Following a discussion in some social media websites about the use of the expression “pinball kids” I published a post when, understanding the noise around it, also expressed my idea that “more than focusing on the correctness or the dreadfulness of the expression [we should] focusing on what can we do […] to reduce these constant changes […] and the consequences that this can have on the wellbeing and on the impact on the possibility for these children to “fulfill their potential, whoever they are“?“
I’m not going to center this post in the governmental part, and focusing on the one that is more directly connected to my current social work practice, as part of a 16+ supported housing service, where during the (almost) last 4 years I have been working with young people who, before this move, have been placed in 2, 4, 5, 10 and more different placements, during their “care experience”, not allowing them (or at least making it much more difficult) to develop positive relationships with the “careers”.
Obviously, and just looking at the referrals, many of the young people have “relationship issues” and “attachment problems”. How can this not happen when we are talking about young people who had to deal with family problems, breakdown in relationships with their parents, and then when in care, they face what the Children’s Commissioner’s Stability Index 2018 identifies, with 74% of the children in care having a change in the placement, the social worker or school during 2016/2017?
In any document you read about this, and in my case also supported by the research I have been done internally where I work it is clear that a longer placement, has, usually, very positive outcomes, in aspects like education, behaviour, day-to-day relationships and skills or supporting them to move on to the places where they want to be.
So, how can we contribute to this? Allow me to do a small reflection about this…
# OPPORTUNITY FOR MISTAKES
It is clear that a stable environment is extremely important to allow the young people fulfilling their potential, to support them learning and acquiring the tools that they (will) need in the present and in the future. This means understanding the these children and young people are exactly that: children and young people, and as any other child or young person, maybe they will do things that they shouldn’t, maybe they will do mistakes, maybe they will do things wrong. And yes, boundaries will be tested and challenging behaviours will be presented.
What I believe is important here, for us as professionals, is how are we going to deal with it. Obviously there must be consequences, but these ones must be mainly centered in negative punishments and not in positive ones (and yes, restrain is a positive punishment, so it must be a NO NO). And, also, these must be logic, coherent (in time and with the behaviour that was presented). And if I’m talking about punishments, we also need to look at the other side: Reinforcements. And yes. Please. Both positive and negatives.
What can’t happen is another breakdown in the relationships that the child (or young person) might be creating/developing with staff, and showing that, when they do mistakes, the ones saying that he/she could be trusted and is there to “help” them, will jump out from the boat.
This will allow the relationship to be created, the trust to be developed. And all intervention will have to be based on this. The staff must not only be allowed, but especially be requested and expected to practise in a relational way.
I’m not saying that all will be perfect and that this will work with everyone and in every single case. Difficulties will happen and sometimes we need to be honest and understand when “our” placement is not appropriate for the needs of that child or young person. But even in this case, if the child moves out and goes to another placement, why should we stop the contact, stop caring? Why can’t the “relationship” still exist?