Children in care and social workers: a fraught relationship

Three young people in foster care describe their difficult relationships with social workers, while overleaf they discuss their family placements

Michael, 18

” I’m wishing my social worker does at least one thing I ask him to”

The door bell rings. It’s 11.30am. It should’ve rung half an hour ago. My foster carer, Morgan, gets the door. Big smile on her face.

My social worker, Robert, walks in. I think of him as a part-time social worker. Barely spoken to him lately. His six-weekly visits have turned into a six-monthly discussion over the phone. He’s late but I’m grateful he’s even showed up.

Morgan leads him to the living room (he seems to have forgotten where it is). She’s prepared some cakes and traditional tea. ‘Image is everything,’ she told me once when I refused to cut my hair before my college interview.

In some respect she was right. But my mum also told me ‘never judge a book by its cover’. That’s exactly what happened in the care system. I don’t even get judged by the way I look, I get judged by what’s on the documents, these large meaningless piles of papers. Shame. There was no way I was going to cut my afro no way I was going to change my physical appearance or my attitude to better the way people judge me. I got more confident with this choice I made when I was accepted at the best college in my area.

I’m now reading the list of things I need to ask my social worker. It’s a long list it’s been building up since I came into care as none of the issues have been resolved. I don’t want him to look at my list he will ask to take it to the office and get back to me ‘as soon as I can’. Trust me, that means never. It happened way too many times before I understood what kind of person my social worker was: a good actor especially trained to perform well in the fields of convincing people he’ll get back to them and that everything is going to be ok.

I walk into the living room. His first words: ‘Oh, hello there, I need you to sign the [I’m sorry, I can’t remember what he said. It was a long term I couldn’t understand].’

That explains why he’s here. Nice. Not a second passed before he pulled out a massive pile of documents. Sometimes I think all he does at his office is form-filling exercises. Thanks for asking how I’m doing. Thanks for assuming I’m having a great time with my carers. And a special thanks for providing me with the text books I needed for my GCSE exams.

I stopped wishing for a better life a long time ago, a life like everyone else. I was wishing I had a better social worker a year or two ago. Now I’m wishing my social worker does at least one thing I ask him to. I feel hopeless and ashamed writing this.

I’ve just finished signing three or four documents, all about me, not even knowing why we need documents about me. The social workers I’ve had have never tried to get to know me for who I am, never taken the time to lift their eyes off their paperwork and question how I am doing never truly wondered who I am in real life rather than on paper.

I’ve done what he wanted me to do. I’ve listened to the meaningless terms, signed the documents. I had hoped he would pay half as much attention to the things I wrote on my list. But no, he just started rushing me through them as if he had a plane to catch.

He’s now engaged in formal conversation with my foster carer. Not really. He just finds the cakes and tea very nice. I’m wondering why my social worker can’t talk to someone genuinely. Why try to change the topic all the time like a politician? Take off the suit and come in your weekend clothes come as a person with feelings, not as an insurance salesman who couldn’t care less if the car accident resulted in the death of the driver.

Frustrated and annoyed by his behaviour, I go to my room. Same old life just another day. I’d always lie on my bed after these disturbing meetings and tell myself, ‘What don’t kill you makes you stronger. Remember that’.

I had hoped I was the only unfortunate person to have to encounter endless problems throughout my life, my social worker being one of the main ones. I hoped all other looked-after children and young people had good social workers ones who would take them out to McDonald’s or to play football and try to build trust and ­confidence ones who would come without the paperwork every now and then and just talk – just try to explore the thoughts and opinion of the young person in front of them. Yes, I had hoped. But it’s a damned shame how many people are in my situation.

We looked-after children all need an angel a social worker who would recognise our struggle and help us live through the storm. Our faith is in this angel’s shadow, this little bit of hope, this dream social worker. Our prayers are always near wishing destiny will lead our paths to cross with this angel.

If you’re a social care manager reading this, please try to forward it to your social workers. If you’re a social worker reading this, can you become that angel?

If you’re a looked-after child reading this, remember, what don’t kill you makes you stronger.

 Fernando, 11

“Social workers change so often I once had one I never met”

I can’t remember how many social workers I’ve had in the past but I know that it’s a lot. One of them I saw only once in my school and never again. The one that I have had the longest is my current social worker I think. I don’t know why they change so often, but it’s definitely annoying because I have to get used to different people all the time. I’m ok with them changing, but not too often.

Once I was getting used to my social worker, but then it changed and I had to do the same thing all over again which really bothered me. Well, wouldn’t it bother you? You need time to get to know your social worker, otherwise it’s basically a stranger coming to your house and asking you questions about the place you’re living in and writing it down.

I hate it when social workers change often, especially when there’s one you like and then they change quickly in a short ­period of time. I think once I had a social worker I never met! That’s how fast the social workers I’ve had have changed. Shocking isn’t it? You’ll probably be wondering, ‘Is this true?’. Well, it is. Although I’ve been in care for less than two years, I’ve had social workers since I was about six and, remember, mine have changed pretty quick indeed. I don’t like it when they change too often. I just want one social worker to stay until I leave care.

Asmara, 11

“Next time you see your social worker, why don’t you tell them that you don’t see them enough?”

Having a social worker is like making a new friend who understands all your feelings.

But it is very hard when you never really get to see them. It sometimes gets annoying when you really need to discuss a problem or situation. For example, what if something really bad happened like you had a problem in your foster placement and it was very serious and your social worker wasn’t coming until the end of the week, so you waited and then you found out that she/he couldn’t make it until the end of the following week?

Also, some kids would like to spend time with their social worker doing things like going to the park or the cinema. A child may be going through a tough time at school or going through a hard period of their life, like moving from primary school to secondary school. That is one of the hardest times or periods in a child’s life.

So next time you see your social worker, why don’t you tell them that you don’t see them enough or that you don’t have a great relationship with them and you want to make them more of a friend? See if that will work.

This article appeared in the 13 September issue under the headline “The problem with social workers”

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.