I'm a residential social care worker in Ireland, working with adolescents in care for many years.
I have also trained as a psychotherapist and am I currently specialising in gestalt adolescent psychotherapy.
As part of my studies I am required to undertake research at masters level.
I am interested in loss and grief experienced by young people who have been put into care. Fortunately some young people agree to attend counselling or psychotherapy to help work on these issues. However, quite unfortunately there are some young people who reject therapy and continue to carry there pain and shame with them
It is important to note that young people in care can benefit from a sense of belonging and positive relationships with residential care staff to guide them in their lives but these relationships often lack a certain depth and the young person's painful history is easily forgotten or kept at a distance.
I'm not sure as social care workers if we always have the knowledge, full understanding, courage and time to try and reach these young people and their families through one to one work/ family work or life story work/books.
I'm not even sure if social care workers/ residential staff/keyworkers or busy social workers are best placed to do this healing work as young people often consciously choose not to confide in these relationships as they are well aware of the limits of confidentiality, and the risk of vulnerability that is often too much with people you see on almost a daily basis.
So what happens these young people who are too afraid, too shamed etc., to say 'yes' to counselling/ psychotherapy to help them with their unacknowledged losses and grief. Essentially, these young people can drown in their pain and others leave care homes missing out on an opportunity to fully understand without shame what happened in their life.
When we take young people away from their families, do we do enough to support everyone involved in their loss and grief? In my experience families and as mentioned above young people are often frozen by the trauma and shame and do not always take up the offer of family therapy etc., and as a result the emotional scars of their losses often impedes appropriate relational repair, and healing for the young, and in some cases even the opportunity for a young person to return to their family home is lost.
Do we see therapeutic work on loss/grief as optional for young people in care and their families or do we have a duty to attend to the loss and grief needs of those who are too shamed to take the first step. Do we have the right approach, services and training in place for social workers/ social care workers/ psychotherapists or other professionals to prevent these young people/ families from falling through the gaps.
Should families and young people in care be appointed a trained professional to journey with them from the moment of seperation, through the pain of loss and grief and help them to integrate their experience with out shame towards relational repair and support of the young person's development towards a more solid sense of themselves.
A young person's time in residential care is a relatively short window of opportunity to support their adolescent development in the right direction, we should make full use of this time to heal their emotional scars of loss and shape their future lives as best we can.
I am aware that adolescent loss and grief in residential care is quite broad and that it can be viewed from the varying perspectives of the young person/ family and even the different professionals who are in their lives.
I would appreciate any guidance or suggestion on how to pull together a useful research piece based on this issue with young people in care or indeed I would be very interested to hear of any comments or knowledge of research in this area of youth care.
I see reference to Margaret Sullivan and research on adolescent loss and grief on the CYC website, any further information on this would be appreciated.
Donna Mc Cabe
Yes Yes Yes! I totally agree.
Grief and loss are at the heart of what we should attend to. ALL of the youth and family we work with have dealt with wrenching losses, and we know that unresolved grief is the source of multiple difficulties, including obstacles to making good attachments in the future.
I am working on an article on grief in residential care that will hopefully appear in a special issue of the British Journal of Social Work that Laura Steckley from the University of Strathclyde is editing….in the meantime, an excellent resource is : Pomeroy, E.C. & Bradford Garcia, R.B. (Eds.) (2011) Children and Loss: A Practical Handbook for Professionals. Chicago: Lyceum Books.
This is one of the hardest things we need to face as professional CYCs. Our own issues with loss come back to haunt us. Take care of you!
You certainly pose a multitude questions for consideration on this important topic. I commend the breadth of your research interests.
I am taking the liberty of CCing a friend and colleague of mine, Angela Scott, whose recent thesis research explores the experiences and feelings of youth in care, addressing many of your queries. My hope is that her work will provide a starting point and be a source inspiration for your research.
This training session may be helpful for practical purposes when training caregivers – it’s in 17 language versions:
Med venlig hilsen/ yours sincerely
Niels Peter Rygaard