Steve Travis, Head of Care for our northern region homes, reflects on a career working with children looked after, based on his many years of experience in the sector.
I remember being asked some years ago what I did for a living? I work with children was the reply. This was usually followed by aah and an enquiring look or an aww, that must be so rewarding”. This was in direct contrast to my partner who would often ask when I returned home in the early hours covered in at best a bruise or two. Why do you keep doing this?
I believe that no one truly understands our role in a young person’s life until they have actually done it. How can you explain to somebody that actually the bruises and late nights are more than worth it when your young person begins to trust you or open up to you?
“You could be the person who the child will remember in years to come as the first person who didn’t give up…”
At times the work that we do will feel like a thankless task. The rewarding part will seem a distant memory and your sense of making any sort of difference in that young person’s life will be a challenge that feels insurmountable. I have asked a lot of children why their most trusted adult was indeed the most trusted and they nearly always say that they kept coming back, they didn’t give up or they were always there for me.
I have heard people say that what we do is life changing and I believe it is life changing for the care practitioners. However, I don’t necessarily agree with this for the young people. Can we really change a life in just a few years? I don’t believe so, but I do honestly believe that we can be a defining moment in a young person’s life, beginning a process of transforming young lives. To offer a young person a different perspective on life, to role model care and nurture when all they have known is neglect and aggression. To offer them an alternative path and allow them to have the same aspirations in life as everyone else.
As a practitioner, I hope that when you ask yourself why you do this job it is because you understand that you have the connection, the chance to be a person that sheds light in the child’s life. You can be the first person that sees the child behind the behaviour, the one adult who reacted with a kind word and a hug instead of the consequence. You could be the person who the child will remember in years to come as the first person who didn’t give up, the person who ‘kept coming back’. You have the opportunity to be the person that the child as an adult will think ‘What would John or Julie or Eddie – or any of you, have said?’. To be a defining person in a child’s life takes courage and an ability to see past the presentation, to ask why. Why are they behaving like this and why now? You could be the person that sees behind the mask of aggression or solitude. You have the potential to be an illuminating moment, by just caring and noticing. This seems such a simple thing but as we all know; our children are well guarded against this.
I believe that the position we are afforded in a young person’s life is a privileged one. With over 40 children and young people staying in Bryn Melyn Care homes, we have many opportunities to become a defining moment. When a young person trusts you enough to cry for the first time in front of somebody or shares their trauma, take a minute to think about the significance of this. These moments are fleeting, but I hope they are the why we keep doing what we do.