NUMBER 1188 • 25 JUNE • YOUNG PEOPLE IN CARE
If we start by looking at the situation of young people in residential care, the painful reality is that at times they are likely to feel extremely powerless. For many of these young people, important decisions about their present and future life are quite likely to have been taken without their feeling properly involved and consulted. For example, they may have been required to move away from their previous setting against their consent: however unsatisfactory that previous setting may have been at the time, it was at least a known and familiar place, where they may have begun to feel at home, but from which they have now been uprooted. In addition, there may be extra difficulties facing young black people in the care system, since they are likely to have been on the receiving end of racism in various aspects of their lives, both at an immediate level from individuals, but also more indirectly through organisations such as schools, the police and Social Service Departments. There is ample evidence of the structural disadvantage young black people face in society and increasing evidence of the extra impact which these difficulties have on those who are also having emotional or developmental difficulties at home.
Further negative stereotyping may affect some young people in terms of their social class, gender, sexual orientation and any physical or other disabilities. This general sense of powerlessness may add further to a sense that these young people may already have of disaffection and alienation from adult society and its values. When these conscious difficulties are added to the problems in the less conscious aspects of the young person's inner world, there may be real problems. Furthermore, a vicious circle may operate for these young people if they are then further misunderstood by the care system. This system is often staffed by people who may not themselves have experienced such prejudicial treatment - or not to the same degree - and who may not necessarily appreciate the full effects of the prejudices built into the system. Even where the staff have had some equivalent experiences in their own past, if they have not had adequate training, as is often the case, they may never have had the opportunity to recall and re-explore such experiences so that they can draw healthily and productively upon them rather than being haunted by them or unconsciously driven into re–enacting versions of them in their professional work.
Young people in this complex situation of powerlessness understandably will be prone to feeling `got at' and misunderstood in everyday situations and, therefore liable to express very strong feelings about instances of this. This may happen especially in relation to the minor incidents which can arise in the course of daily life because the young people may feel that at least these incidents can be brought back under their own control, even if the larger scale aspects of powerlessness are completely beyond their influence. This may help to explain why there can often be explosions of strong feeling about apparently trivial events in residential settings; it can also indicate, as we shall see later, how important it may be for staff to “read” and respond to the message of despair or frustration which often underlies such explosions.
Ward, A. (1998). Helping together. In Ward, A. and McMahon, L. (Eds.) Intuition is not enough; matching learning with practice in therapeutic child care. London: Routledge pp.55-56