I was struck last week at the report of the court hearing into the death of a vulnerable, alcoholic at the hands of two equally vulnerable 13 year olds. The crime was quite horrific and the girls clearly needed to be held accountable for their actions, but what saddened me beyond words was that all 3 were vulnerable and none of them had someone who really cared about them.
The first thing I noted was that the older girl had no one in court supporting her, smiling at her, letting her know that she was loved and important to someone – how can that be? It may be that her parents are no longer around to give her that nurturing – it was stated that both girls were in the car of the local authority, so where was her social worker, her foster carer, her children home worker? Who cared about her, not just for her? The younger girl had her parents there, but it is dubious as to whether they cared more about their own presentation or their daughter – certainly accounts would suggest the former to be most likely true and the latter least likely. And the victim ( I use the word carefully as surely all 3 people are victims here) – her family went on record to say that their relationship with her was tenuous and complicated and that they had not been in touch for a long time. So, who cared? Society now cares that a crime has been committed and someone should answer for it. There has been much tutting and grinding of teeth over who is to blame for the situation to have arisen in the first place, but no one has asked as to who cared about these 3 abandoned people. And this is not an unusual example – we see the same threads running through many stories about child abuse, child sexual exploitation and the care of older people, people with learning difficulties or mental health problems living in the community or in residential homes.There appears to be an entrenched assembly belt mentality running through all our welfare services – warned about by Smith, back in 1992 (!), Payne (1996) and Roy et al (2002) that actively inhibits and discourages close, nurturing bonds between practitioners and those that they work with that mean that they care and are bothered about the quality of life being experienced.
Ungerson (2005) defines ‘caring about’ as a nourishing, close relationship that lets people know that they matter to someone and that they can rely upon that relationship to be non-judgemental, supportive and loving – what we know every human being needs to feel to develop good self esteem and positive ideas of self worth (Rogers, 1973; Maslow, 1961). Thomas is very clear about the importance of caring about children in care:
‘If good social work practice with children and young people in care means anything at all, it means above all being on the child’s side and being committed to children as people. Children and young people soon know whether this commitment is really there. If it is not, whatever skills and knowledge we have will not count for very much’ (Thomas, 2005, pp. 189/90).
And my PhD (2010) exploring the involvement of children when coming into the care of the local authority saw one of my young participants (aged 7) articulate the importance of this issue so clearly ‘If your social worker loves you, you get good things. If he doesn’t, then you don’t.’ (p. 251).
We should not wring our hands about the awfulness of crimes such as this unless we also wring our hands about the failure of our society to care about all members of the community, to be so bothered about the welfare of others that we actively seek to redress the situation before the something awful happens because what can be more awful than communicating to someone that they don’t matter, they will never matter and we only care about what they are doing when they commit a heinous act.
Leeson, C. (2009) The involvement of looked after children in making decisions about their present and future care needs, Unpublished PhD thesis, Plymouth University
Maslow, A.H. (1961). Peak Experiences as Acute Identity Experiences, American Journal of Psychoanalysis. vol. 21: pp. 254–260.
Payne, M. (1996) What is Professional Social Work? Birmingham, Venture Press
Rogers, C. (1973). The Interpersonal Relationship: The Core of Guidance. In ,Raymond M. Maslowski, Lewis B. Morgan (Eds.), Interpersonal Growth and Self Actualization in Groups (pp. 176-189). ISBN 0842202897.
Roy, A., Wattam, C. and Young, S. (2002) Looking after Children and Young People. In Adams, R., Dominelli, L. and Payne, M. (Eds.) Critical Practice in Social Work. Basingstoke, Palgrave
Smith, P. (1992) Emotional Labour of Nursing. MacMillan Education, Basingstoke
Thomas, N. (2005) Social Work with Young People in Care: Looking after Children in Theory and Practice. Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan
Ungerson, C. (2005) Care, work and Feeling. In Pettinger, L., Parry, J., Taylor, R. and Gluckman M. A New Sociology of Work. USA, Blackwell