People who have experienced (or who are experiencing) care have immense courage and are great champions of it. That experience of care never leaves a person. And care leavers (those who have been in care and who are aged 18-25) are true experts of real, raw and exceptional experiences. It’s times like these when we notice how truly amazing society can be in the face of remarkable challenges.
This virus has arrived at a time when we already knew about inequalities, and of course we do not want more. We cannot bury our heads in the sand with this crisis. Some care leavers have great experience in contending with crises.
Social work plays such a crucial role in supporting citizens, of all ages. And it would be right to expect a social worker to harness compassion, creativity, open-mindedness, responsiveness and inclusivity, etc. The opportunity at the moment is to amplify the voices of people experiencing unfairness. Think protecting rights and promoting equality.
We all sit together, figuratively, in lockdown, finding ways to cope, to motivate our minds, bodies and souls. It is an adjustment that requires personal strength and discovery. It’s hard.
For some of the most vulnerable groups, noticing personal strength and allowing personal discovery is frightening though, and is no mean feat.
The care leaver and care experienced group have a voice to be heard. It would be absurd and silly to miss out being involved in this group’s skills and inspiration.
It is hard entering care: being separated, feeling lost and at a loss. And for some care leavers loneliness and isolation (Bright Spots Survey, 2019) is a true experience. At the moment, this may be felt like a doubly isolating time.
Being in care is all about experiencing love. I like to imagine a nation having awareness and pride of care experienced people. We should all be aware and mindful of these young people. Let’s be proud.
Feeling lonely and isolated is a feeling we can all connect with. How care leavers cope is something we should all notice and learn from. Everything is relative now. We share our metaphorical isolation sofa. In it together: sitting together. These are uncertain times but there are opportunities to be spotted too.
We will recover from this together, learning more than we could have dreamt of about ourselves and each other.
Another opportunity is simple: we are reminded of what our motivations in life are. Bacon (1996)  told us ‘Knowledge is Power’ – but the level of uncertainty at the moment is high. The invitation is to focus on ourselves and others. And cope. Privilege is being removed. Struggle and subjugation is being felt more, broadly. And the result: real connections, truth and mutual-empathy.
I have always dreamt of the children I work with taking the knowledge, and therefore their privilege and power, back. Maybe that could be the new national response.
Every person holds the reality to their own experience and existence. Recalling and remembering can illicit shock of self-confrontation: something all too familiar with those who have experienced care. Mentalizing (Fonagy and Bateman, 2004) comes easy when trauma has been lived. Isolation, separation, fear and uncertainty is now something we can all pull on.
The language of risk has dominated social work for so long. Beck (1998) coined the term ‘risk culture’ to describe a shift to make decisions based on a risk we may know nothing about. This could easily open up a discussion about the meaning behind risk. We often can only use our ‘best guess’ when assessing risk. In reality we see this happening at the moment. Barry Mason (2015) brought forward the idea of ‘safe uncertainty’, which for me reflects the point where risk, reality and recovery need to be balanced to form decisions and direction. Is it possible that now is the time to rewrite the ‘system’, both its function and delivery? Some great work has taken place thinking about how to reconstruct language (TACT, 2019). It’s not too radical to think about lived experience being central to re-writing the narrative around how social work is done.
Is social work going to become even more collaborative following this COVID crisis? Carl Jung (1951) talked about the ‘wounded helper’: the idea that those of us who have truly felt inferiority and struggle can hold a position to heal and help. Will we see equality and balance of power more so in social work, especially in relation to struggle? How wonderful that we can now observe the splendour and gifts those who use services give to those who are working for the services.
We create the meaning of what we do in the world we live in, which in turn moulds us into the way we practice. One obvious outcome is to come together to co-produce better in social work: we have a shared challenge, which is real and raw. From here a new shared meaning will evolve. It will be re-constructed. The scope for relational activism (Fisher and Dove, 2019), hand-in-hand, is great and exciting. This new way of being could feel strange initially but we are encouraged, as John Burnham (2010) calls it, to take ‘relational risks’.
Let’s embrace the odd and discomfort and model how those with lived experience could inspire and influence.Social work is a helping profession, supporting those in need of protection and care. Regardless of your profession or position in society, helping is something we all need to take part in. We are switching on our senses to realise how this situation makes us feel individually and collectively.
The impact of the government relaxing statutory duties feels disconnected from where we sit. Social work, key working, is so much more: a vocation, a life choice that runs to the core of our values. We think alongside those we work with to enable possibilities and seek alternative positions to take and embrace the voices of those feeling stuck. It’s all about respecting humans. Is it possible that we can now remove ‘meetings’ that children in care and care leavers are expected to be part of? Isn’t it shaming? Those not experiencing care don’t have to contend with a system and all its ‘meetings’.
When there is austerity, we carry on. A pandemic, we carry on. The micro dynamic is essential to laying foundations for our relationships with people receiving a statutory service. The macro position allows thought too: a wider perspective.
We are not willing to accept duties being relaxed. In fact, we are now benefitting from leaning even further away from this. We are communicating more with our care leavers and children in care. And what a privilege this is. Finally we see and feel the power of relationships, connections and walking together on what is simply a mutual journey. The realisation now is that the statutory guidelines we have followed for years haven’t been enough.
Extended isolation isn’t what we want for anyone, but it is possible that we have now been invited to see the opportunity for connection in a different but greater way, which we may not have caught sight of before.
Being remote reminds us that we face troubles often alone. We strive to have real control over ourselves and this encourages strengths and abilities. Constantly adjusting to a ‘new normal’ is something the care experienced community hold close to their core.
We have to see our struggles that we’ve known to remember and realign our position in the world: both those giving and those receiving a service.
There is nobody stronger to adapt to crisis than care leavers. We may allow ourselves to feel even a small slice of the loneliness and isolation care leavers have faced. It’s mutual now and not exclusive to care leavers, because they are care leavers. Relationships will be realised. Relationships lead to hope, which steer repair and recovery. Could there be a wider, greater acknowledgement and effort to include and nurture care leavers?
Now is the time to stand even taller and be prouder. Especially for care leavers who may already live with disconnection. Their need to carry on is an inspiration to us all. Care leavers deserve the same respect and recognition as everyone else, if not more. Now is our chance to recognise and reward those who we may know less about in our society. We need solidarity.
Care experiences last forever. A chunk of time in life where one tries to fit within a world that isn’t theirs: square peg, round hole comes to mind.
Is now the time for care experience to be noticed across the whole of society: like race, gender and disability, as a protected characteristic, where positive action is taken? In Scotland the Independent Care Review (2020), and of course the Care Experienced Conference (2019) have shown a new way.
There is a community of care leavers and care experienced people waiting to be seen and heard. Let’s clap for care leavers and those with care experience.
Mike S – Mike S is a Social Worker with care experience
Beck, U. (1998) ‘Politics of Risk Society’, pp. 9 – 22, in J. Franklin (ed.). The Politics of Risk Society. Cambridge : Polity.
Bacon, F. (1996)  Meditationes sacrae and human philosophy Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.
Burnham, J. (2010) ‘Creating reflexive relationships between practices of systemic supervision and theories of learning and education’ in pp. 49 – 78, in C. Burck & G. Daniel (Eds.), Mirrors and reflections: Processes of systemic supervision,London : Karnac.
Fonagy, P. and Bateman, A. (2004) Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: Mentalization Based Treatment. Oxford : Oxford University Press.
Jung, C. (1951). Fundamental questions of psychotherapy. Princeton, NJ : Princeton University Press.
Mason, B., (2015) ‘Towards positions of safe uncertainty’, InterAction-The Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, 7(1), pp.28-43.