other students and lectures but understandablely you don’t want that to result in being labelled,stereotyped or patronised. Yes you would hope that those running a social work course would be more sensitive. I would however like to read the views of lectures not necessarily those on your course Because I am sure most would want more students with direct experience of the care system on their courses and would want to provide a better experience than you had.