Themes from the group discussions at the goodenoughcaring conference – Love Is Enough : sincerity and professionalism in the care of children and young people


Compiled by Jane Kenny and Ariola Vishnja

Date Posted: Sunday, 18 January 2009




Jane and Ariola are members of the editorial group of the goodenoughcaring Journal


Themes from the group discussions at the goodenoughcaring conference ‘Love Is Enough : sincerity and professionalism in the care of children and young people.


In this  record we have gathered into themes the issues arising from the discussions which took place in the group sessions at the goodenoughcaring Conference Love Is Enough : sincerity and professionalism in the care and education of children and young people  in London in October. For ease of reading we have had to edit the conversations and we apologise if we have simplified what may have been more complicated and sophisticated discussions. If we have made serious errors or omissions on this we would like firstly to apologise to our fellow delegates but more importantly we would ask delegates to post comments to the site so that we can publish any omissions.
In any case we would like to hear from delegates if in the four months ensuing the conference what they heard and talked about at the event  has or has not influenced their thinking and their work in anyway.  In either case if we are not to fall foul of the prediction hinted at in the final theme of this report, it would be very important to hear the frank views of delegates and of course all of our readers.  Please post us your comments.

Is it possible to be loving and professional ?

The underlying theme of each of the discussion groups seemed to echo the uneasiness with which those who are professionally involved with children and young people deal with notion of love. This is represented by the question asked by a number of delegates. “Is it possible to be loving and professional ?”
What arose from this were questions about  whether a worker from the caring and educating disciplines can or should  ‘love’ a child who they are offering support to. This issue seemed  connected to the questions, “What is love ?” and “Is care love?”


Love is a taboo 

Delegates spoke of the taboo which seems to surround the word “love” in the social care, social work and education professions. The teaching and care professions  felt defensive about how they might be perceived if they said they ‘loved’ a child.  A worrying but generally held stance was identified which seemed to assume there to be no difference between sexual appetite and the love of an adult for a child and this seemed to limit  carers’ and teachers’ ability to express helpful supportive emotion towards a child.


The effectiveness of short-term work in building loving relationships

When considering short-term intervention with troubled children concerns were raised about how effective this would be if there wasn’t substantial cooperation from the child and his or her family. If there wasn’t, some argued that it  would be difficult to build up a trusting relationship in a short period of time and if love and sincerity were expressed through the actions of a professional how could the latter’s arbitrary ending of the relationship be understood by the child as a loving action ?


The prevalence of the ‘managerial’ approach to social care and social work

The difficulties of breaking away from the ‘managerial’ approach to social care and social work were raised. Procedures and  the voluminous required written recording ‘that few people read’ tended to de-humanise the task and put obstacles in the way of workers building  relationships with children and young people.  As the focus of social work has shifted from direct work with people towards recording and coordinating, so increasingly little time is left to spend with young people.


The training and status of care workers

There was concern that the relative professional, political, and economic powerlessness of care workers led to a poorly trained group of workers who felt unequal to the task of caring for deeply troubled young people. One view expressed was that  ‘It was difficult enough to care in these circumstances never mind love’. Given such a working environment it was difficult to recruit  staff of good enough quality. Teachers, mentors and counsellors present also expressed a feeling of being under-valued and disempowered within the overall care and education system.
All the groups identified  a need to ensure that those who work directly in the life space of children and young people such as residential child care workers and youth mentors should be trained differently – in the way social pedagogues in Europe were –  to a level which was equivalent to the training of a social worker.

Hearing the voice of the children and young people

There was a fear that over-stretched, stressed, untrained staff working in a child care system which seemed more interested in fixed prescribed outcomes, had little time and ‘sometimes energy’ to hear the voice and wishes of the young people. One opinion was that young people were not respected enough by those involved in their care.



The lack of family work to support the caring and educational process

There was a feeling that work with young people who are admitted to care was hampered because not enough work was done with the families of these young people. Often this led to the deterioration of a family’s circumstances and worse led to the separation of siblings and the consequent negative emotional impact. Hopes and promises  of family re-unification were dashed which inevitably became the source of future problems for the young people involved.



Defensive practice is an obstacle to building trusting relationships

There is a cross-professional culture of keeping safe for fear of allegations of improper practice. The current  system made all professionals involved feel insecure about accepting responsibility for, and admitting to, their mistakes which a number of people felt could be an essential expression of parental love. The ‘mind your  back’ professional climate of the care system prevents workers from showing love to young people and even simple things like hugs are perceived as inappropriate. Residential child care workers’ feelings of  low professional standing are reinforced by procedure and practice guidelines which all imply that they are not to be trusted. The question was asked, “Why should a residential child care worker not be trusted to act appropriately in the way that a foster carer is ?”
There was a consensus that the ability to make and sustain a trusting relationship with a young person in all our fields of work is fundamental.



Care as a life long curriculum

There was a need to see the provision of care as a life long continuum. Each of us requires care and concern at different times in life and caring and concern for everyone should be more evident in our culture. It seems to have been lost in a need to artificially categorise and section off things into disparate parts such as child care, adult services and care for older people.



So what ? Will we do something about what we’ve been discussing ?

A fear was expressed that issues raised during the conference  about the place of love in the care and education of children and young people would be put away and forgotten until another event like this was arranged. Was the conference an example of preaching to the converted ?




30 Dec 2009,    Jonala comments
Thanks, the themes of the discussions really helped me with my college assignment 
11 Feb 2009,    Jeremy Millar writes
Hi Guys, I continue to reflect on the conference and make links to our
discussions and current events in the arena of childhood, family and and
care. It is clear that in many respects we are not a compassionate
society and we lack the capacity for objective reflection on tragic
events (witness baby P)However I have been attuned to some more positive
media stories lately. One london Borough is actively looking at the
Danish social pedagogic model. The news report highlighted educational
success (6 out of 10 LAC going on to higher education) the images
contained fully qualified and happy workers hugging happy children and
some of these children going to school on unicycles. I have long
believed that circus skills should be integral to residential care.
Expressing emotion through drama and clowning before progressing to the
personal pain that children and staff are struggling to contain. Love
will grow in these environments. We are also required to bring the
families into play as well.
The recent report on the damage being done to children by ‘selfish’
parents sadly demonstrated how far we still have to go. One of the
recommendations was for parenting certificates (SVQ in parenthood!) It
did though talk about the pressures of economics and working parents and
flagged up universal access to child care provision.
Finally the snow was evidence that we could have another society based
on play and loving relationships. More snow that’s what I say.
Peace JeremyThe Robert Gordon University is the best modern university in the UK (The Times Good University Guide 2009)

The Robert Gordon University, a Scottish charity registered under charity number SCO 13781.

09 Feb 2009,    Charles Sharpe comments
Since the conference I have been thinking about the place of love in my work a great deal. I cannot say I have come to great conclusions but it has been wandering all over my mind.
I cannot think of anything worse than being separated from those that I love and who love me except not to  feel loved at all.
Do I want to be loved at any cost ? Do I have to earn the right to be loved ? As a child no I do not. As an adult with strangers maybe I do. With those who I have known and lived with and where there has been mutual concern I would tend to say no I shouldn’t now need to earn the right to be loved by them.
Is ‘loved’ the word I should be using here ? In the work that I do,  looking after youngsters who have been deprived of love, I am persuaded it is. By love I  feel that I mean here  a caring concern for another human being whatever they may do.
I know I can’t promise to make things better for others but I am expected to. If I can’t, I can at least show them love.
Do I have the time to have this kind of relationship ? I think I have to or my endeavour will fail. Am I given the  time and resources to make the right kind of relationship ? Seldom.
Will the regulatory powers help and allow me the time to make a relationship like this. No I don’t think so because their fantasy of where it might lead to and what it will mean for them if outcomes rather than love are not achieved. Sometimes I think the regulators – politicians, advisors and their enforcers –  are fearful of achieving this level of concern and commitment to youngsters because they themselves are fearful of giving it to those professionals  they govern. What if they are seen to have sided, with someone who has made a mistake ? To have loved them and shown them concern. I don’t think they can cope with that. For some reason they don’t think it will look good for them. But isn’t that what a good parent does ? Yet look at the way the no doubt flawed but probably well-intentioned ex-Director of Children’s Services of Haringay has been jettisoned in a very unforgiving,inhumane way by the government minister who above all others should have shown public compassion – love – for another human being.  Particularly in the case of one who had recently made her staff jump through all the performance hoops which his government demanded. Of course that does say something about the hoops.
In my work on a day to day basis  I am using the word ‘love’ as a synonym for the right kind of care a child needs. I can sense it making some people feel uncomfortable. I can feel it making a greater number quite relieved.
09 Feb 2009,    Siobain Degregorio writes
It is not easy to love young people, many seem unlovable. Yet we know in order to grow children need nurturing and love. Why is it then that we struggle to give basic needs to already damaged and troubled young people. Perhaps when we think of love we should be thinking about consistency and genuineness with these children and the capacity to self reflect. By being more honest about the feelings these young people arouse in us may free us to begin to truly show them what love means. 
05 Feb 2009,    Jane Kenny comments
The conference really made me think about the way we look after young people in care. and caused me to wonder how many think like we do about ‘ love ‘ in the profession, and probably more so I thought about how many may not think like this. It also made me think about how we could get this way of thinking about love’s place in the care of children across on a wider scale so that young people receive the care they deserve and get as ‘normal’ and good enough childhood as possible whilst in the care system. 
18 Jan 2009,    Jackie Sharpe writes
Attending a conference where one discusses the word ‘love’ in relation to practice was a refreshing experience for me. As a teacher in a pupil referral unit I have often had to manage challenging and difficult adolescent behaviour but my present group of young people with high anxiety, phobic, neurotic behaviours has left me at times feeling helpless in the face of their despair. In the discussion group I talked of a young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who found it impossible to maintain friendships. In one impassioned outburst she had cried out in floods of tears, “I haven’t got any friends”, and I had replied, “I’m your friend”. I immediately thought of how this might be interpreted by this abused girl, and I have pondered this since. However, the crisis passed and the girl settled down on this occasion at least. Some months later when she left us at school leaving age, attending her Record of Achievement Ceremony, I thought I might refer to it again, so I asked another teacher to take a photo of “me and my friend.” This I printed and took round to the girl and her mother. This was the last time I saw her as she waved me off in her doorway. On reflection I feel sure it was the right to tell her I was her friend. I felt it, and I still feel it now.