Read a couple of good blogs this week on love and social care. In case you missed them, here are Damn – Forgot My Mantra from Mark Neary and The Saturday Boy from Rob Mitchell. In both, ‘love’ and ‘friendship’ seem to be social-care dirty words. Actually caring about somebody, rather than just doing care-tasks for them, is frowned on: inappropriate personal involvement. I remember the former student at the 2014 LDS conference talking about how a gentleman for whom she undertook a direct-service rôle had referred to her as ‘a friend’ and she had corrected him. She couldn’t, she told him, be a friend while she was paid to spend time with him.
I don’t think the attitude would be much of a surprise to the general public. Second Youngest Uncle and his other half don’t have children (unless you count the half-dozen-plus canine ‘fur babies’ who have landed in their lives from time to time – rescue dogs all) but 2YU has had the idea of fostering and/or adoption in his head for the best part of twenty years. And now that he and R are settled in their dream house – a six-bedroom former vicarage near the sea – they are in a position to offer the sort of home they would like to. So the week before last, they went to an open evening at a fostering agency, to see what it entailed and whether they might be considered.
The lady running the evening gave a bit of a talk on how the process worked, and asked the participants – about 30 people, mainly couples – what they thought foster-children would need from them. Structure, said someone. Routine, said someone else. Predictability. A sense of safety, said a third. A healthy diet of foods they liked, suggested a fourth. And activities. The suggestions kept rolling in; but Second Youngest Uncle, he told me, was getting twitchier and twitchier. All this talk of foster-parenting and foster-families and nobody was mentioning the most important thing of all. Was it a dirty word? Were people afraid that if they said ‘love’, it would be misconstrued? If he said it, would he be given the bum’s rush out the door for inappropriateness? But then he realised that if love wasn’t permitted as part of the deal, he wouldn’t want in anyway. Eventually, he put his hand up and when the agency lady turned to him, he said, rather self-consciously and tentatively, “Affection?”
The agency lady flung her hands wide and practically shouted, “Yes! Thank-you! LOVE! Children need LOVE! They need hugs and pats-on-the-back and to sit on someone’s lap for a cuddle when they’re upset! Now, you may be worried about what’s acceptable and what’s not, and certainly there are boundaries that you must observe, but we will teach you appropriate ways to demonstrate affection. You will not need to keep your kids at arm’s length, quite the reverse!”
Later on, an experienced foster carer gave a warts-and-wonder account of his time as a foster-dad: the stomach-sinking feeling when things didn’t go well, and the huge joys when they did. He spoke of his distress when one long-term foster-child was returned, despite his forcefully-expressed misgivings, to a precarious home situation; only to re-enter care fairly soon thereafter, for the same reasons as before, but carrying an even bigger burden of trauma. If you are prepared to open your heart to children in need, you must, he warned, be prepared to have it broken at times. On the other hand, several of his former foster-children have kept in touch after leaving care, and come back for big occasions and the odd Christmas, bringing girl- or boy-friends, then partners and even babies. He never imagined he would end up with foster-grandchildren, and they are the most delightful bonus.
The day after Second Youngest Uncle had spent an hour debriefing over the phone to me about the evening, Grenouille’s Children’s Social Worker came to visit. When we started in on the EHCP process, far too long ago, one of G’s expressed wishes was to be able to go out and about, maybe at the weekends, without having to drag Dad or Mum along everywhere. And, said G, I would like my helper to be a young person, like E (one of the medical respite carers, an early-twenty-something) not somebody middle-aged like my TAs. So G now has a PA, very energetic and up for all G’s notions… but at least twice the age G was thinking of.
A second person needs to be recruited to cover all the assessed hours, so this time, said G, could it PLEASE be a young person? T is great, but I want to feel like I’m going out with a friend, not a parent!
I did wonder if the f-word would give the CSW the collywobbles, but it did not appear to. “Of course!” said the CSW. “Somebody your age doesn’t want to be going out with – well, not an old fuddy-duddy, it wouldn’t be fair to say that, but someone who is fuddy-duddy age! I’ll speak to the recruiter and see if we can get a younger person for you.”
G smiled broadly and after a bit more chit-chat, the social worker asked to have a look at G’s bedroom. I sensed my frown-muscles twitching, in much the same way, no doubt, as Second Youngest Uncle’s had been.
“Why do you need to see G’s bedroom? The support workers won’t be working in there – they are for going-out, not staying-in.”
“Oh,” said the CSW, “It’s just a box-ticking thing – I have to see the child’s bedroom – not every time, I know G has a lovely room, but I have to check it at intervals. Actually, G, I should say, can I see where you sleep,” – she turned to me, “…I once got a child to show me their room, but when I asked where they slept, it turned out to be in an old airing-cupboard.”
I felt my eyebrows rebound up towards my hairline. “Would you like to inspect our airing-cupboard as well? I guess it would be big enough for a bed, if it weren’t already full of hot-water-tank and linen-shelves!”
“Oh, no,” the CSW assured me. “Just the bedroom.”
“Well, actually,” I said, abandoning sarcasm as a lost cause, “I think this bedroom-inspection thing is a bit of a cheek. G is a child in need by reason of disability, not because there are child-protection concerns. Given that, I don’t see why you need to go into the private areas of our house.”
“It’s literally so I can tick a box. Seen the child? Tick. Spoken to the child? Tick. Seen where the child sleeps? Tick.”
“I still don’t see why you need to go up there. The medical respite carers are in there once a fortnight when they do an evening stint and put G to bed. They have safeguarding responsibilities like any other professionals; do you not think that they would report it if there were anything amiss with G’s sleeping arrangements?”
“I don’t mind,” interjected G. “It’s my room and I don’t mind.”
“Okay,” I said, reluctantly. “It is your room, as you say.”
Inspection made, the CSW departed, but I still felt niggled. “Not that you could have done anything about it,” said an acquaintance, when I voiced my irritation. “If you’d refused, it would have been, obstructive mother, what’s she hiding? Red flag on the file!”
Yes, I thought, that is what has got me so narked. It’s the coercion behind the intrusion. It may be G’s room, but it’s MY bloody house, and if I don’t want a damned social worker walking up MY stairs and along MY landing to inspect G’s room for no better reason than to tick a box, why can’t I sodding-well refuse permission without eliciting suspicion? It may seem a relatively trivial reason to invoke them; but where, exactly, are my bloody Article 8 rights?
In our house, the dirty words are not ‘love’, ‘affection’ and ‘friendship’.
They’re ‘box’ and ‘tick’.