Supporting ‘love’ in children and young people’s services

By Jane Callaghan

The Care Review has focused Scotland’s attention on the need for us to recognise the ‘care’ part of being in care. Children and young people with care experience have told us that a major missing component in care is love. Feeling loved, feeling cared for is such a basic human need, and so very important for children and young people. And so, we are asked to promise, as adults working with children and young people, to put the love back into ‘the system’.

This is a wonderful and important idea. I hope that we are able to keep that promise. But to make it works requires more than the good will of the adults who work in ‘the system’.

We are asked to ‘bring our whole selves’ to work. An important thing, to be sure. I’ve long been opposed to a model of professionalism that requires that we be detached, objective, neutral about our work. It is a masculinist, rationalist notion that strips away the relationality of our working lives. We should care, we should be passionate, we should be fully engaged. As caring professionals, in particular, we must be relational beings, connected to others, if we are to be effective in the emotional labour of care.

But what are the conditions needed to bring our ‘whole selves’ to work?

One of the ways that we help caring professionals to manage the emotional burden of the work they do is to teach them to compartmentalise. We are encouraged to close the door on work when we go home at night, to not take the stresses and distresses of work home to our families and everyday lives. But if we are asking them to “bring their whole self” to work, this strategy will inevitably start to break down. If we bring our whole self to work, we also take our whole self – including our working self – back home again.

This therefore demands a better response to the emotional nature of our work than ‘switching it off’ at night. We need to find ways of processing and working with our feelings in the workplace. At present, the vast majority of professionals working in social care (in its broadest sense, including third and public sector and a range of agencies) receive no clinical supervision. There is no time peer-to-peer support. There is no reflexive space for people doing the emotional work of care to talk through their experiences of that work.

Love can’t just happen because we will it to. It has to be nurtured, it has to have space to grow. And it needs the material conditions that enable it to be present. This requires more than pretty talk, and more than the workforce itself rolling up its sleeves. It requires that we start to value that workforce, and value the things that support that workforce, by building space for reflection back into the system, and by ensuring that models of clinical supervision and peer to peer support are invested in and supported.

As caring professionals, we have made our promise. I think it’s time that the institutions in which we are located made some promises too.

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