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Comment: Profit has no place in care

Comment: Profit has no place in care

 “Acts smart…struggles to accept his role as a child…argumentative…doesn’t trust his social worker” are all terms I’ve found within my social work files.

When I accessed my care records, it became official. I am a lifelong cynic. I don’t see the glass as half full or half empty, I see it as needing moved off the table before someone who isn’t looking properly spills it.

I hope for moderately better but plan for much worse. I can find the silver lining but I’m more worried about the next incoming storm.

That cynicism is very much tied to my upbringing. One doesn’t exist without the other. Like everyone else, there are parts of me that I can identify that are linked completely to my experiences as a child.

A lot of my childhood was spent in care. One thing my records show that I was very cynical about was the new vocabulary that children in care are indoctrinated into.

No one talked to me about love or home. They talked to me about attachment and placement. They didn’t speak to me about holidays or clothes shopping but respite and clothing budgets.

I wonder what it would have been like if the adults around me spent as much time helping me learn French.

Learning ‘Care-ish’, I felt akin to people who move abroad to learn a language. Full immersion in a new culture, a new way of life and new words to describe it all.

It’s a bit like what we’ve experienced as a nation with the rise of COVID-19. Terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘PPE’ are part of the universal lexicon now.

I have always wondered why the adults around me felt the need to talk about things that were normal to other families in a completely different way.

I realise now that it’s because somewhere along the way, we’ve decided that care is a professional endeavour.

With professionalism, there comes money. With money, there comes conflict. And within that conflict comes decisions that are not about what’s best for children.

According to the Independent Care Review, Scotland invests around £942m in the care system every year. The universal services which can be associated with care experienced people cost a further £198m per annum.

There is, I’m afraid, money to be made from care experienced people. Caring for children pays people’s mortgages, for their holiday, for their second car.

Fostering adverts, for example, are writ large with the financial benefits and great working conditions that come with looking after children.

There is even a fostering union for them to join, hoping to ensure that ‘carers’ get paid annual leave from the children so that they can go on holiday with their own family.

I worry about what kind of person this attracts and what kind of person it discourages.

COVID-19 has us all looking to the government for answers, reassurance and a sign that things will get better. I was intrigued when I saw that the fostering union had gone public with a call for sick leave for foster carers.

I always look to the language first. It’s a habit when you grow up how I did. In the union’s statement, they said: “This is already the situation facing hundreds of respite foster care workers, whose shifts have all been cancelled.”

As admirable as the sentiment is, this isn’t a question of love; it’s one of money. This union is using the response to a crisis to further a campaign they’ve already been running.

In fact, when I looked deeper, it was about foster carers sending children away and looking for sick pay during this period.

In a time where households are isolating together, there’s still a difference for those who grow up away from their biological families. A difference that I find so very contrasting to the experience many in this country are having right now.

How would you feel if the people your children were sent to live with, if you could no longer look after them, had one eye on your child’s happiness and the other eye on the clock? That they were a shift, a job in which they count down the days until a holiday?

I think this poses a very real question to the people of Scotland. What kind of person would look after your children if you were no longer able to? Appealing to people’s finances doesn’t work. If it did, there wouldn’t be a shortage.

The slow removal of the words ‘love’ and ‘home’ from my life is an experience many have.

We must consider the conflict that comes when children live with staff and carers who take a holiday from them or send them away when they are unwell. It is ultimately an alien way to raise a child.

We can’t allow COVID-19 to erode the changes we’re building for care experienced people so that we can live in an environment of lifelong love. Profit has no place in care. It never has.

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