When I tell people I'm an Residential Child Care Worker, there are certain questions I can almost guarantee what I'll get asked.
'So. What is an RCW?'
'Well, it's like the kids TV program Tracy Beaker but not really.'
Actually it's nothing like Tracy Beaker but that might just be the closest they are ever going to get to understanding without actually working in a children’s home.
When I first applied to work in a residential children’s home, I had no idea they even existed. I thought they where huge 40 bedded homes that only existed in horror movies or old black and white photographs. Little did I know.
'So are they like disabled or naughty?'
This is a tough one so the easiest answer is sometimes - yes some have disabilities but not always and yes some can be naughty, but not always. Naughty to me is when someone jumps out from around a corner and shouts BOO! Which happens. A lot.
'It must be such a hard job, I couldn't do it.'
Maybe you could, maybe you couldn’t. I was once told that residential carers have the shortest shelf life. I'm not sure about that. I know people who have been there for 15 years, and I know people who have been there a few months.
'What do you do with them?'
What I certainly don't do is 'fix' these young people. But what I do do, is, as part of a team, try to help them in their every day lives. Helping them learn the tools they will need to survive in this scary world. But that's sometimes hard when you have less then a few months to do it in.
That's why, when at 16, 17, or 18, it is ridiculously tough to watch them go off into the world. The big bad scary world where they are 'too young' even to hold a tenancy agreement. Which makes no sense. Not equipped socially to say No to the so called friends that ARE going to take advantage of their situations. Not able to stay at college because they can't afford the bus, new clothes, or a backpack to carry their books in. Not able to apply for jobs because they can't afford the Internet or a Laptop to apply, or even a newspaper. They go from 24 hour support to nothing. Zero. Sounds unbelievable and people say surely there's something. In cities there a very few charities that might be able to help. In the middle of nowhere for example, the deep dark depths of Devon? Not so much.
Outreach support does exist but it's down to 'funding'. Not every young person knows what they are legally entitled to when they leave care, and what funding is strictly to be used for. I once got told that a young person had to pay for their moving van out of their leaving care grant. That money is strictly for setting up your home, not moving to your home!
Most of these things are out of an RCW's control. Sometimes the best you can do is let go, let them move on, remind them how far they have come and to keep in touch. A quick hug or hand shake and wipe away the tears before they see. What is in our control is making the transaction as smooth as possible: visits, a leaving party, cards with messages, gifts and scrap books full of happy times and good, positive memories. Tokens they can keep and look back on. I might not be able to help the ones who have already moved on, but hopefully by helping support ECLCM I can somehow go on to help the next one, and the next one.