Secret social worker: parents in care

It doesn’t always turn out grand for parents in care, says Lila Halliday

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When a young person is or has been in care the local authority are their parents but what about when they have children? Legally we have no special duty to the children of our children but I believe morally we do.

Often when looked-after children and care leavers have children a different team will plan for the baby, if we’re worried. My experience is that the team dealing with the young child forget their parenting responsibilities to the parent. It is possible to ensure the needs of the child and take responsibility for the parent as well but sometimes it feels as though these two things are mutually exclusive.

If you have been parented poorly in your childhood, to the extent that you have been removed from your family, this may well have a massive impact on your ability to parent. It isn’t a case of “well, at least they know how not to parent”. People don’t work that way. We learn so much from parents and often do what has been done. If that experience was bad then you will inevitably take some of that with you into your adult life.

On the other hand, if being in care is an indicator of risk then what are we saying about the care we give? Having been looked after should, if our care was as excellent as it should be, be seen as a protective factor. These parents should have had the best of everything and continue to get support while they start their families.

In the real world children in care often have a tough time and don’t leave the system with the resilience they need. Often when they have children they are terrified that their child will be removed, even if there are no problems at all, and this can lead to them not seeking the help they need from midwives and health visitors. If there are concerns and the baby has their own social worker, that social worker will know far more about that parent than they will about the average parent they work with. They know every childhood and adolescent mistake, every risk and vulnerability. Sometimes they look at this information as though it were about a potential parent rather than the child they were.

Every single person’s pre-care and care experiences are different. Their response to the trauma they have suffered is different and what they take from their time in care is different. Arbitrarily citing their status as someone who has been in care as a concern is an over-generalisation that says more about the care we provide than the parent’s ability.

In social work there is now a growing focus on “corporate grandparenting”, in which there is more acknowledgement of our role as parents and a consideration as to what a reasonable grandparent would do for their grandchildren if their children were struggling. This is a positive step forward but is inconsistent throughout the country, with no drive from central government.

Many of the young people I have worked with want nothing more than to create a family in the absence of the one they should have been brought up by and loved by. They want to right wrongs and to love and be loved. They should be able to do this with the support that a good parent would provide them, free from prejudice and fear of what services will do.

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