The Saturday Boy

I am three months into a new job. Its really been hard. All the things you take for granted when you’ve known people for a long time are gone. Its hard having a bad day and no-one knowing you well enough to know that that is what your experiencing without explaining it. Its hard not swearing. Its hard remembering that no-one really knows my sense of humour or my cultural references. It reminds me of all the jobs I’ve ever had from Saturday boy to social worker. It gets easier the less new you are of course but the desire to feel settled, accepted and wanted is strong.

Last week I read a blog from Mark Neary that has preyed on my mind ever since. It was about an incident at home that had triggered a memory for Steven from where he was held (illegally) in a unit away from his dad and where a staff member had casually referred to Steven has  ‘a nasty piece of work’.  That the comments still  upsets  Steven all these years on and made his dad upset too are testimony not only to the powerful spiteful words used but moreover perhaps the intent behind the words. Whether or not the carer believed the words they used to describe Steven is one thing but the intent behind the words, the casual hateful remark towards someone they are caring for, is really quite sickening. For me the words are a reflection of culture in social care that thrives on not allowing people to feel settled, accepted or wanted. We are comfortable with belligerence in social care. We can even deal with hate. But if someone feels settled, accepted and wanted there is a risk that they may be loved and that is considered a real risk in social care. Its easier to consider people has a nasty pieces of work than it is to consider them as people, with the same desires as the rest of us. If we consider people who require social care as people like us we have to consider the totality of that. This leads to a risk that people might be possibly be loved. Love and social care anyone? Words you very rarely see in the same sentence.  

For the last few years of her life my sister had a Direct Payment. It took her a while to find the right person for the role of her PA but eventually she found Christine (not her real name). What amazed me at the time was how much my sister had to hide her relationship with Christine from social care. My sister was an extremely generous person with a  huge personality. Her relationships with people were intense and beautiful. Within weeks of employing Christine my sisters personality and humanity had completely dwarfed the Direct Payment arrangement that was supposed to govern it – it was always going to. Over the years a deep friendship grew but it was always hidden in the shadows of social care. When Christine was diagnosed with cancer it was my sister, the person Christine was paid to care for, who was at the hospital with her holding Christine’s hand as she received the diagnosis and prognosis. As Christine died it was my sister who stayed with her, gently singing to her and reassuring her that her daughter would be cared for. After Christine died my sister became the guardian of her daughter until she was 18. All this, the complexity of the relationship was extremely normal if you knew my sister and Christine. Humanity had completely overtaken the narrow definition we have of people in social care. That the relationship  was completely  hidden to health and social care was not really spoken about at the time because we knew social care could not ever understand it. It didn’t have a form to explain love or relationships or humanity but it did have a form on boundaries, inappropriate behaviours  and people abusing Direct Payments – all things that appear to be quite expected of people who need social care. How could that relationship ever be explained to social care with an expectation that the state would understand it? How do you tell an Audit Officer or a CHC Nurse or a social worker that a human relationship and love were meeting the ‘assessed need’ for both the cared for person and the carer? 

Dealing with love and relationships is really too difficult for social care to contend with so we constantly work in an environment where people are left feeling  unsettled, unaccepted and ultimately unwanted – its just easier that way. It’s a system where calling people we care for hurtful names, such as Steven and Mark experienced, is actually far more comfortable for us to deal with than love. A system where Marks love for his son or my sisters deep friendship with her carer is something that is seen to be so remarkable that it has to be fought for through courts or hidden in shadows. A system where love and human relationships, with all the complexities that they include, are viewed with suspicion and an industrial response to protect people from the very thing that we all strive for in feeling settled, accepted, wanted and yes, lets say the word, loved. 

<And la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la means I love you>

5 replies on “The Saturday Boy”

It is dreadful to hear about the casual labellng and lack of caring that can go on – but particularly in institutions or institutional ‘care’. Please don’t label everyone as like this. The impact of mass care in situations which label people pathologically according to their so-called condition seems both to try to justify incarceration by finding a negative label/ condition and to attract and “train” too many people into seeing people as their behaviour/so-called conditions rather than as people in all their personalities and contributions. I was many years ago at a conference where talking to 2 workers from a childrens home run by a religious charity, they told me that they were not allowed to let children who had left come back!! This was horrifying given they should have been acting as their parents. Many more years before I had been a social worker for an authority for a child who had been through some dreadful experiences and thanks to no such nonsense, when I left, I continued to be in touch and she came and stayed at times with my husband and (can I hear safeguarding screams???) today in her 50s she tells me I’m her mum really in her eyes and she’s the nearest I have to a daughter. I know the relationship has been important and real, and has provided some stability – just as our parents often have. But I’m sure this wouldn’t be allowed today without negative judgements about ‘getting personally involved’ – when we know that as long as you can keep an eye on your motivations, it’s important to care. Reflective practice is what we’re trained to do and to be empathic (get alongside to understand but don’t cry with people) – not to be so far away that we fail to understand what’s really happening for that person. Similarly I know many support workers who really care about the person they support, working for local charities, who go many many miles further than any contract, listening to what’s important and finding ways to support people have a real life of their choosing. So there really are some great committed support workers who really care and some even continue their relationships after they’ve left their job. And yes – love does exist even in services.The leadership needs to value and support this kind of caring – it’s actually what can keep everyone safe!


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