I joined Spark of Genius late last year having worked for local authority social work services for many years, latterly managing a team of care leaver practitioners. As such I often found opportunities to meet with our adult care leavers. Some were able to recount their care experience, and sometimes the negative experiences seemed to stay with them and the positive ones were far harder to reach.
They could become animated when talking about “their throughcare worker” or that one residential worker who had made a difference, but the recollection of their day-to-day journey was less so. I always struggled with this having seen first-hand the positive impact of these relationships, where the team placed the highest value on relationship-based practice. Nonetheless, for care leavers this apparent disconnect from their day-to-day life experiences in care has stayed with me.
When I joined Spark of Genius, I took some time looking at the mission statement, where the vision and aim ensures our young people and good practice remain right at the centre of all we do and that we make “Every Second Count to support young people in realising their unlimited potential”.
My role mainly focuses on quality assurance, where much of my time is spent looking at both qualitative and quantitative data within our residential services. When looking through young people's plans, assessments and other documentation, it is always heartening to see the efforts made by staff to capture key moments within the narrative that will create lasting memories for the young people.
While this emphasis has continued, the social care landscape has changed. To evidence our efforts to keep young people safe and to account for the measures we take to minimise risk, this has led to additional managerial processes and accompanying documentation. Our staff also need to ensure their records satisfy the scrutiny of managers and other external regulatory bodies. I do worry that this could lead to a shift in the mindset of our staff and an imbalance of focus on processes and paperwork to the detriment of time spent directly with children and young people.
With the roll out of The Promise which captured the voice of so many care experienced children, young people and adults, this gives rise to an opportunity for all childcare providers to reflect on the work that we do and celebrate the achievements we have made.
We will also cast a critical eye across our processes and recording systems to ensure we afford staff sufficient time and support, enabling them to record what actually matters to young people. Our young people also need to be involved by us in creating a new narrative that really takes account of what they want to see written about them and the language that we use to describe their everyday experiences.
We need to support staff to walk in the shoes of the adult care leaver when reading over what they have written about young people. If this invokes any displeasure or negative feeling in them, they should then take account of the longer-term impact this could have on the reader.
Sufficient time must also be afforded to allow staff to really capture within the narrative those daily life experiences, no matter how small or simple, which are truly meaningful. If written in such a way it will help to create a lasting memory of a young person's journey and maybe those positive memories will remain with them.
Each day may not always be positive, but we can always find a positive moment within each day.
Margaret Solomon, Operations Manager at Spark of Genius, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition