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The importance of care

Watch an interview with Jenny Molloy as she talks about the importance of care in her life.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: Hi Jenny, thanks for agreeing to speak to us today and be part of our online course. One of the main features of the course over the whole of the six weeks, especially this week, is thinking about the way in which we care for vulnerable children. And when we’re talking about care and every aspect of the way that children, young people, experience care, so not just the physical care, but their emotional care, nurture, upbringing. And I know that’s a subject that’s very close to your own heart from having read your books and heard you speak on various different occasions.
I just wonder if we could start by just asking you to draw upon your own experiences and reflections about what you feel is most important in the task of caring for vulnerable children and young people.
JENNY MOLLOY: Yeah, OK. I think that one of the biggest kind of memories, and feelings I guess, that I’ve taken away from the care system, and which has stayed with me until now, is that I knew I was loved in the care system. I knew that my staff and my social workers were totally protecting me, were totally kind of mine, if you like. I’ll never forget that when I found out, when I was about thirteen, that my social worker had other kids to look after. I actually couldn’t believe it. I genuinely thought that we were the only ones.
And because that love, and that care, and that nurture was given to me right from the moment I walked into the children’s home until I left, I was able to take that into my adult life. And then, kind of not repeating the cycle? And then, kind of not repeating the cycle?
GRAHAM McPHEAT: And now, that’s a big thing you’ve said there, in terms of you knew that you felt loved and you felt cared for. and you felt cared for. So how did you experience that? Was it the things that the adults were saying, or doing, or touch? Or was that a combination of all of those things? Or was that a combination of all of those things?
JENNY MOLLOY: It was absolutely a combination of all of those things. I knew where my place in the world was. I knew that my staff in my children’s home and my social workers were there when I wanted to cuddle, when I was distressed, when I was wanting praise, when I was in trouble and I wanted to know how to get out of it. All of the things that actually you would go to your parent for, I went to them, willingly. I had no desire to kind of go home and be reunited with my parents. And the difference I guess, when we first went into care, we’d never received cuddles.
I’ve never seen my parents cuddle each other. I’ve never seen them say that they loved each other, or that they loved us. And it took me quite a while actually, when I got into care, to be able to receive those cuddles and that kind of intimate touch that is so important, emotionally, for vulnerable children. But I got there in the end. And the fact that, actually, once I accepted that I liked cuddles, I didn’t stop cuddling staff and social workers– unless of course I was in trouble. And I took that into adult life.
I knew how to cuddle my children, my babies, love them, protect them– because that’s what happened to me from my social workers and my staff that looked after me.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: And you’re talking there, right now you’re using phrases such as care, intimate touch, love. Do you think some of those actions and that way of behaving can be challenging for staff and for adults involved in caring for vulnerable children within the current climate that we live and work with them in terms of kind of risk aversion and the notion of what best practice is about?
JENNY MOLLOY: I mean I definitely think that’s true. I was so surprised to find out that there were these kind of taboos around using the term love and what that actually meant, and what that meant to the child, and where the boundaries were, and whose needs were being met. And all of this stuff was being thrown around. Because I wasn’t aware of that. I wasn’t aware at any stage throughout my time in care that my staff and my social workers felt that way. And I guess that’s because they didn’t. Because if you’re working in a professional role, where you’re being protected, and supported, and supervised well enough to be able to use your own professional judgement. Because, you’re skilled people.
Your whole life is about– your working life is about protecting vulnerable children. You know when the time is right, and you know when to overstep the mark, if the supervision and support is good enough. And so, for me, they are fundamental, those three areas. But there’s also the issue that, actually, for some people– when they kind of talk about intimate touch, and they talk about whether or not to emotionally invest in the children– it’s about themselves. Either not being able to, or not knowing how to, because maybe that’s what their own lives have been like. And then they’ve got something to hide behind, rather than deal with their own kind of issues around that.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: And would you actually see that a prerequisite skill for adults that are involved in the care system and caring for vulnerable children and young people– that they’ve got to be able to be available for children and young people in that way?
JENNY MOLLOY: I think that you have to have the desire to be emotionally available to the kids. I think that the skill that is absolutely essential is to be able to reflect on your own behaviour, where something is making you feel uncomfortable, and then deal with it. If you can’t deal with it, you need to get out of the sector. Because actually, the damage that can be done when we’re kind of working– and of course, I’ve met cold, unemotional staff. I have done. And I could name them because, actually, they stick in your mind. But what happens is that with vulnerable children who have experienced some form of abuse, we think it’s our fault.
We think that actually it’s because we’re not lovable, or we’re not likable, or because actually our own parents didn’t like us or love us. So of course you don’t. And that’s the impact it has. So I think that the prerequisite is the ability to be able to honestly kind of look at yourself and deal with stuff.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: And in one of your earlier answers, you spoke about yourself as a child just learning to be able to engage in this kind of intimate touch. And you spoke about cuddles and such like. And you spoke about cuddles and such like. Do you think there’s almost a role modelling process going on there where, by what you experienced as the adult caregiver delivering to you as a child, then you in turn can then take that onto your adult the life in terms of the caring roles that you have for your children, and grandchildren, et cetera?
JENNY MOLLOY: Totally. Honestly, I can’t imagine if I came into care not understanding that nurturing kind of aspect of love– and I didn’t get it in care– then how would I have given that to my children? I just kind of– my understanding doesn’t get to that point. Because I kind of– I knew how to cuddle my kids. Or I knew to shower them with absolute love, to give them boundaries, to make sure they knew that whatever happens, I was the most important person in their life when they’re children. And that’s because I got that in care. And I think that, particularly with kind of young mums who are in care, it’s really easy for professionals to kind of judge them.
And look at it and think, well, you know, they’re not too sure on how to bath them, and how are they going to know how to feed them. And what about routines? Well, actually, as long as you know how to protect them, to love them, to keep them safe, you’re three quarters of the way there. And that’s what I got from care.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: One last question Jenny. And it just thinking about, if there was one piece of advice you could give to kind of adults that are kind of thinking about possibly kind of volunteering, or kind of taking some step into kind of the care sector, in terms of thinking about kind of caring for vulnerable children, what would that piece of advice be?
JENNY MOLLOY: I mean, for those thinking about entering the role, I can’t tell you how rewarding it will be. Because actually, we’re crying out for the right people who are just kind of fighting, fighting, fighting for us. And also who are able to kind of be our voice when we can’t be. When you’re experiencing abuse, sometimes you can’t find that voice. And we need adults who are brave. We need adults who can kind of think straight, and who are emotionally really strong, to guide us through that. From what I hear– I mean, I have lots of friends who are social workers. My own daughter is now going to uni to be a social worker. I am so ridiculously proud.
And everybody tells me that it is a massively rewarding job. And of course I would say that, because you’re going to meet loads of me, aren’t you? So of course it is.
GRAHAM McPHEAT: Jenny, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us. It’s much appreciated. Thank you.
JENNY MOLLOY: Thank you Graham.

An audio interview with Jenny Molloy, aka Hackney Child. Jenny is a care leaver who now acts as a lecturer, adviser and trainer in social care and social work. Jenny is also the first Patron of the British Association of Social Workers.

Jenny co-authored her first two books ‘Hackney Child: A true story of surviving poverty and the care system’ and ‘Tainted Love: a true story of kids of who survive neglect’ under the pseudonym Hope Daniels to great critical acclaim and has published her third book, ‘Neglected: true stories of children’s search for love in and out of the care system’. Further details of Jenny and her work can be found on her Twitter account.

In this interview Jenny reflects upon her experience of being looked after and cared for within the formal care system, and identifies the importance of feeling loved and claimed by the adults looking after her. She also reflects upon some of the challenges that may exist for adults attempting to practice in this way within the current climate of risk aversion and notions of appropriate professional boundaries.

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Caring for Vulnerable Children

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