Continuing Connections

By Danny Henderson.

George, 15, sitting in a classroom with three other young people, became upset when given a maths problem he couldn’t solve.

After receiving a portion of shame from his teacher, George was ridiculed by his classmates – what was an amusing distraction for them was catastrophic for him. Not for the first time, the chairs and the desk flew across the room, the door bounced open, quickly followed by George, kicking everything in his wake. He reached the top of the stairs and was confronted by a care worker, Martha, who had rushed towards the cacophony of profanities, the jeers of the other children and the mighty clatter of furniture bouncing off the walls and floor. When he saw Martha, George took out a pair of scissors that he had picked up from the teacher’s desk and pointed them towards his would-be adversary’s chest. Such was his state of despair, George’s intentions seemed obvious and terrifying. There was a tense pause, then Martha boldly stepped forward with her arms outstretched, and wrapped them around George’s shoulders. He slowly melted into her embrace, tucked his chin into Martha’s neck and let out a primal shriek, followed by a shower of tears. Martha may have whispered to George, “I know you; this is not who you are,” but she didn’t have to. The fraught, chaotic and edgy atmosphere became silent, solemn and reverent. The onlookers dispersed.

After all this, a cup of tea and a biscuit. There was no prescriptive or procedural response, no sanctions, but what consequences there were, were drawn from trust, a trauma re-scripted, and a little belief in a just world restored. The relationship between George and Martha was not forged in the white heat of the drama, although it may have been tempered. It was formed in the every day: singing along to Chumbawumba on the way home from family visits, the reassuring looks across the room, the soothing at bedtime and the comforting hugs when George just needed to know he meant something to someone. Every precious moment converged in this situation. Their connection lit up Martha’s intuition, and the compass of destiny was reset in the direction of hope.

This story doesn’t belong to a particular time or place; it is a montage of the work that has been witnessed and experienced over the course of a career. Those of us who work in residential child care occasionally happen across former colleagues, or young people we used to look after. These chance encounters always involve reviewing stories like this; the sublime, ridiculous, inspiring, comic and all too often the tragic; memories revived, connections renewed. The reflections are driven by profound longing; we rarely find out what becomes of the young people after they’ve left our care. When we lose contact, all we can do is reminisce. This gives our work and life meaning – these vignettes of redemption are postcards of compassion, and a testament to the enduring connections we make.

We are often asked if it isn’t too much to expect of carers to keep in touch with the young people when they move on from our care, given the emotional toll of the challenging task they undertake on a day-to-day basis. It would be impossible for them to maintain contact with all the young people they looked after, but there are those we can never let go of. There are some with whom we, sometimes inexplicably, develop a bond. Whatever we invest in the relationship, we get back in dividends. Given what we know about the importance of relationships it seems absurd, maybe even cruel, to ask carers and young people to write off this investment at the end of a placement. To do so invokes a sense of loss for the carers, a sense of abandonment for the young people and a feeling of helplessness for both. Continued connections offer the potential for young people to develop a life-long attachment, a pre-requisite to well-being, and a meaningful life. For carers, these relationships can enrich our worth as professionals, with the knowledge that what we do makes a difference. Far from being a burden, continued relationships can increase our capacity to care.

Danny is a Senior Operations Manager with Care Visions Residential

Why Not? leads the way young people are supported when ageing out of care in Scotland.