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Home for Christmas?

Before Omicron suddenly exploded over the weekend and started to cause me to re-think what I had planned to do, I attended a retirement party in a riverside pub. I had appointed the retiree to her first post in the borough we both worked for 30 years ago. It was as a residential social worker looking after teenagers in care. She later progressed to be the manager of a supported accommodation leaving care project, and so some of the evening was spent thinking, with other ex-colleagues, about those young people who had lived there and where they might be now.

Whilst all had experienced a series of adverse childhood experiences, we felt far more positive about some than others. Equally we were pretty clear that in a few cases, the trauma they had experienced had led to long term difficulties that impacted badly on their adult lives.

What came across in the speech delivered by her current manager in the youth offending team, where she had worked for the past few years, was my former colleague’s passion and commitment she showed in working with those young people who present the most extreme challenges. She believed in them and their potential capacity to learn, grow and succeed. I’d like to think I spotted some of that back in 1991.

Living nearby, each Christmas Day before I retired, I used to visit the same leaving care project to see how residents and staff were faring. Before the holiday, plans were made to enable as many of the eight residents to spend some time with their variously estranged families if at all possible. These generally involved expensive taxi rides and choreographed entrances and exits. But we also knew that those carefully constructed plans could change in a moment – a misspoken word on the phone or some behaviour that was the last straw (and that wasn’t necessarily on the part of the young person). Rarely would these plans involve overnight stays, so two staff were required on shift, and especially if the planned home visit did not happen or was called off a few moments after it started.

So I drove round, never sure what might greet me. I suppose it all worked out for the best when the door was opened by a staff member wearing a paper hat who led me through to the communal kitchen where, on the table, stood the ‘just in case’ turkey with the other staff member sitting down to eat in their paper hat too. And no young people there at all. On this occasion, if only for a short while, a Christmas truce of some kind had been achieved. The belief in and potential for reconciliation was there.

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