Confidence in residence

The first of a series by teenager Heidi
Osborne on positive experiences of residential social workers.

My motivation for writing this series of
articles is that I would like to eradicate the stigma attached to
residential social workers and their role in young people’s lives.
There has been an ever-increasing amount of media coverage where
emphasis is on the negative rather than the positive practices of
residential social workers.

Newspaper articles and television dramas have
portrayed them as depraved old men or eccentric hippies, with
hidden motives for wanting to work with children. I appreciate that
there have been social workers as described above, and I also
believe that local authorities and the public need to be aware of
the perpetrators within this field of work.

However, there needs to be more of a balance.
For example, one often hears about the residential social worker
who carried out an indecent act, but one never hears about the
residential social worker who improved a young person’s
self-confidence or took a group of children to the seaside and had
a lovely time.

When I came to live in Maumbury House
children’s home, I was extremely introverted, emotionally insecure
and had a chronic case of self-loathing. As time went on, I became
ever more confident and competent in building and sustaining
relationships. From the word go, the residential social workers
treated me with dignity and respect.

But I must admit that in the early days they
seemed only committed to catering for our basic needs. They weren’t
willing or particularly able to tackle the young people’s problems.
Whether this was a result of their inefficiency or lack of
knowledge I’m still not certain. At the time, however, I did not
notice their professional inadequacies. I was just thankful to be
in an environment full of warmth and laughter rather than my
previous environment, which was full of adversities and

On 14 October 2000 my 30-year-old brother
suddenly died of a heart defect. I remember feeling numb, in total
disbelief. During this time the staff at the home supported me and
consoled me. The day after he died, a new staff member joined the
team at the home. Fearing change, I made no effort to talk to or
form a rapport with her.

But as I came to terms with my brother’s death
I became more contented and began to adjust to the working styles
of this particular residential social worker. I rapidly began to
appreciate her qualities. Not only did she have qualifications and
experience, but she also had a wealth of common sense, compassion
and humour.

She was a catalyst for positive change within
the home and her refreshing attitude has influenced other staff
members’ practices. For example, I now feel that there is a mutual
recognition of every young person’s individuality, needs, wishes
and difficulties. Furthermore, I believe that the team of
residential social workers are now all passionate about fighting
for our rights as “looked-after young people”, which in turn has
revolutionised the quality of care that every one of us

Heidi Osborne has been a resident of
Maumbury House children’s home, Dorchester, since 1998. She will be
going to university in the autumn.

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