‘I wanted to go back and stand up for the little girl that I was’

Care-experienced practitioner Rebekah Pierre discusses her “disbelief and anger” on reading her case notes, and the open letter to her social worker addressing the blaming language she found

Rebekah Pierre
Rebekah Pierre

More than 11 years after leaving care, social worker Rebekah Pierre made the decision to read her case files, seeking clarity and closure for a difficult time in her life. Instead, she found “pages and pages of quite cold, very formal language”.

Her first social worker had misspelt her name ”over 100 times”, describing the then 16-year-old as “a little mixed up about the direction of her life”.

“There were lots of errors,” Pierre says. “People referred to the disclosures I’d made in a way where I, as a victim, was being blamed, and there was no understanding.”

She found her social worker’s words disrespectful, blaming and written without the child in mind. The social worker had further noted that Pierre had made “complex allegations”.

‘Heartbreaking’ lack of respect

“Social workers have a duty to believe children and to support them,” Pierre says. “It took more courage than I can ever say to disclose some very traumatic events. The fact I’d opened up to an adult about that, and they’d written about it with such little respect, was heartbreaking.

“I almost wanted to go back, challenge [her], and stand up for the little girl I was.”

She now attributes the language to her social worker not considering that Pierre would one day have access to her notes. As a social worker and a professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), Pierre is mindful of the high caseloads and administrative burdens practitioners have to deal with every day.

However, she still finds what her social worker wrote difficult to justify.

Open letter to social worker

The experience led Pierre to address her social worker in a letter – shared on Twitter – that included extracts of the case notes, criticising the writing errors and language used.

“Putting this out there is scary, but not nearly as scary as the thought that nothing will change,” she tweeted.

According to Pierre, the letter strove to give social workers the rare chance to “hear from people in care or care leavers outside of the context of a social work appointment”.

I’ve seen first-hand in the system that it can change lives for the better. But I’ve also seen how broken it is from the inside out.”

She adds: “I wanted to stand up and say, ‘hey, we’re human beings here, and actually, what you write about us may not stay hidden behind a screen forever. Can you please be more mindful and considerate?’. I wanted to help start that conversation.”

Experience in care

At 16, right before Christmas, her first foster placement broke down when she returned to a note on the kitchen table telling her to find somewhere else to live.

She was then placed in an unregulated placement, a hostel among people aged 16 to 25 – an experience she now calls intimidating. The first thing any resident ever said to her was, ‘If you want any green [drugs] you know where I am’, Pierre says.

“I remember listening out to see who was in the corridor before I could gather up the courage to leave because some of the other residents there were adults, some vulnerable themselves, some having just gotten out of prison,” she adds.

Pierre stresses that such situations are “not a thing of the past”, a reason she is part of the #KeepCaringto18 campaign, which aims to ensure all looked-after children receive care as part of their placement. This is contrary to current policy, under which 16- and 17-year-olds can be placed in unregulated placements now and, from next year, in so-called supported accommodation, which is not required to provide care.

Her circumstances also had her often living without electricity.

“I’d be in the dark when I couldn’t afford to top up the meter, but I’d be there, you know, doing my English A-Level homework – the odds were stacked against my education, which was my only escape out of the situation.”

Achieving closure

Before publishing the letter, Pierre reached out to her social worker, and while she says she did not receive an apology, she did achieve closure.

“They weren’t in a position to defend what they wrote or give context, but they were glad to hear I was in a better place. They remembered me.”

She is also quick to highlight there were good aspects from her time in care – her second social worker, who she describes as empathetic, being a big part of that.

“The previous social worker’s comments then told me she didn’t see me as the victim but complicit in what had happened to me,” Pierre added. “Being believed for the first time was a weight lifting off my shoulders. I felt seen and heard.”

The care system, as told by people ‘who actually get it’

Besides being a social worker, Pierre is also a writer, and she has just crowdfunded the money to produce an anthology of stories, ‘Free Loaves on Friday’, about the care system, told by people “who actually get it”. She has done this independently of her role at BASW.

The book will contain stories, reflections and letters from care-experienced people, aiming to give them a voice – “levelling the playing field,” says Pierre, who will be donating her profits to children’s charities the Together Trust and Article 39.

“The people dominating the kind of narrative about the care system are usually those who either haven’t worked in it themselves or have no personal experience,” she adds.

There’s such a huge distance between the people who make decisions and those who have lived it and breathed it literally.

“We’ve existed in these spaces with all our five senses, and we have so much to say,” she adds.

Having met her crowdfunding target, Pierre will now start making ‘Free Loaves on Fridays’ a reality, inviting submissions from care-experienced people of diverse backgrounds from November. She wants the book to give others the opportunities that writing has given her.

Encouraging the next generation

“It gives me so much hope that the public are so supportive of uplifting care-experienced voices,” she adds. “I know for me, personally, writing was perhaps the only positive coping mechanism I had in care. It was a way to express much of the sorrow and confusion I felt, and helped me to reclaim my own narrative in a positive way.

“If I didn’t have this record of my life, then all I’d have would be my case records, which didn’t paint an accurate picture. I hope now to pass on the baton and encourage the next generation of care-experienced writers to pick up the pen – the most powerful tool we have.”

For social workers, she hopes the book will be both challenging and inspiring.

I think sometimes you’re under so many pressures that you almost forget the heart of what brought you into social work in the first place.

She adds: “So I hope that social workers are challenged by the messages, inspired to go away and do things differently, but also validated that their work does have a difference when it’s done well.”


10 Responses to ‘I wanted to go back and stand up for the little girl that I was’

  1. frustrated October 25, 2022 at 1:28 pm #

    ‘ think sometimes you’re under so many pressures that you almost forget the heart of what brought you into social work in the first place.’

    I don’t think good Social Workers forget this. A Social Worker does not work in isolation they have managers, inadequate care facilities. A good Social Worker does their best until they are burned out .

    • Kat October 26, 2022 at 8:06 am #

      I agree with with this. I am care experienced ( 90s era) and then went on to become a social worker.

      I qualified in 2010 into a world of clunky IT systems, tick boxes, teams being restructured from local area offices into remote “hubs” and austerity rounds of cuts to vital admin support.
      Over the years I have seen conditons of overload be completely normalised- environments where everyone knew caseloads were unmanageable without putting in excessive hours. Or teams where children had ended up having a turnover of different workers, owing to no one staying.

      Now none of that is to say we are not responsible for thinking about language and practice as individuals.
      But – I have also seen many who have been inspired to do better, leave social work afters short stints or become burnt out.

      I feel like the structures and systems have not been orientated around recognising what should be a core consideration – that to improve things for children and young people, you need the human beings working with them to have thinking space and support or they can become more error prone. Again, I am not saying that is some sort of an excuse, that covers all areas of practice that may have been lacking , but an observation I have made over the years.

      • Tom J October 27, 2022 at 12:13 pm #

        Agreed Kat

  2. Liz October 25, 2022 at 4:15 pm #

    A wake up call to us all Rebekah
    You’re right – no one comes into this profession to do a bad job – put the pressure and restriction of time we all face on a daily basis seems to chip away more and more at that good intention – hopefully yours and many more stories like this will help to serve as a nudge and check-in with ourselves to remember exactly why we started off on our social work journey in the first place
    Really hoping the book goes well – and I’ll be in the queue to get mine as soon as it’s on the shelves!

  3. Lena Dominelli October 25, 2022 at 5:36 pm #

    Thanks for your insight and courage to speak out. Rebekah. I hope it leads to the practice transformations to which you devoted so much time, energy and love to achieve.

  4. Maxine October 25, 2022 at 9:23 pm #

    I am a senior manager in social work in Scotland but I am also a kinship carer for 2 of my grandchildren – I understand sitting on the other side of the table! I am just so pleased and inspired that we are now entering an era where care experienced young people are having their voices and experiences shared in a way that turns the tide on how we practice. Your comment about living that experience with all 5 senses really hit home. I will be sharing your story in my services to inspire a new generation of social workers and I thank you for your courage, wisdom and passion !!

    • RP October 25, 2022 at 10:40 pm #

      Thank you Maxine – firstly, huge respect for all kinship carers out there – the difference you make cannot be understated. And completely agree – it is crucial to listen to care-experienced young people beyond the confines of just meetings, panels & assessments. True change lies with them.

      Here is a link to the open letter, which contains extracts of the case notes, in case helpful to share with social workers:


      Grateful for anyone who takes the time to read it.

  5. Dev October 26, 2022 at 8:06 am #

    I will be looking for your book once it is published, to share with colleagues, student SW’s and children currently in care. I hope it will inspire others to help to change the system as it needs fixing in so many aspects. We’ll done on speaking out Rebekah

    • HP October 26, 2022 at 11:25 pm #

      I also look forward to reading your book Rebekah.

      I was a ‘LAC’ for 18 years/leaving during early 80’s. I was lucky to have 3 fabulous Social Workers (one of whom I am still in contact with 42 years later).

      I also qualified when I was 40 some 18 years ago. For the reasons you have mentioned, I am very mindful about what and how I record information..Many aspects of our work means we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!

  6. Gill October 28, 2022 at 7:06 am #

    Rebekah your words are very powerful; it is so positive what you have achieved as an individual. I am so sorry that your experiences have made you feel that you were not listened to as a child by some of your social workers. What i can say as a child’s social worker is that you are being listened to today. This may be small comfort to you but it will bring about changes from individuals who want to get it right for the children they work with. I will go forward with your words every time I work with a child and record this on case notes to ensure I get it right.