Talk to us about fostering 01722 442 725

It’s times like these we’re reminded of the difference we make

man in suit and tie

Johan Strydom, Fostering Operations Manager

For many years, I have thought about keeping a journal to record those moments in social work where you almost feel you can’t believe what is unfolding in front of you.

To date, I have not yet started a journal, but realised that some moments are just so special that they are engraved in my memory and treasured, without the need to write them down.

Several years ago, I was working in the Family and Adolescent Support Team (FAST) in a London Borough. The days when ‘Brief Solution Focussed Therapy’ was the model of choice alongside ‘Family Group Conferencing’. My role involved working with families and adolescents to support them working through their individual challenges, with the aim of preventing family breakdown and the young people entering the care system.

The position I was in meant I was able to form individual relationships with the young people and often their parent during our weekly sessions and on the whole, young people were engaging after overcoming their initial sense of “whatever, I don’t want to be here and talk”.

Some young people were more challenging to engage with than others but two of them stuck in my memory. One being a boy who was a school refuser. We worked closely with the Education Welfare Officer to support his return to school to no avail. I found myself sitting on the floor in the hallway of his family home on many occasions whilst talking to him, hiding away in the understairs cupboard. One day he felt ready to spend time with me face to face, and our journey started with him being able to open up and us working together to overcome his worst fears and worries. We used metaphors to describe his life and the challenges he needed to face to attend school. This young man had a lot of potential but his own circumstances and his relationship with his mother prevented him from doing the very things a boy of his age should do.

As time went on, he was able to make small adjustments in his cognitive approach to his life and he got to a point where he returned to school, with support. The reward was big for me to see him blossom and as a reward to him, we spent a day at Brands Hatch Race Circuit where he enjoyed driving around the track in fast cars, one of his dreams! The expression on his face on this day was one of a Grand Prix winner.

At the same service, I worked with a 15-year-old female who, from the offset, told me that her biggest desire in life was to become a ‘porn star’. Now, this was a real challenge for me to not react in shock but rather understand how she got to this decision and comparing this career path with many other options that were not a “smokescreen” for her inherent unhappiness and low self-worth, a script that has been written for her most of her life. Needless to say, we had many hours of fun (with some more shocking revelations) leading her to not only remain with her family, but also choose a career as a pharmacist.

As my career developed, I took on roles that did not always involve working directly with young people. However, I have made sure I remain available to them and make the effort to engage and get to know them when the opportunities arise. Another memory is of a 13-year-old boy whose behaviour became very risky and all professionals agreed he would benefit from a period in a residential setting rather than continuing with his foster placement. I knew this young man very well and was present the day he was to leave his foster home, after a period of preparation. Goodbyes were said and as he crossed the threshold of the house, he looked back at me and his foster carer and said to her with great understanding “what will I do without you?” She looked at him and simply took her trainers off her feet. She then said to him “put these on, this way I will always be with you until you are ready to come home” (luckily, they were the same shoe size). This was a very special moment, and we were very pleased to welcome him back after a period of time with his opening words upon his return “do you remember me?” Of course, we could never forget him or his antics that had us all awake most nights.

I guess on a larger scale there are many more “times like these” moments. I have been fortunate to be involved in young people’s Annual Achievement Award ceremonies over many years when I was working in a previous organisation. We carried this tradition on when I started working with Five Rivers and several of the foster carers from the previous organisation decided to transfer and join us as foster families at Five Rivers. This meant I remained part of the carers and young people’s lives.

Year-on-year it was mind-blowing to see young people receive their Achievement Awards, and experience their achievements with them. Young people that I may only see on a few occasions over the year and then on the BIG day of the award ceremony. The achievements vary but are very unique to the individual young person ranging from learning to swim to playing the saxophone. The award days always reminded me of the potential of the young people who live with us and our responsibility to help them unlock their full potential. The chicken nuggets served for lunch on these days was of course also a bonus and guilty pleasure of mine.

Overall ‘times like these’ is a reminder to us all working in social care never to forget our purpose. It does not matter what your job role is. Every role within Five Rivers contributes to our collective purpose of supporting young people to reach their full potential. Nowadays my role is slightly more removed from the frontline care of young people, but I never forget that every task I complete contributes in some way to a young person’s growth which is the exact reason why we wake up in the morning and start our working day.

Related read: It’s Times Like These: What Matters is What Works

Enquire Today

Do you feel you have the energy and true commitment to make a positive difference to a child’s or young person’s life?

Get in Touch
Request a Call