‘Why trusting children matters in social care’

David Jones recalls the lasting impact of an incident in which he stood up for a young person in the children's home in which he worked - when colleagues did not

Person building tower of blocks spelling out 'trust'
Photo: sulit.photos/Adobe Stock

By David Jones*

Recently, I went to the wedding of a young woman who used to be in care at the home I worked in.

Jasmine had told me she regarded this as a fitting occasion to acknowledge some important events in her life, which she saw as vital in shaping her. She also wanted to share this celebration with those people whose interventions she would never forget.

One such intervention had involved me.

The incident

I’d seen a fellow member of staff caress Jasmine’s leg as she was helping him to clear the dinner table. While I was trying to take in what I’d just witnessed, an act so sudden and lasting barely a couple of seconds, Jasmine had began screaming uncontrollably and throwing cups and plates at my colleague.

He  retreated across the room as the poor girl absolutely lost it.

I ran to Jasmine and put my arms around her. She was shaking like a leaf. I told the colleague to take a break.”

I know what I saw, and at the disciplinary hearing later that month, his union representative attempted to paint Jasmine in the worst possible light: a feckless 15-year-old and a drunk (she’d bought a can of lager earlier that day), someone not to be trusted and an entitled attention seeker.

It was appalling and distressing to hear. Thankfully, Jasmine wasn’t required to attend the hearing.

‘I know what I saw’

Most of the staff at the home supported me, but to my shock, some didn’t. But I know what I saw. As for the colleague involved, he insisted that I’d got it wrong, that his touching Jasmine’s leg was merely an innocent, friendly gesture. He was also very keen to remind me of the risks I was taking, how whistleblowers often lost their position and damaged their reputation.

He was sacked shortly after the hearing. I felt massively relieved and vindicated, not just for myself, but for Jasmine. The next time she saw me on shift at the home, she quietly thanked me, adding: “You had my back. This is why trust matters.” I could have cried on the spot, and did shed a few tears when she talked about this at her wedding.

But the issues this experience brought to the fore are exactly what looking after children and young people in care is all about.

The importance of being believed

Being believed and trusted are crucial to our sense of self and identity. Just how much more acutely must this imperative present for a vulnerable, looked-after kid, a kid who might have their identities challenged and compromised by family members and authority figures? In a care setting, it is so easy for a young person to feel cancelled.

In turn, being able to believe and trust others can prove hugely problematic. Having to navigate what can be a psychological minefield is hardly conducive to a youngster’s emotional stability and development.

It is the duty of staff – some of whom need reminding – to show respect to the kids in their care; to let them know they have worth and are valued. I have seen and been told about enough bad practice and it’s unforgivable.

‘Attitudes show how rotten the care system can be’

The attitudes of the sacked member of staff, the union representative and some colleagues epitomised the rejection of any notion of the welfare of the young person coming first.

In fact, this episode proved a textbook example of just how rotten the care system can be when a youngster is actually mocked and derided, precisely because he or she is in care.

An older, happy and settled Jasmine can now reflect calmly on events.

“I remember being so shocked when he touched me,” she explains. “But at the same time I also felt terrified, because it occurred to me that I probably wouldn’t be believed. How could the word of a kid possibly trump that of a member of staff?”

The social worker’s view

Jasmine’s social worker, Sharon, recalls the disgust she felt at the time. “The incident itself was bad enough, but the things the union rep said about Jasmine were beyond the pale.

To vilify a child in care in this way, in order to try and save the skin of an employee, really highlights how the care system gets it badly wrong at times.”

“This case also highlighted an ethos that can still suffer from what I call faulty wiring. In my 20 years as a social worker, I’ve made countless visits to children’s homes, and the attitudes of some workers really have made me pause.”

‘You put your job on the line’

“The fact that I was believed almost took my breath away,” Jasmine recalls. “I knew that you would be in my corner, but beyond that I had no confidence that the right outcome would be reached.

“You put your job on the line and I could have been moved to another home, my name not worth a fig. I thought the system, and the odds, were stacked against us.

“Looking back now, no care system worth the name should make a kid feel like that.”

The author is a freelance journalist and former residential child car worker. His name has been changed.


6 Responses to ‘Why trusting children matters in social care’

  1. Alec Fraher December 20, 2023 at 4:57 pm #

    For sure It’s tough terrain. And, made worse when the very organisations that seek to protect rights collude with and aggrevate wrong-doing. Or refuse representation because of vested interests and loyalties to expose wrongdoing ~ which completely socks ~ but really what is this really about?

    Trust? And, for sure it is all about, Trust. The trust an employer and employee create knowing what is likely to happen to them both, individually and corporately, if the private lives and experiences of children in public care is actually exposed to scrutiny ~ there’s a reason why OAP’s are expensive! And, in some instances it is literally getting away with murder ~ it’s damn serious stuff!

    For those who dare-to run such gauntlets, and from someone who has repeatedly done so, be assured that just as good social work practices are remembered for life so are the records and memories of when abuse and ill treatment when it isn’t stopped ~ and in the fullness of time, if you stand ground, truth will out.

    Except, of course, the actual duty to hold this information, which once over was a 100 year assurance, is now limited to the terms of a contract for both actual employment and for services ~ this is one of the reasons agency staffing has been so popular, and expensive! And, why NDA’s are a useful proxy measure of deeper systemic invalidation of the existence of wrongdoing.

    Trust, like other aspects of social work, ratherthan being a unifying force embodied in practice expectations of demonstrating values has been reduced to compliance with an abstracted matrix of external rules.

    A ‘ how can we get away with this’ mindset prevails right across the sector. When the actual and perceived threat of ‘group sanctioning’ acts as a deterrent to disclosure and/or action, Trust, as a demonstrable value, ceases to exist at all. These are the premodern conditions of postmodern services delivery, no?

    The neoliberalist deconstruction of Children’s Care Services has moved us both backwards and towards a new generation of ‘Rag Nymph’ arrangements ~ whistleblowing in such an environment is nigh impossible if not futile.

    For cpd see ‘The Problem of Trust’ by Adam Seligman 1997.

    *I am, in some circles, known as a serial whistle-blower and pretty much been sent to Coventry ~ be careful ~ I have a specific and peculiar biography making my actions meaningful but I have paid a pretty heavy price too*

    • Alec Fraher December 24, 2023 at 1:48 am #

      does the law of unfair prejudice apply when more weight is given to organisational and institutional interests of provider’s over and above the obligations to the child ~ this is Company Law Act 2006 territory maybe the Children’s Commissioner will cast an eye on the status of Children in respect of the obligations owed?

  2. Michael Ayorinde December 23, 2023 at 6:06 pm #

    The rule of “psychological safety’ matters a lot between employers and employees to build trust.
    People need to build trust among themselves in order to save life or different types of abuses.

    • Alec Fraher December 28, 2023 at 2:21 pm #

      group think is dangerous in any relationship or setting, no?

      • Alec Fraher December 30, 2023 at 3:34 pm #

        And while group-think has ordinarily specific meaning the dimensions of the ‘thinking’ has now been commercialised ~ hence the reference to the Company Law Act.

        14 Yr old Amy El-Keria died whilst in hospital care ~ the Group owner was given a £458,000 golden handshake.

        The Children’s Commissioner is uniquely placed to raise these matters with the CMA and seek properly constructed legal protections for children.

      • Alec Fraher December 30, 2023 at 3:56 pm #

        for cpd see corporatewatch.org