Show them we really care

28th October 2005 at 01:00
You don't get children in care any more. They are now "cared for". It's just a tragedy that we can't be sure they are.

Removing a child from the family home must be one of the hardest decisions a social worker ever takes, made a thousand times worse by the lack of safe places to put the child or young adult.

Residential homes are few and far between, but might well harbour more danger. Children already there have been abused, and may well be abusers.

We know too late that some homes were staffed by adults who showed little respect or love for the children.

Foster homes are also hard to come by, and often successful placements are ruined when desperate social workers beg a good family to take in another child who has nowhere to go. Fostering can bring in big bucks, and sometimes it is only the money which attracts the carer.

Often extended family members are asked to take the child, but with inadequate financial and emotional support.

Adoption may be a solution, but often a year can pass before a decision is made, and a year is a long time in a small person's life. Being ripped from the parent (no matter how inadequate) and then taken from a long-term foster carer will leave a child with a deep-seated attachment disorder.

This all impinges on schools. We know that too many children carry too many secrets. We can understand that inadequate parenting can produce inadequate children and difficult pupils.

Many cared-for children cope well in new schools, or manage to survive the teasing if they are taxied back to their old school. But many don't. Why listen to a stupid teacher, when your guts are churning with the memory of being taken from your distraught mum at 2am? Why sit still when you are on tenterhooks wondering if she is OK?

Maybe there are better solutions. If abuse is suspected, then remove the abuser, not the abused, and keep the children at home, taking the opportunity to get evidence while it is still there to be found. Pay the extended family member to spend time in the problem home, giving support.

Advertise more widely for foster carers. Allow the process of adoption to move more quickly. Build more, better quality residential care homes, so that there are enough places to send children where their safety is paramount.

Maybe we need to think about training class teachers to understand where these displaced children have come from, what they must be thinking and feeling and how to handle any challenging behaviour - so that at least schools are safe for them.

Let "cared for" mean what it says.

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