Thursday, 15 April 2010

Fleeting Moments Of Inspiration

There are fleeting moments of uplifting inspiration in the work I do, granted it's rare but it does happen from time to time. Earlier today, one of the girls I keywork was going on her first driving lesson. Catriona, 17, who left foster care last year is one of our success stories. Her Mother was an active alcoholic and from a young age Catriona had to play the role of parent to her two young siblings. She was very close to her Father, whom the Mother left and then informed Catriona and her siblings that he wanted nothing to do with them, this tunred out to be untrue and Catriona has located her Dad and now sees him regularly. Catriona entered the care system aged 12 and was split up from the siblings she was close to and loved dearly.

Catriona had a mixed experience of the care system with some succesful foster placements and some not so successful. She admits that until she was 15 she was a bit of a troublesome teenager until she had an epiphany of the trajectory her life could take. In her own words:

"At 15 I realised that I was more or less all alone in the world and that whatever I did and how I behaved would affect where I was going in my life. Although I didn't like school and had no interest beyond GCSEs I decided to work towards doing something with my life and not just sitting around drinking and drawing benefits like so many other people I know."

Catriona was so responsible and mature in her attitude and behaviour that Social Services allowed her to leave care at 16, most kids stay on until they are 18. She now lives with us in our Supported Housing project and works part time in a local hairdressers and is almost finished a hairdressing course at the local college. We never have to write her letters about paying her share of the rent or talk to her about bad behaviour. In fact, Catriona often has to stay elsewhere as she loses sleep due to the undealt with anti-social beahviour of other residents. Now, instead of holding up the likes of Catriona as a shining example that one's childhood doesn't have to pre-determine your path in life I have to listen day in day out to the disempowering mantra that young people with anti-social behaviour problems behave the way they do due to their negative childhood experiences. A convenient theory that then allows the young person to self destruct and the agents of state intervention to abdicate all responsibility.

I've been getting a bit of attention in the National press this week. Im in the Daily Mail today and the Guardian yesterday. I find it interesting and quite reassuring that a lot of the supportive comments on the Guardian's website are from people that have or are working in the same or a similar field.

I'm crossing my fingers that I make the Orwell shortlist that will be announced later today.

40 comments:

Charlotte said...

Hello,

Nice to meet you, sir.

I read your articles in the Daily Mail, and I found them very interesting. I'm a ''child'' in the care system, and although I guess I'm a success-story, in a way, I've noticed the other problems as I've grown up. I feel very sorry for you; social workers and everyone else really, really try for us, and some of us just don't help one bit; you don't deserve all of that abuse.

Perhaps by getting such national attention in the newspapers, it might bring more awareness to the problems faced on both sides of the care ''scale''.

Thanks,

Charlotte

WinstonSmith33 said...

Thank you Charlotte. It almost brought tears to my eyes reading your kind words. Im so happy that you have obviously had some positive experiences in care. I've been to one or two good homes in my time with good staff and managers. Unfortunately not many though.

I feel sorry for your peers who are not helped and given the right guidance and at times the negative consequences for their abusive and destructive behaviour so that they can learn from those experiences.

I also feel so sorry for the kids who are doing their best and may be a little problematic at times, what kid isnt? I was a very wild teenager but always was respectful to others. That's how I got away with a lot of my wildness I suppose. Anyway, often staff overlook the rights of the quiet or reserved kids in care homes who have to put up with the extremely unruly behaviour of their more agressive peers.

Thanks again and I wish you all the best in your future.

Cheryl Emmanuel said...

Hello Winston,

I can't acces the DM comment function so am commenting here to say that I agree with your stance that children must take responsibilty for their behaviour even if they do have a difficult background. Your comment that you didn't know being lazy and stupid was a medical condition also made me laugh out loud! Oh, for more social workers like you.

Best wishes,

Cheryl Emmanuel

VJB said...

I have just finished reading your article in the daily mail- with a growing sense of horror and downright disappointment at how the system is so pre-occupied with the 'rights' of trouble children and teens. The way social workers are expected to pander to their every whim will lead these kids to expect it in their adult lives and i imagine many will find it difficult to adjust to the 'real world'. Thankyou for being so candid. All i can say is that you must be a saint.


VJB

cheeky chappy said...

Another excellent post Winston. It's about bloody time you got some much deserved recognition for your hard work. I really hope you get shortlisted. Although some of the comments from the wet bleeding heart brigade on the guardian website illustrate why this country is in the state it's in. BTW, I responded to the great comment you left on my blog about certain student voices needing to be hushed up. I sent it in an email, did you get it?

All the best to you sir. Keep in touch, it's always a pleasure to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Your excellent article and Charlotte's lovely comments say it all. I've been around the care system for many years and am a parent and currently a trustee of a housing project for young people. Everyone has a back story and you often have to bite your tongue and listen hard to young people before jumping in with an oversimplified judgement. But at the same time I feel strongly that young people deserve to be shown that life is tough enough for everyone and we all have to learn basic self control and respect for other people, otherwise it will just get even tougher.

English Pensioner said...

As my sister, a retired teacher said, "its the odd success amongst all the problems which makes life worth while and encourages you not to give up and find some other job."

Anonymous said...

Hi. I found your blog through the Guardian article and have read back quite a way so far. Even the rougher posts (from a purely linguistic standpoint) are shining beacons of compassion and common sense.

You're a good man. I have a (probably futile) hope that you can in the future have a far more wide-reaching influence on how young people in care are dealt with. But you probably won't... because you'll be putting legions of civil service audit teams etc out of work.

Anyway. I'll continue to read, and I really wish you well.

AnonymousAcademic said...

this is great stuff Winston - it must be heartening to have so many positive comments from people over this.

it's good to hear that all your work on here is starting not only to raise awareness, but to pay you back personally on some level.

John said...

I'd watch out for this Catriona. Obviously she has a wildly overblown sense of superiority and self-worth, bordering on narcissism. Her failure to integrate with her social group indicates a worrying tendency toward self-absorption, and her obsession with her future financial arrangements illustrates a clearly miserly tendency. Furthermore, her remarks to the effect that she decided to work "unlike so many other people [she] knows" are clearly oppressive language, and shouldn't be tolerated in a supported environment. I suggest you take her BNP card and tear it up right in front of her to show her the error of her oppressive ways.
/sarc

AnonymousAcademic said...

@Winston:

And as you've said previously, it would appear that it's not only the lower classes to whom your writings apply -

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/8622544.stm

Boy on a bike said...

Well done Winston, well done. You deserve it if you get it.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on hitting the national press this week and the amount of debate it has generated. I have followed your blog from time to time and think you've gotten well deserved recognition this week.

I also think your idea of david cameron strapping a wind turbine to his head is excellent. At least it would look innovative; a much over-used word lately. Might get him a few green votes too.

Keep up the good work and good luck with the Orwell Shortlist.

Oswald Bastable said...

Yes, I have seen kids come from the most appalling family circumstances and against the odds, go on to do well for themselves.

There are always exceptions to any rule.

They would have to be what makes your job worth doing.

CurlySongbird said...

Just read the Daily Mail article and will be reading your blog from now on. You sir, are a fabulously witty writer and seem like a lovely care worker too and I hope you get the recognition you deserve, both from the literary world and the kids you try and help : )

Love from, aspiring writer unable to sleep. xx

RichieRich said...

Winston

I read the excerpts from your blog in the Grauniad with horror that the care system could have been brought to its knees by the worst kind of woolly liberal "compassion" and delight that your blog so effectively exposes it. Congratulations.

In your most recent post you write

"I have to listen day in day out to the disempowering mantra that young people with anti-social behaviour problems behave the way they do due to their negative childhood experiences. A convenient theory that then allows the young person to self destruct and the agents of state intervention to abdicate all responsibility."

I'm wondering what is it about this theory with which you disagree? Surely there are kids who display anti-social behaviour as a result of being violently treated and/or abused by parents? Or are you suggesting that some kids are anti-social not because they've been beaten or abused but simply because their parents have not set them any boundaries and have instilled insufficient discipline?

From what you write, the main problem seems to be the belief of those operating the care system that it is somehow wrong to insist that children entering the system displaying anti-social behaviour should learn to conform to social norms - and that, if necessary, some pretty firm discipline should be used to achieve this. There seems to be a belief that using firm discipline is somehow to disrespect the negative experiences that kids had pre-care whereas to allow them to continue acting out is somehow to respect/validate their experiences. To me, the woolly liberal fallacy is that (1)understanding/compassion and (2) enforcing social norms through discipline are mutually exclusive.

I'd love to hear your views on one aspect of how the system should operate in practice. In many of your previous posts, you describe kids in care who frequently physically assault care staff and experience only minimal sanctions as a result. It seems to me that a fundamental social norm is not to proactively assault others (unless there are exceptional reasons). Thus, it seems to me that there should be pretty firm sanctions the first time a kid in care does assault a carer. What would your views be on this?

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Ritchie Rich,

There are lots of kids that display problematic behaviour (not always directed at others) as a result of awful abuse in their formative years. These kids should receive in depth counselling and therapy but also be dealt with harshly if they act in a violent manner or when their behaviour negatively impacts on the lives of their peers in care or the staff.

However, lots of kids come in to care in their teens when their parents put them in to care because they are not able to handle their behaviour. In lots of these instances, from my experience the problem is that the teenager wasn't given effective boundaries and dsicipline as a young child and learned to get its needs met by tantrums. Now, the teenage equivalent of throwing toys out of a pram is usually very agressive and violent behaviour. This intimidates the staff and management who invariably cave in to the demands of said spoilt brat thus reinforcing the learned behaviour that tantrums and aggression will get me what I want.

What would I do with this kind of behaviour in care homes? Well for a start confiscate TVs, DVD players, computers and all Mod cons for periods of time. All pocket money remove ad. Weekly activities such as bowling,cinema, swimming pool, trips to amusement parks all cancelled. I would take awy these things bit by bit for extreme anti social behaviour as well as enfringement of the house rules.

Apostate Socialist said...

@ RichieRich: "I'm wondering what is it about this theory with which you disagree? Surely there are kids who display anti-social behaviour as a result of being violently treated and/or abused by parents?"

The reason this does not work as a logical argument is that there are far more kids who comes from shit backgrounds who don't behave like this.

It's a combo of coming from a shit background + being told this is an excuse to behave how you like + being funded to do it + not being punished for bad behaviour + something intrinsic to the kids themselves = bad kids.

BadBaBy said...

Great blog and nice to read about an "inspiring" case. Just hope that all the media interest in you doesn't lead to your identity being revealed as happened to "Nightjack" a year or two ago.
Have a nice weekend and never give up hope, there will always be a few cases like this young lady that make the effort worthwhile.

RichieRich said...

Hi Winston

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

You write

"There are lots of kids that display problematic behaviour (not always directed at others) as a result of awful abuse in their formative years. These kids should receive in depth counselling and therapy but also be dealt with harshly if they act in a violent manner or when their behaviour negatively impacts on the lives of their peers in care or the staff."

I think you're spot on here. What's needed is therapy and discipline. Reminds me of the C4 programme Brat Camp where kids who'd gone of the rails were subject both to very strict boundaries and intense counselling.

It seems to me that there are those ("woolly liberals") who seek to "understand" kids and who, thus, favour therapy but see discipline as oppreseive. And there are those ("bring back national service") who seek to severely discipline kids without seeking to understand. But I think that often what is needed is both.

One last point. Do you believe that sanctions such as confiscating DVD players and computers are sufficient for e.g. a 15 or 16-year old who physically attacks a carer. This, after all, is an assault by someone well above the age of criminal responsibility?

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Richie Rich. I agree wholeheartedly that those kids who are deeply troubled should be given specialist and indepth therapy to help them.

With regards to taking away some 15/16 year olds entertainment gadgets as a form of punishment I think it would work a lot better than an ASBO or conviction for assault as some young people view this as a badge of honour as oppossed to something negative. A consequence that affects them is what they need. I've never seen it happen though.

Anonymous said...

I've just read that you have been short listed for the Orwell Prize. Congratulations, Winston. You're sticking your neck on the line to let readers know what life is like for workers and teenagers in the care system and deserve some recognition.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you'll win it.

Best of luck and keep up the good work.

Chris.

Debbie said...

Congratulations on making the shortlist.

Best of luck.

Debbie

RichieRich said...

Winston

You write

"With regards to taking away some 15/16 year olds entertainment gadgets as a form of punishment I think it would work a lot better than an ASBO or conviction for assault as some young people view this as a badge of honour as oppossed to something negative. A consequence that affects them is what they need. I've never seen it happen though."

An interesting perspective. Thanks. The word never in your last sentence is truly worrying.

Anonymous said...

I thought, as I was reading your blogs in the Daily Mail you were describing my job. I am a Pupil Support Assistant in the primary sector and some (a lot) of our little treasures (horrors) need parents that know how to parent.

Like you I get punched, kicked and verbally abused and the most I can do is, call the parents to tell them their child is being excluded or ask them to come and take them home for a half day. The latter is preferable because this helps cook the books so that it looks like the school doesn't have too many exclusions. (Local authorities don't like to see lots of exclusions.)

So if little Jonnie or Mary decides that they don't want to learn today they just cause chaos by refusing to work and it usually goes something like this: "I'm not doing that **** off."
"You can't make me."
Followed by more expletives.
If the teacher tries to ignore this (as prescibes by the psychologists because their theory is its not the child who is doing this it"s their behaviour. So! Please adress the behaviour.)
Then the child starts to fight with whoever is beside them. The child will throw the first thing that comes to their hand across the room. If other tiny terrors are in the room this is also an opportunity for them to kick off.

At this point all the teachers attention is now being directed at all the naughty children and they are being asked to leave the room. No chance! They are now in control. Dancing around tables, throwing chairs, hitting other kids as they pass them by.

The teacher now has to get the other kids out of the room before some serious damage is done.
When the headteacher comes that just makes the naughty children worse, more verbal abuse, more furniture, pencils, books ect. being thrown.

What can the headteacher do?
Send for the parent. One phone call to the parent usually results in: Nobody being in or not answering the phone. Better still the parent refusing to come because as in their words, "Your the proffesional deal with it."

After all this mayhem and madness and if no parent can be found to take them home and the children have settled down, they will be given school rules to write out. Do you think they will write them out? NO! They just sit in an empty classroom throwing paper at one another or jumping about the place while one can only look on in wonderment and amazement.

Some of these children do have a psychologist but they just run rings round them.
Example: sticker charts, if little Jonnie is good today and does so and so he may have a sticker. Little Jonnie at 6 has worked this one out beautifully. Basically if he chooses to be good he will get a sticker even if he is bad he will still get a sticker because he was good for the first sticker but the other stickers he has decided he doesn't want them and in his words, "I don't ******* care cause I don't want your ******* stickers anyway they are a load of crap. I might get some tomorrow but I might not I'll see how I feel first."

In our schools today we all have to remember its the children who run the schools. They can say what they like, do whay they like and they come in with attitude even at 5. They know we have no power and no authority. If we dared to speak to them like they speak to us we would be out of a job. Most of their parents have the same attitude issues. They also think they can speak to staff members in a bullying and aggressive manner, knowing they to will also get away with it.

RichieRich said...

Apostate Socialist

I wrote

"I'm wondering what is it about this theory with which you disagree? Surely there are kids who display anti-social behaviour as a result of being violently treated and/or abused by parents?"

In reply your wrote

"The reason this does not work as a logical argument is that there are far more kids who comes from shit backgrounds who don't behave like this.

It's a combo of coming from a shit background + being told this is an excuse to behave how you like + being funded to do it + not being punished for bad behaviour + something intrinsic to the kids themselves = bad kids."

Let's say Child A is treated in violent and abusive manner by their parents and is taken into care displaying anti-social behaviour. Child B is treated in the same manner and is taken into care without displaying such behaviour. The fact that Child B does not display such behaviour does prevent the abuse suffered by child A being a necessary cause of their behaviour in that without the abuse and violence they wouldn't (I assume here) have behaved anti-socially. The example of Child B simply proves that the abuse and violence is not a sufficient cause for, as you say, the differing psychology of children is also a factor.

I'm probably just splitting hairs here as I think we're pretty much in agreement.

Anonymous said...

I read your article in the daily mail and couldn't believe my eyes, I worked in childcare with under fives for nearly 20 years and have watched in decline in front of me.
I had very strong views that got me into trouble quite often. I didnt' agree with a lot of what happened and thought I was on my own until I read your article and realised that the way I'd been thinking had been right all along. Yes some children have troubled backgrounds but they still need rules to abide by. The system is far too soft on them and quite often its the children that are quiet and well behaved that suffer.
when staff are going home on a daily basis after being kicked, hit , spat at etc by children under the age of five and being told its part of the job something is very badly wrong

Ambulance Amateur said...

It's a great shame that some (too many) parents have no idea how to bring up kids. This is possibly the result of not being brought up well themselves - but they were kept in line with a belt.

I'm not usually given to right-wing views (an understatement!) but I wonder if we shouldn't put a contraceptive in the water supply. We could then give an antidote to responsible adults who want a family.

Catriona and her like would be OK. However, the unwanted kids wouldn't be brought up to be such little scrotes.

Anonymous said...

Congrats. I could tell many tales that the public would not believe about working in the care industry. There is a phrase I have often used as a simple answer to many of the problems..consequences for actions.This is a phrase Social Services does not understand and I am afraid that many of the so-called carers are not the answer but part of the problem.The quicker people with common sense and who actually care take charge, the better. Pete

George CA Talbot said...

Winston,

I am glad you are advertising the terrible consequences of our idealistic child care. For three decades I have tried to get government to understand that bad experiences may cause bad behaviour but should not prevent punishment. Rather the reverse! But punishment can only do so much. If behaviour worsens, custody must be used. Not a long prison sentence but a spell to cool off with release when proper behaviour is promised.

I referred to punishment and therapy in my post as GCAT under your article in the Guardian. My initial attempt to justify all three is 3K5 characters but I copy its aphorism below. It’s a neat summary of the approach I later developed for children’s homes.

A child may be any or all of dangerous, depraved and deprived when society will respond by holding, hurting or helping him respectively.

I assume we are driven by instincts that emerge in infancy the expression of which are shaped by character initially formed by mothering. Instinct does not occur on the Cif blog! Reason influences behaviour, it doesn’t make us go!

George Talbot.

Anonymous said...

LOVED your piece in the Daily Mail. Truly a breath of fresh air in a mad, sad country. I was smiling to think that people other than me have such opinions (apart from Littlejohn of course!!) God help us all over the next couple of generations. However, I have to thank you for making me laugh out loud a couple of times...not to mention I actually forgot about Gordon Brown for ten whole minutes, and that can't be bad can it? hahahaha....

Anonymous said...

I noticed that a few Guardian commentators were upset by Winston's use of the word "underclass".

That got me thinking. It's the care workers who are hit, kicked verbally abused and intimidated with the threat of violence, but no-one seems to see any reason that the law should protect them the way it would protect their clients from such treatment. So, who's the underclass here?
For the first time I began to see why "Winston Smith" is a good nom de plume.

Anonymous said...

i too have worked in the "care" system, and i found that i could relate to all your writings. your daily ration of verbal abuse! oh how i laughed out loud. unfortunately these are all to commonplace and i think the fault has to lie simultaneously with parents and the system. parents are too scared to say NO and mean it.

good luck with the Orwell prize, and keep up the good work for the charlottes of this world.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Put your piece in the Daily Mail on one side to read 'properly' after skimming the first couple of paragraphs. Just read it. First of all: Thank you for what you and your colleagues do and try to do. Secondly, I feel such despair that these young people are being so badly let down by liberal (small 'l') do-gooders who seem not to understand that we all need boundaries. So I guess some of this behaviour is down to rebellion by their own parents who chose to put themselves first before realising that the joy of parenthood includes their responsibility to their children. Or am I sounding too much like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells??? Whatever (!) I would not have learnt so much about the challenges you and your colleagues face without your article. Thank you. Lynda

Sleepwalker said...

I just found your blog.

I left care work years ago after working in a home for troubled young women.

I watched one hard working young girl getting little support, around ten who got pregnant while in care and received lots of attention and still others who joined the most ancient profession and absconded.

I was reprimanded for asking what we were achieving during a staff meeting and resigned.

Sad that things are no better.

RichieRich said...

Anonymous 18 April 2010 00:30

Quite agree. Seemingly care workers can (1) be physically assualted (2) be threatened with physical assault (3) have deliberately false complaints made against them and (4) be threatened that deliberately false complaints will be made about them and the "clients" responsible receive little or nothing in the way of punishment from management. But if a care worker is deemed to so much as make a "judgemental" remark about a client and risk damaging their self-esteem, they get a severe dressing down from management.

Talk about loading the dice...

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your blog and feel relieved I'm not alone -though slightly dishearetend to find the whole country is mad and not just my particular corner!

I work in what you might call a related field to yours -in the wonderful world of independent welfare advice. So I very much recognise the world you describe. The difference is I have the parents of these unfortunate children throwing tantrums because they can't understand why they don't get child benefit for the child they've neglected so much they had to be put in care. You, I or any other normal person would be ashamed at having a child put into care -not these people. Mentally they're little better than children, sitting back thinking that it is the job of the rest of us to run around after them and that includes bringing up their offspring.

There's no one answer to any of this but from a welfare rights perpective one thing that absolutely should be done is for parents with children in the care system to pay a contribution to the childs care at current CSA rates for absent parents.

In terms of cost to the taxpayer this wouldn't make much difference. However what it would do is send the clear message that the parents are responsible for that child. It doesn't matter that they're to stupid or irresponsible to have day to day care for the child -they chose to bring the child into the world they should at least contribute financially.

The reason I put this small proposal forward is not financial -if one factors in admin costs this may even cost the taxpayer more but because time and time again I encounter idiots ranting that they are not responsible for their child because some crime or another occurred when the child was in school/ care or with the social worker.

As I say there's no one answer but the whole system has to speak with one voice on this if these problems are to be tackled.

Kyle said...

Peter Hitchens mentioned your blog as "gripping". I would take this in high esteem, as Mr Hitchens is probably one of the best writers in the British media and I quite agree with his assessments about your blog.

Megan said...

Congratulations onj the nomination! Thoroughly deserved.

Having found your blog through the Guardian Society pages I'm now an avid follower. Keep up the frank, honest, sad and funny writing.

Anonymous said...

Well done Winston - I hope this means we will get to read more of your writing.