What needs to change in the children’s social care system - an Expert by Experience’s perspective

Aimee, a Scottish member of the Living Assessments project at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), gives her perspective on what needs to change in the children’s social care system.

If you’re on here, you might already have a good idea of who we are and what we do, but if you’ve stumbled across this by chance let me explain! My name is Aimee and I’m the Scottish member of the Living Assessments project at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB).

What we’re doing is having regular meetings, currently over zoom, sharing our views of the current care system. My specific role is an Expert by Experience (EbE) which means I have personal experience of the care system and help out by sharing my views and engaging in meaningful discussions with the other EbE’s and any guests we may have.

I’ve really enjoyed being a part of this project as not only have I been able to drive for positive changes, but I’ve also learned a lot from our guests and the other members of this project.

Recently we have been working with the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care Team. This was a great opportunity for us to share our views with people who are directly responsible for making change happen. The aim of the English Care Review, as with other Care Reviews, is to set out a plan which creates a positive future for children in care by providing love, stability and safety.

During our fourth meeting we had four guests from the Review Board and 8 members of the EbE. We usually have some PowerPoint presentations which I always find very insightful. There’s never a session where I don’t learn something new. I really enjoy being able to compare the Scottish system to the English system and I hope my voice on the project can provide a semi-outsider perspective!

We discussed with the Review Board what we think good social care looks like and what it looks like when we have good support. For me good social care is discreet, it’s where children have a voice in their care. It’s where children are supported by the adults in their life. It seems bizarre to me that this is not something already being achieved, but far too often children don’t have any say in where they live, they do not receive the additional support that they may need and there’s a lack of discretion.

I found myself talking to social workers at the school bell and having to get into their council-marked car, holding me back an extra 5 minutes. Having good support makes all the difference both to children in care and children not in care. I found classroom settings overwhelming at times, so my school offered me the use of the pupil support classroom during these times. I had visits in my school from social workers which often made me feel singled out and uncomfortable.

In school, you don’t want to be seen as different, you just want to be like everyone else, but without the support systems in place it’s harder to fit in. It’s a vicious cycle where I found myself wanting to be like my classmates but struggling to physically attend classes. I think my school tried to ensure I had support in place, but I felt the support from my social work department was severely lacking. It felt like they found me a safe place to live and that was enough. It’s not enough. I was dumped on CAMHS who closed my case shortly after, leaving me without professional support.

Other Experts by Experience raised the need for better communication between professionals and with the young people, spending time with their young people, treating everyone equally and fairly, and having the same social worker rather than constant changes. It’s impossible to build meaningful relationships and build trust with social workers who you know will not be around for longer than a few weeks.

We were then asked how this should be measured or, simply, how can professionals know they are helping or making a difference? A general consensus was that professionals should simply ask if they are helping and what they can do to help more.

Children in care should not be taboo subjects, too hot to handle or be treated any differently to your own children. If you need to know something, ask – it doesn’t hurt us. We’re damaged more in the long term if we don’t get the help that so many people desperately need.

Living Assessments is a five–year research project on children’s health and social care funded by the Wellcome Trust in a partnership between NCB, University of Cambridge and University of Kent. The second part of this blog will be published next week.

It’s about being a part of a system that needs fixing.