This project gathers and shares stories that show diverse situations and relationships of people who participate in social care. We connect together conversations with social workers, parents, care leavers, people of different backgrounds, from all over London with the aim of finding human situations – ordinary and extraordinary connections. These stories are told in spare minutes between meetings and in long phone-calls that can sprawl over afternoons. As the gatherer of these stories I have been asked to distill the conversations I have into a three hundred word piece of writing – anonymized – that is distributed by email or put a up as a blog post. This project is not trying to function as a platform for case studies or direct best practice but rather it is an exercise in connecting people to people and recognising their experiences. Two of the stories below are from a selection that have been written during the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. Story 2, however, was written earlier but is reminder of the importance of connections across time and place.
Story 1 Zones
Honor is a social worker operating in London whose work with families have been impacted by the Government restrictions on social contact. She has been conducting some meetings on video platforms but has noted that many of the families she works with do not have the necessary technology to properly engage with online conferencing platforms. Honor spoke individually to members of a family who are isolating together, speaking to them in separate online conversations by video-call. Honor created ‘break out zones’ remotely, in order to listen to the two teenage boys’ concerns without parental intervention. She had previously been making a creative project with the boys which has been halted due to the lockdown. Honor was then able to engage with the mother on the children’s behalf, she conducted the meeting in rooms across the house. She raised concerns regarding the flattening of the conversation, and she worried that she would not be able to read a situation as accurately or ensure that people feel safe. Thus, the meeting was both a success and a learning process. Although she is worried about the effect of lockdown on her cases she also considers this as a time for experimentation with social services. It is a time that social workers can be creative with how they engage with families and in which they can better prepare the services for times of inaccessibility in the future. Even though she is aware of her limitations she is considering how to be creative with children through different applications, such as the Doodle feature available on many video-conference platforms. Speaking about the lockdown situation in general she has continued her creativity in her personal life, this weekend you will find her building a ‘balcony beach’ to make the most of the sunshine.
Story 2 Sun-dappled memory
Faye’s mother was barely 16 when she had Faye prematurely. She was paired with her social worker Patrick shortly after the birth and they bonded instantly. The first thing they had in common was a love of the same music. Patrick found Faye’s mother a bedsit to live in and began integrating her and Faye into his own family. He and his wife were foster parents, so it was a natural transition that Faye’s mother became like their eldest daughter. Faye remembers her mother often going to Patrick’s wife for advice. Faye and her mother visited Patrick’s house often, at least once a week, sometimes having sleepovers with the other children. Faye’s mother arrived in the UK from Jamaica just five years before and Faye remembers when she decided to showcase her culture through food. She cooked her new family fish for dinner, however, this became an amusing challenge as they had never eaten fish that still contained bones. Faye and her mother even called Patrick and his wife ‘mum and dad’ and Faye was treated like family, receiving anything and everything the other children did. The sun-dappled memory she is fondest of has her sitting on the stairs admiring her father comb through his red mullet and moustache in the mirror for twenty whole minutes to make sure they were in good order before he left the house. When Faye and her mother left the UK for the West Indies for ten years they still kept in contact with Patrick’s family and when Faye returned she got back in touch with them. At her mother’s funeral in 2001, Faye fainted and it was Patrick that caught her, an illustration of his supportive role in her life. Now all the siblings are older they reside all over the world and still chat on the phone regularly. Faye has recently found Patrick on Twitter and is excited that there is another platform for them to connect on.
Story 3 Visualise
Adede works as a Family Group Coordinator in London, and has been extremely busy since the lockdown started. She had been holding her meetings online and has been surprised by how normal some elements of the meetings have been. At the beginning of the call, families catch up and greet each other as they would have over a tea in an face-to-face meeting. Even though the technology was new and unusual, families have been using it to their benefit by speaking just as passionately as they would normally. Adede believes that food is integral to the Family Group Conference process, as it can be used as a tool to aid difficult conversations. In one meeting, she asked a family if they would like food delivered. They settled on a pizza that was delivered while the meeting was being held by video call. She believes that these thoughtful measures provide the ‘human touch’ to a virtual meeting. In another meeting, there was a disagreement between a father and child, the latest argument in a repeated pattern of conflict between the two. However, this time it happened on camera in front of a full conference call of their friends and family. Their family was able to visualise for the first time the issue that they had previously only heard about, this allowed them to provide reflective feedback addressing what they had now seen first hand. From this experience, they were able to provide a plan that focused on repairing the relationship between father and child before any other steps were taken. Adede feels that the integrity of FGCs has not been compromised and she is excited that coordinators are still able to provide the three parts of the meeting virtually. Adede has stated the core of the meetings has not been lost, the very human emotions that lie at the centre of these meetings still make themselves known, even through a screen.
Lucia Marquez Leaman is a poet and the writer of The Friday Story.
Tim Fisher is a Social Worker and is working with Lucia on The Friday Story project.