A day in the life of a front-line social worker and my hope for systemic change.

It’s 4:30pm on Christmas Eve, “you’ll have to come and get him Ruth, right now I can’t

keep him” comes the voice of the carer at the other end of the phone. I am astounded,

heart broken, shocked and sad all rolled into one. I feel like I have been punched in the

stomach and can’t imagine how the 12 year old I am working with must be feeling. As I

drive to collect him I am reminded how fragile foster care is for so many young people,

how they live day to day never really feeling part of a family, never fitting in and being

treated differently to other children in the household. I worked with one girl who disclosed

to me her foster family had not spoken to her for 9 months.

"It is for this reason we have to begin to change the narrative around foster care and family placements that we offer to these children and young people. The standards of care that our most vulnerable looked after children are being offered in lots of places, is not good enough."

I know that is hard for people to hear and I know that most of us long for a society

where this isn’t true. I need to tell you looked after children have in this country become commodities, they are used as monetary bargaining chips and are not often given the gold standard of care that they need and deserve.

In this next phase of my professional carer, after 10 years in Social Care, I am committed

to ensuring that the best placements are found for the children who need it most. Its a big

ask they need full hearts, compassionate heads and support in the most difficult of times. I

am convinced that the church has a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless, but more

than that a home for the homeless. When Jesus told us “what you do for the least of these

you also do for me” he meant it. He still means it, and he is, I believe, calling the church to

think about how we can offer something better to the children and young people in care

who need it most.

I have countless stories of children not being given good enough care, children who have

had to pack their worldly belongings into black bin bags, say another goodbye and move

on to a new house with new strangers and hardest of all a brand new set rules.

Don’t sit there, don’t touch that, we don’t do things like that in our house. The confusion, isolation and turmoil they feel in those moments is so difficult for them. Society sees care leavers as the problem, but if no one has ever shown you family, how do relationships and has given

up on you at the first hurdle how can you do this thing called life? How can you parent? Hold down a job? Or be an active member of society?

At the beginning of 2020 I wrote to Boris Johnson and asked him how he was going to

reform the care system. I wanted to know how he was going to support, champion and

listen to looked after children. We have to stop blaming them when things are too late,

when they are in prison, drug users and a ‘drain on resources.’ we have to start caring for

them when things can be changed. I have removed children from abusive homes and

placed them into a system that can be just as abusive. That’s hard to swallow isn’t it?

That's awful and shouldn’t be happening. We shouldn’t have carers who give up on

children, least of all on Christmas Eve, it is totally heartbreaking, not okay and has to stop.

With approximately 96000 looked after children and rising currently in the UK we need to begin to give them the best hope, love and care we can.

These vulnerable children need us, they need a different story, a different ending and a different experience. They need gritty determination, deep rooted commitment and unconditional love. They need a home that is everlasting, a place to muck up, get things wrong and still have people who will stand and support them everyday, even in the toughest of times.

Ruth Ayres

Team Leader

NorthPoint Care


Ruth grew up in High Wycombe with her family and from an early age knew she wanted to be a voice for the voiceless. Her father, a musician and mother, a Social Work assistant, encouraged all three of their children to think about those less fortunate than them, something they have all taken with them into their adult life.

Ruth has spent the last 10 years in social care and has worked in key youth charity roles. She is a passionate advocate for children & young people, is a natural thought leader and has a remarkable way of communicating the hope that she sees in each looked after child's life. Ruth has also published various resources and tools on topics such as anxiety, emotional health and welfare.

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