My leaving care team made me the social worker I am today

A children's social worker looks back on how his time as a care leaver helped shaped the person and social worker he became

Photo: Remains/Fotolia

by Jonny Hoyle

I was probably about 18 when I first heard the term corporate parenting.

I was a care leaver from foster care, and I was beginning what would be an extraordinary journey that took me to where I am today.

After care, I started working in the leaving care team I was being helped by. I set up a charity campaigning for positive changes to the care system.  I became a safeguarding social worker. Now I sit about to become the assistant team manager of the very same leaving care team that provided me a service a decade ago.

Throughout my journey, a message that stuck with me was one said in 1998 by then health secretary Frank Dobson about the care that children deserve: “Would this be good enough for my child?”

The reality is that very little about the lives of children in care would be good enough for my children, but the ideology and the mind set should be something that we use all day every day.

Positive change

Dobson’s words gave me a foundation to argue for positive changes to the care system.

My charity, A National Voice, campaigned for over a decade to stop children in care moving home with their possessions in bin bags with its “This is not a suitcase” campaign.

This was built primarily on the views of children and young people in care, but argued for on the message: “Would this be good enough for your children?”

The campaign was successful and seemed to have gathered some momentum but sadly, recently, I am hearing stories that the dreaded bin bags are back.

It saddens me that in the past decade, the notion of corporate parenting seems to have faded. People no longer seem to talk about, or even debate, it.

So what does corporate parenting mean in practice? I was a care leaver working within the same leaving care team as my own personal advisor.

I was part of the group who were providing the service, but also part of the group receiving a service.

I was young, naïve and keen to learn. As an 18-year-old, how do you learn to work in a professional environment and to juggle those unique issues I had to face?

Role models

I needed the people around me to not only care that I was in employment and the work I was doing; I needed them to care about me, my life and my ability to learn.

I found myself with some exceptional role models. One, a personal advisor called Bryan, was everything I wanted to be.

Popular, funny, well respected and confident. Bryan took me under his wing. He spent time talking to me, encouraging me at times and reigning me in at others. He offered me pep talks when things were tough and, probably most importantly, he treated me as a person and not as the care leaver working in the office.

As much about my life he learnt, he also talked to me about his. This two-way relationship built trust, and upon trust, anything is possible.

Setting goals

My manager was a man called Dennis. He was a man of impeccable principle and drive.

Towards the end of his career, you could still see the twinkle in his eye when he talked about improving the education training and employment outcomes for care leavers, which was his main job.

He advised me professionally. He taught me about what being in work meant. He would encourage me and praise me, would help me to set goals and would be more delighted than me when we achieved them. He also wasn’t phased to tell me off when I did things wrong, which, as an 18-year-old young man, happened… and probably too often for his liking.

Dennis saw my potential but also knew that there were rough edges to me that needed polishing.

The team manager, Howard, was and still is one of the most important people in my life. We met when I was a “gobby” kid at some leaving care groups.

Howard was responsible for all of the care leavers, but also knew all of us, what we liked and had his own ideas about what our likely routes to independence would be.

Shaped me

Howard held everybody’s respect and did not mince his words. He met with me when I started work and told me exactly what he expected. He had already thought of some of the issues that may arise from having a care leaver in the team.

He talked to me about the positions I would find myself before I found myself in them. Over time Howard, Bryan and Dennis became the people who would shape my career and would turn me into the social worker I am today.

Not only that, but they shaped my personality and taught me the importance and the value in the work we do. Helping me to understand that if they worked through their dinner break or got home from work late it was because they were making a difference to our care leavers’ lives.

Over time, I grew closer and closer to them. I learnt about their lives, their families and their interests. We spent time socially and they each had an impact upon my development. To some extent they still do.

Give a little, get a lot

After the leaving care team, I went on to be a family support worker and then a social worker.

In both of these roles, my managers were my old social workers, Steve and Heidi.

Again, Steve and Heidi both found themselves in what must be a strange scenario. The “gobby” kid they had to tolerate as social workers was now their employee. Both put themselves out and went over and above to make sure I succeeded by offering me advice and guidance as and when I need it.

When I look back on my career, I feel that a little piece of all of these people have come together within me, but the important part is that all of these people gave a little bit of themselves.

Sometimes as social workers we are, rightly so, protective of ourselves as people and try to avoid those conversations about us and our personal lives, but it is those very conversations that help to build trust and two-way relationships. In essence, you give a little and get a lot.

I was delighted to read about the Children and Social Work Act bringing back the notion of corporate parenting and once again asking the question: “Would this be good enough for my child?”

Given that my immediate future will be back in leaving care I have to say that I am delighted that services to care leavers will be extended.

The key to my future work will be building resilience to ensure that, just like me, when children and young people leave care that care does not leave them.

Jonny Hoyle is a children’s social worker and grew up in foster care. He is a trustee of the care leaver charity A National Voice.

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8 Responses to My leaving care team made me the social worker I am today

  1. Maggie May 18, 2017 at 3:18 pm #

    This is a heart warming story. I love the fact that role models feature high in your story. My experience in care planted the seeds that would eventually lead me to a better life but not immediately. I had to travel the well worn path of the care leaver but the seeds were sown. You can read more about it along with the letter to my key worker here

  2. Neil May 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm #

    What a brilliant article, I really enjoyed reading it. Well done Jonny you should be rightly proud of your achievements – all the best with your continued journey.

  3. Colin P May 18, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

    I had the privilege of sharing a conference platform with this young man about 10 ago, he is an exceptional talent…as many of our care leavers are!

  4. Carole Cameron May 19, 2017 at 7:43 am #

    This article brought a tear to my eye. After 38 years in the profession as a Social Worker and Team Manager, I have had the privilege of working with people like the ones Jonny so eloquently brings to life here. The ones who make a difference and who are the difference we make. It is really sad that we don’t hear more about the positives. How amazing our kids are. How despite everything they go through they have that resilience to pull through. Thank you Jonny for making me remember – amongst all the bad press we get – that we matter so much in this changing society of ours. I am so proud to have known those unsung heroes of our wonderful profession. I wish you all the very best. We leave it safe in your hands with those values you hold.

  5. Mandy May 19, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    As a foster carer who saw the “This is not a suitcase” campaign at the Fostering Network conference in Belfast many years ago I was heartened to hear of Jonny’s journey. It just goes to show how important positive roles models can be for looked after young people along with the encouragement to reach for their dreams. We have always believed in treating our many foster children the same as our birth child and it has been really satisfying seeing them achieve their full potential (including one of our girls starting uni last September to do a degree in social work).

  6. Jacqui May 19, 2017 at 11:01 pm #

    Thankyou for sharing your experiences, Jonny.

  7. Leonne Griggs May 20, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

    Congratulations on your new post Jonny. That’s great news and you’ll be ace. I learnt so much from you while you were a social work student. You’re just the kind of person who should be in senior management in childcare services.

  8. Fiona Phur May 26, 2017 at 8:28 am #

    Really inspiring article – I’m going to include it into our Corporate Parenting training for new councillors.