I’m absolutely clear in my mind that social workers are my heroes. My social workers worked tirelessly to keep me safe, protected and feeling loved.
Now, I feel you recoil at the word loved. Social workers are not supposed to utter that word are they?
Well, why not? Love has more that one definition? Here is a definition from an 8-year-old: “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.”
When you disclose the deepest darkest secrets that you’ve kept hidden through shame and guilt, you expect your social workers to look at you with disgust. Mine didn’t. They cuddled me. This is an act of love.
They gave me the ability to reach out for help, a skill I took into adulthood. If I were unable to reach out for help and trust, would I have received treatment for my addiction? Is it a coincidence that the worker who showed me compassion in the detox unit was a trained social worker? Of course not.
State of tension
The system is in a state of tension about what it’s bad at, and has forgotten what social workers are good at.
A system where social workers are knocked, demonized and expected to cover their backs at all times, does not create a system where a child can feel loved. Social workers who are guarded are spotted a mile off by kids in care. I would have given them a hard time and tested them until they showed an act of love or kindness. They always did.
Unfortunately, children cannot always be protected in such a system – I wasn’t. I was a victim of sexual exploitation. I carried this secret, deep, for all of my adult life. I blamed myself. I thought I was a ‘slag’. Dirty. Nasty. Unworthy. I still do, during flashbacks.
How did this happen? A move against my wishes, from a children’s home where I was settled, loved and cared for. I had lost my sense of the world.
Where did I belong? Where were the people I cared for? They were gone. Why? Because decisions are often made about children in care wholly due to finance. The sector is underfunded, undervalued, and uncared for.
If the sector is feeling this, do you honestly believe that the kids aren’t?
‘I am no longer ashamed’
We need to support our looked-after children spiritually. How will they know they are loveable if they do not receive it? How will they know the beauty of giving back without expecting something in return if we do not show them?
To be kind, caring, loving, empathetic and non-judgmental are all qualities I learnt from my social workers, and passed on to my children. How wonderful to have positive qualities to pass on, rather than the negative ones of my parents. Where would I be today, had I not experienced them?
For looked-after children to leave care ashamed to disclose this as part of their life, is a shame on our society. How would you feel if the world felt that your parents were incompetent and uncaring?
This is what is portrayed about social workers, and they were my family. I am not ashamed any longer. I feel compelled to give back to the very sector that gave me the opportunity to feel loved, and the ability to love my children in return.
If we want emotionally resourceful young people leaving care, we need to give our social workers the freedom, resources and confidence to inspire, care, love and protect our looked-after children.
- Jenny is the co-author of Hackney Child. She is currently working on her second book, due to be published soon.