Abused children, complexity, emotions and rewards

That’s a catch-all title that attempts to point to the many responses evoked by a recent article.

In the last year or two I’ve learnt a little about the system of care for young people which perhaps prepared me for what I learnt in a year in the life of a foster carer. Nevertheless, I found it extraordinary. There are so many stories within this story, in turn moving, inspiring, bewildering and enraging.

Foster carers are at the very sharp end of managing those children who have been most failed by their families and effectively by society as a whole. For tiny financial compensation, they have to deal with kids who have been terrribly damaged. And they have to work within a very flawed system. Of course, any system that has to work in such circumstances is bound to struggle, but some of the situations exposed in this piece are shocking.

It seems woefully slow to respond effectively to powerful evidence of abuse by parents of their children. When a child is moved with almost no notice, after much confusion, largely at the behest of his abusive father, it’s another child, the carers’ own daughter, who seems to me to have the most appropriate response: astonishment and anger:

Our daughter cannot understand why Dan had to leave, and why we can’t even meet up with him occasionally. She has a clearcut child’s sense of the unfairness of the system. She finds it incredible, as we do, that the parents of these children, even after neglecting, abusing, abandoning them, still have the right to dictate the details of the placement. It’s a constant source of frustration that the children in the care system appear to have far fewer rights than the people who have let them down.

At times, I found the stories overwhelming and wanted to distract myself instead fo reading the whole article. Goodness only know what it must be like to be carers, and even more so the children, at the centre of all this.

I have too many other responses to this to capture in a simple post. But I would say that for anyone who insists that we can’t bring emotional responses into management I would say this: without the emotional responses of these carers, there would be no hope whatver of responding to the terrible abuses that seem to continue in this system.

And I am left wondering at the tiny pay of foster carers set against the importance and complexity of the challenges they face. And then I think about the arguments advanced for the necessity of huge incentives to managers atop other complex systems which, right now, I suspect can’t be more challenging than this one.

(Indeed, what do we mean by someone being “atop” a complex system? These carers are clearly low in the pecking order but are arguably more engaged with complexity than many others with higher status.)

Hat tip: Tweet from Philippa Perry

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