By Ian Dickson and Mike Starr
Most care experienced social workers will know the feelings of doubt and discomfort in meetings, at times feeling like an imposter. The fear of daring to share intimate feelings about life in care and its impact, and of people possibly judging you if you do.
There is the ongoing internal dialogue: “Am I approaching this situation with too much passion?” “Dare I say – ‘from my experience…’?” “Are my thresholds in this situation too high or low?” “Dare I challenge the language that person used?”; “Do I personally agree with the decision?”
One form of discrimination care experienced workers face is othering, which is always unintended but can result in subjugation and isolation.
It may be triggered by innocent comments from colleagues like: “Haven’t you done well considering what you’ve been through?”
It can involve having to face suspicion or doubt in your abilities for having a childhood care experience. When comments are made frequently enough, this reinforces feelings of difference and trauma.
Experiences like these led us, a group of care experienced social workers, to set up the Association of Care Experienced Social Care Workers (ACESCW).
We believe that care experienced social workers need their own safe place to come together, support each other and discuss issues important to them.
When care experienced social workers experience othering or the imposter syndrome, the value of peer support networks is unquestionable.”
Care experienced social care workers know what it’s like to have been “social worked”, to have experienced the real and raw reality of living within the system, and they bring this to practice as they cross the fence to work in social care. ACESCW recognises this, and more so, the need for a space to reflect safely away from the workplace.
Some of our members will have had positive experiences of being in care, some not so positive, but all share a common ideal to use their experiences to make a difference to others lives. Achieving these aims can be complicated.
It’s not enough just to understand the feelings of the helped and the helpers – there is a grey murky area in between. ACESCW will aim to provide pastoral care for its members, challenge stigma and discrimination for care experienced people, lobby politicians, and offer learning, training and research.
ACESCW will seek to:
- Create safe communities for care experienced people working in social care to enable discreet and confidential peer support and mentoring.
- Educate colleagues within our profession and more widely and harness the good will and empathy around us to empower our members to be confident in their heritage.
- Promote pride in our profession, our practice and our journey. We will seek to be a proud identity badge for care experienced workers in the social care professions.
- Offer a safe platform for the voices of care experienced people in the profession to be heard and challenge the status quo where it fails to recognise their value and contribution.
- Lobby politicians and decision makers on behalf of care experienced people and seek to inspire children in care and care leavers to be whoever they choose to be.
- Campaign to make the care experience a protected characteristic.
- Use our collective wisdom and experience to help shape policy and practice.
The seed has been planted. We have already heard how honoured care experienced social care workers are to wear both hats. Collectively members will help ACESCW grow and become a respected and recognised network and beacon for change, validating their life experience.
How we are accepted matters. You cannot redact what has been lived.
Ian Dickson is a children’s rights advocate who grew up in care and is a retired social worker, Ofsted inspector and residential manager. Mike Starr is a care experienced social worker.