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3rd Edition, May 18th, 2020 Yourgirlpower1

Face time is working

I haven’t been on Twitter since the lockdown. Twitter is my angry place, it’s my place for thrashing out injustices, joining with other, mainly thinking people, to try to move the Social Care System forward. That’s why I made my account, and it’s been brilliant. I’m a mum of a nearly 14 year old girl who is in a specialist CSE home in the country. My daughter was groomed online, which then led to an awful string of events, including exclusion from her high school as she was bullied so badly for acting out the abuse.

I realise I am in a good position regarding “contact” (ergh that word seems to have much more sterile connotations now) or “family time” as we prefer to call it, as our circumstances for my daughter going into care  were seen as something that was completely needed at the time, and I was pro the placement, as my daughter was at so much risk. My daughter went from an urban, wifi addicted girl to a child with no access to the internet overnight, and has really benefitted from this. She did over a year with no access to a “device” other than the library computers.

She has done amazingly well, and to earn her possession of her own phone she had to undertake CSE awareness and education sessions, where she was expected to really engage, not simply nod her head, so this had taken time.

We were fortunate that pre-Covid my daughter had two more sessions left, then she could be the proud owner of a phone, yes a smart phone. The managers had bought a batch of phones for the girls, which they knew about, so the motivation was there.

I can feel some of you balk as you read this….they bought Smart phones? For CSE abused girls? Yes, I have found the staff and management at the unit where my daughter is, are experts, specialists in fact and the fee they get from the LA reflects this. They not only have done specialist CSE courses, but know about teenage girls and what they want.

So my daughters last LAC Review was very exciting with the imminent phone, I was sad though to have to point out to the nervous social worker that the home staff were the most educated and experienced people I’d ever met re CSE and they knew exactly what they were doing. Their job was supporting girls to engage safely. “You are paying for this service!” I had to say. The social worker took a breath.

The WhatsApp messages came…”Hello Mum I’ve got a phone!” It was exciting. It was set up with parental controls of course and my daughter had to sign an agreement. The manager does spot checks on my daughter’s conversations. The good thing is D tells me everything, about who she wants to contact. I have learned the more I say “No” to something the more she will want to do it, and so I have now got more of a parenting role back by listening to her curiosity about people but explaining that this person isn’t necessarily a good friend to have. I recognise her curiosity and need for connection with old “friends” and I try to get her to see how much she has moved on. But, like for any young person in care, her history calls her, old connections, and the urge to connect with people from her past is really important to her.

Having the phone connection with my daughter, on her own phone and on her terms has brought a dimension into her and my life that has brought real peace, and has been a way to connect and satisfy my daughter more than I ever thought.

So, this is how I have used our phone time.

Pictures of the cats.

Videos of the cats and dad lying on floor playing with the cats.

Stills of cats for my daughter to draw.

Silly videos of me washing a rug in the garden with a hose pipe in an Irish accent.

Foodie videos of me enjoying healthy food.

Music clips, some of my special songs, some just music I think she will like.

Linked with Granny disabled and 80, and Grandad in the background fascinated by the technology.

Lots of 3 way calls between dad and I don’t like this…We are separated, but she so wants to see us together. Our Contact visits were separate and she loved the meetings where we were all together again, “Group Hug” she’d say, and reluctantly I’d do it, but with sadness that she will probably never be living with us all again as a child.

Check ins..Lots of check ins. What are you doing? Where’s Dad? What are the cats up to ? Where is her brother? Then she may take a chance and call her 16 yr old brother who keeps it quiet that they actually do have conversations. I get photos of her Sunday roast, pizza that she’s made, dramatic makeovers with those pouts. I get sent pics of the dogs that staff bring on their shifts, and views from her window, and her room. We have had heart to hearts..long chats …really giving her the time she wants…although as her circle of contacts have grown these have decreased, and that has been good. No news is good news, she is happy using her 2 hr a day phone time chatting to old friends.

I show her the garden. Show her the park next door and neighbours clapping, for NHS.

Links to online clothes, I show her my new dress. Baby pictures of my daughter, photos of family holidays, photos of happy times. Old photos got from my parents of me as a child and pictures of her great grandparents including telling her of history about them.

So the connection with the family home has been made, her roots, “her cats,” and it has brought more comfort than frustration, but it still feels sad, and bittersweet.

If she didn’t have home visits set up I don’t think I could bear to send her so much of home, it wouldn’t feel right, quite tantalising with her being away from the place she longs to be.

The longing to be here hasn’t gone away, but she feels satisfied to have that connection and that I am keeping her connected and that this isn’t frowned upon but encouraged by the home. The fact that I WANT to keep her connected gives her hope too.

Minimal contact, none or an open relationship with birth parents. I have tried to show her that being back online can be creative and exciting, remember she was CSE abused online, her relationship with the online world, has been unsafe. She has to now show that SHE is in control, something she try’s very hard to do in real life. But sexual predators are very very manipulative and cunning and incite all sorts of emotions in a child.

Hopefully her CSE sessions have brought her new awareness and understanding.

So I want her online world to be fun, exciting even, creative and help her to connect with people that will be good for her. 

At times it has felt like I have her in the room, with her bossing me around, being silly, she has always farted down the phone..

…and with me having to terminate calls as she obsesses about me coming to get her, go back to court, asking me which social work manager I have spoken to that week and exactly what was said word for word.

Yes, it’s been like I am parenting her more. I send her links of clothes I would buy her as she seems to wear and wear the things I’ve bought her in the past, and doesn’t like to spend her own money saving for her future, which is a sad indication of how she feels.

The online world moves fast and this afternoon she told me she was connected with more primary school friends on WhatsApp, which thrilled her. It’s also a brave thing on her part, as she will have to put into her own words her ‘journey’ but she has peers now to chat to apart from her mum and dad. Oh we did manage to get 80 year old and disabled Granny on a three way video call, I was amazed my mother could answer the call ..it was a moment and something I’m sure we will repeat. My daughter has also interestingly, wanted to add her social worker to our video calls. She didn’t answer. My daughter had asked for a picture of her office, to which she refused, and she also would like video calls with the managers, why not? She is curious about what they look like, who is making the decisions about her life?

The voice clip, facility on WhatsApp is brilliant.

You don’t have to type, just talk.

It’s very personal.

I use that a lot, mainly when I reallly want to lift my daughter, and give her lots of encouragement.

“My life is so shit” I have heard a lot lately, but it’s been a comfort to be able to tell her that actually everyone’s is pretty much that way atm and it’s not only her life but everyone’s is on hold atm. That seems to allow for some calm, it’s Coronavirus keeping us apart and her stuck, not the social workers, or no suitable foster carer having come forward.

I tried to help her to see that she is actually in a pretty good place, atm although to a 14yr old Londoner, the stone walls, views of fields of sheep from her window, country lanes, feel far from idyllic, but the phone has really helped.

There have been times where she has appreciated where she is, she reflects on how she has changed and tells about beautiful and interesting places she has been to. It feels quite old fashioned, and has a purity about it that brings me comfort, totally different to her life here. Sometimes I don’t know if I am tantalising her with images of home. But she did have regular home visits set up, and had had 2 official ones (her first was on her own, her longing got the better of her.) She will at some time resume those visits, and as we know….we do not know when anything will return to even nearly normal so in the meantime, the connection of home serves more good than any harm, in my view. It’s somewhere I’m fortunate to say we won’t go back from. My daughter is nearly 14 and a phone would be usually a huge part of a YP life at that age.

So she is one of four teenage girls in lockdown, being home schooled in the country kitchen via video links. They go on LOTS of country walks and evening bingo with prizes seemed to have been a real hit. I’m very grateful to the staff, for their dedication, and imagination, and for the skill and foresight they have in getting my daughter back online, it’s part of my daughter reintegration to some kind of “normal” life. But the time spent and images I am sent also evoke emotions of longing to be with her. It’s been nearly 7 weeks now. One thing I was touched about is that there have been times when my daughter just wants to snuggle her clothie and look at me, just to be with me, no words. It’s like being with her in those moments, on the sofa having a cuddle, and I can almost smell her as I imagine smoothing her hair.

Sometimes there is no need for words…

The Author Tweets using the following Twitter handle: @Yourgirlpower1