Relationships – are they at the core of the caring Profession? What must it be like to have to put yourself into the care system or worse still to have to be taken into care?
For most of us, it’s something that is far removed from our everyday existence, but for many thousands, it is a daily reality.
The care system in Ireland covers the full life span of a person from birth to death and crosses all creeds, colours, and social strata.
It is organised in a haphazard way with private (for profit), voluntary and statutory agencies providing the services. The one constant is the vulnerability of the people young and old who require our care.
The world around us functions by virtue of the relationships and inter-relationships that we have with each other. But what happens if you grow up in an environment where these relationships are dysfunctional?
Every day in care settings across the country, young people come into care. They enter the care system for a myriad of reasons but the one area that is consistent is that the relationships in their lives have broken down, sometimes irretrievably.
The rights of the child must always be paramount, but to ascertain what the needs of the child are, requires us to build a relationship with that child. That can only happen by spending time with and getting to know the child and their family, by getting a sense of their community, by trying to understand their cultural nuances, and by developing a sense of mutual trust.
This is the type of work that most social workers would like to do but are restricted from doing. This is the type of work that social care workers do and have the time to do.
The relative positions of the social worker and social care worker have changed over the years. The social care worker is now a professionally recognised member of the care field and operates academically to the same level as the other professionals.
The main difference is that the social care worker is the person that the child is with almost 24/7 in a residential care setting. This is the space in which relationships are built. It’s also where the mutual understandings start, where the advocacy starts, where the emotional rollercoaster is ridden, where the child bares its soul. It’s where the pain is on view and where a child or young person’s vulnerability can eventually be revealed.
In this space, the notion of relationships have to be re-set, relationships have to be re-enacted, built up in order to fail, so that they can be built up again. This is where a child gets to have a relationship with, first themselves, and when that has been achieved, a caring adult.
This is also where the caring adult learns, through that relationship, what the needs of the individual child are and how to advocate for them, when it’s needed.
What is clear from working at the coalface of the care system, is that we need to have a mechanism for the voice of the child to be heard.
The voice of the child needs to be listened to through this mechanism, through those that care for them, through those who have been cared for and through those of us who were once a child.
Yes that’s you, me and everyone else, we all need to speak out with our inner child’s voice and unburden this country of the silence of the children.
Adrian McKenna is a frontline child care professional; he has worked for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.