Lived experience and identity

October 10, 2019

Personal history

Ask any social worker what they like least about their job and they will tell you ‘paperwork’. How much thought do you give to what you write, or don’t write about a child in care and why does this matter so much? It matters a great deal that care leavers can develop a healthy understanding of their personal history and how their lived experience helps shape who they are, something we should all be able to take for granted.

In 1999, a lifetime ago, I set up the leaving care service in Liverpool City Council. It was an exciting time; finally care leavers were starting to a receive a service from their corporate parents. I was lucky enough to contribute to what became the Children Leaving Care Act. It was worth the hard work to think we were changing the world for many hundreds of care leavers to come.

Searching for answers

Part of my role as manager of this new service was to sit with young adults looking through massive, scruffy beige folders, searching for answers that invariably weren’t there. Scrappy papers chucked into torn folders revealed a shocking lack of care and showed me first hand how important case recording is.

When the answers aren’t there, young people construct their own reading of the situation, believing they aren’t good enough, are too naughty or not loveable enough. These thoughts are internalised to rationalise why they had to be in care or why their foster carers couldn’t continue to look after them. No matter how many times you tell someone this isn’t the case they continue to hold these negative self views. If these very important records of their lives don’t give the answers then they just have to draw their own conclusions.

Gaps in personal narrative are traumatic

A recently published collaborative research project, led by UCL with the Care Leaver’s Association and Family Action, found very similar results. You can read more about their report here. One of the findings was that ‘gaps in someone’s personal narrative can be deeply traumatic, leaving them with feelings of blame and a lack of self-worth.’

One participant in their study, John-George said:

One of the most profound things for me about the file, and it screams the loudest, is my lack of voice. And I just appear, my scrawled out writing, on like page 52. My voice is totally stolen and words are put in your mouth, saying this is how you feel about certain occasions and certain people, and at times there’s conflict with what I believe.

We recently published a post you can read here about Cameron’s views about how his case file was also:

a collection of interpretations of his lived experience seen through snapshot meetings and information passed from professional to professional as reports were gathered and collated.

So what does this have to do with Mind Of My Own? Read the next post here to find out.