Tuesday, 12 February 2008

"I'm not a bloody social worker!"

“I’m not a bloody social worker!”

I’ll never forget it when a teacher I used to work with once screamed this out at a staff meeting to discuss a child who was having real problems at home. This comment unleashed a torrent of agreement from colleagues who all believed that they had come into the profession to teach their subject – he went on “If he doesn’t want to learn then don’t stick him in my room, where he just disrupts everyone who does want to learn." I'm ashamed to admit it that I sat in silence throughout.

That was a few years ago now but I think there was still (until January) a significant implicit sympathy for that perspective – although it wasn’t quite expressed in these extreme terms anymore.

The reason for mentioning this today is that being a “social worker” is exactly what we are – and what we must be first and foremost before any teaching can take place. This was hammered home this morning when I had to work with one of our younger kids – Mikey – who brought his mum (Sharon) into school with him. Sharon was a poor creature who had – in common with most of us – seen her family die in front of her. She had experienced some sort of breakdown and – in much the same way as I had felt at the end of last week - had folded in on herself. Mikey was now the carer and he didn’t want to leave her at home – Mikey is 10!

We had touched upon this aspect of our work at the meeting on Sunday where our community hub was going to help people exactly like Sharon. It had been easy to agree to such things at the meeting but to actually be faced with it in the flesh was quite different. As with most things we decided to take it to the circle and try to work out how we were going to help people like Sharon. Out of our 12 adults we already had 4 parents but they all had some oblique background in education or social care – here was someone who needed to be cared for.

Once again the kids rose to the challenge and demanded - yes "demanded" would be the right word – that we see our responsibilities as being much more than just educating them. They suggested that it would be the responsibility of one of the family groups to provide care for such people on a daily basis. They would work out what was required but it was to be a priority over any other part of the programme we were devising.

In the afternoon Malik sat down with four kids at a time and started to work out personal programmes – it’s very apparent that although they are very conversant with technology they haven’t really used it for productive learning – this is definitely something we are going to have to work on.

When we got home this evening I received the best news I’ve had all year – Graham’s mum is alive. They had shipped out the elderly to smaller homes at the outset of the outbreak and she had suffered a small turn – the place where she was staying didn’t have our number and had only just been informed of our contact address. We talked for ages on the phone and spent so much of our time talking about Kirsty and Graham. I found it good to talk openly about them for really the first time and although we cried and snuffled our way through the conversation I came off feeling a lot better than had been when we’d got home.

Libby and David also spoke to her and I think they also found it to be a cathartic experience.

I’m just a bit worried about David at the moment – his natural exhuberance has gone and he spends a lot of his time in his room on the internet or playing his computer games.

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