Book Extract from ‘Social Care and Child Welfare in Ireland: Integrating Residential Care, Leaving Care and Aftercare’
To bring my chapter to a conclusion it is appropriate for me to give a brief overview of my experience of working with Keith and other young people over my years of practice in residential care. This experience has taught me that the most appropriate approach is one where tolerance of risk and uncertainty, use of self and collaborative meaning-making are fundamental to practice. This approach I now regard as largely comprising of “care on the edge” – on the edge because often I was unsure of which way events would unfold with the ever-present possibility for things to go either positively or negatively, with very fine lines demarking one from the other. This, at times, induced stress and anxiety on my part, that growing feeling of impending doom in the pit of my stomach I will never forget, whilst I attempted to outwardly portray a façade of calm and confidence. All the while I would be forestalling the incrementally rising temptation to act decisively to alleviate the uncertainty, as such action might be motivated by fear and anxiety and could have made things worse. This was not inaction to avoid conflict, rather inaction to avoid an unpredictable reaction. Yet by tolerating the uncertainty and managing the risk things worked out well in the end.
I have also learned that: “Each child is unique and so their needs will be best met at unique and shifting locations along these continuums (of care and need) and so we must be prepared to shift along these continuums with them” (Fenton, 2015).
Many children in care, especially those in residential care, live “on the edge” – the edge of social and educational exclusion, the system of care within the placement of last resort, the judicial system, crisis and mental ill health to name but a few of these edges. Consequently, the worker moving to the edge with them facilitates closer connection to them and their ecologies and thereby better understanding of their realities. This can then aid in the worker predicting their responses, individually and as a group, and thereby chart the best course of action. There is also the enhanced potential for co-regulation, though in my experience this can be an exhausting space to inhabit due to the reality of the stress and anxiety these young people often must live with for prolonged periods of time. That “feeling of doom” in the pit of my stomach, the foreboding that things were about to go very badly wrong, and the feeling of exhaustion at the end of a tense shift, can be ever-present for these children and young people for prolonged periods of time. Understanding and appreciating this makes their willingness to try to cope, with fluctuating degrees of success, therefore all the more remarkable.
In sharing experiences with other workers it is abundantly clear that the vast majority also have experienced the ”on the edge” dynamic in their work in terms of uncertainty, physical and emotional reactions and wellbeing. However, these can be turned to advantage with time, reflection, good supervision and support. In my own case as the years went by the feelings of anxiety reduced as I became more at ease with risk and uncertainty. I like to think I became less uncomfortable and fearful at the edge as I became more certain that this was the right place for me to be, but I retained the connection to the feelings I had previously experienced.
With regard to the care system, I have witnessed many changes over the years. Many have been for the better but some have detracted from its ability to function in an integrated and congruent way (Anglin, 2002). A congruent system of care optimally meets the needs of young people and supports practitioners to practice with authenticity, what Hepworth et al. (1997:120) defines as “the sharing of self by relating in a natural, sincere, spontaneous, open and genuine manner”….
The above is an extract from the book Social Care and Child Welfare in Ireland: Integrating Residential Care, Leaving Care and Aftercare
Engrossing, informative and challenging. Maurice Fenton has written a book which, although not exactly bedside reading, is surprisingly readable for such an important and serious topic. It is written with a passion by someone immersed in, and committed to, children in care. It examines the child care and aftercare system in Ireland, in the light of international comparisons, examines the myths and misconceptions surrounding them, and poses very challenging, and sometimes disturbing, questions and reflections. It critically examines some of the theories relevant to the development process of children in care and children transitioning to aftercare. It brings together a large amount of data and information regarding children in care and aftercare which will be very useful to those working in, or reflecting on, this area. This book is essential reading for all those with an interest in children in care. Fr Peter McVerry
Social carers and social workers are ever more subject to supposed certainties couched in jargon -“outcomes”, “key performance indicators”, “sophisticated risk assessments”, “regulation”, “compliance”. These and other gems of bureaucracy are not absent from Maurice Fenton’s book. However, he has managed to challenge their efficacy and intent by imbuing his findings with a personal narrative that leads to a core concept: many children and young people in care and aftercare as well as those tasked to care for them live “on the edge”. Success and often survival for both groups is dependent on another core concept: the essence of caring is not about commodification but about relationships. Noel Howard: Secretary of Social Care Ireland
It is a thoroughly researched, well-argued and very readable book, written by an author who has a vision of a seamless social care service for children, young people and care leavers. The book provides a thorough analysis of the state of social care for children and young people in Ireland now, including, healthy child development for children in care, children’s rights, children’s and young people’s experience of social care, professionalism, social pedagogy, relationship-based practice, resilience, attachment theory, research issues, policy-making and its concomitant economic and political restraints, among many more. This book should be read by social care practitioners, social care students, social care teachers, managers, policy-makers and politicians. This is a book whose content is relevant far beyond Ireland. Its learning, humanity, comprehensive thoroughness, and emotional insight gives the reader so much. I recommend this book to all involved in the social care of children and young people. Charles Sharpe: Good Enough Caring