In July 2018 I wrote a piece for The TCJ entitled “The Wheel Comes Full Circle”.
I am not sure what metaphor to employ now because the wheel is continuing to roll and there may well have been another revolution. And this is how it came about.
Ruth and I were in the very same local church where the funeral of the mother of four children we had cared for at Mill Grove took place. And we were sitting beside one of the four, her partner and their three young children.
Over refreshments one of those present introduced himself to me as the secondary school teacher who was instrumental in putting the family in touch with us in the first place, over forty years ago. He told me that the oldest of the four children had come to him during school time, and pleaded him to visit the family’s council house to see for himself how bad conditions were and how serious was the plight of the children.
This was in the years before safeguarding guidelines and “Working Together”, so the teacher (now retired) was open with me that he was not sure how to react, and whether it was within his brief. Be that as it may he went to visit the family home that afternoon, and has never forgotten what he saw. As it happens, through his intervention I was to experience the place for myself just a few days later, and so I can vouch for his horrified reaction. He described it as something like a war-zone, so bad were the living conditions. And the parents seemed to have given all hope. It was obvious that something needed to be done.
So he contacted a social worker and recommended that she contact us, because we were a local voluntary organisation that had a long history of caring for children and young people (that dates the intervention!), and we worked alongside the local Director of Social Services and Department (whom we knew well) to decide how best to respond. It was sadly not difficult to know that the children needed to be removed from that squalid house, and the depressing social and emotional dynamics.
We cared for the four children until they moved on in their own respective careers and into their own accommodation, and kept in touch with each one, their mother, and in due course, their children. A few years ago one of the four children came back to live with us at Mill Grove, bringing her mother with her partner and her first child with her. We always remain committed to each child who has come to live with us, so in a way this was no surprise. But what was quite remarkable was the fact that the teacher had kept in touch with the pupil who had asked for help right up to the present day.
Over a cup of tea and sandwich he scrolled down his recent emails on his smartphone, and said he wanted me to read a paragraph of what his former pupil had just written. I was reluctant because it is not my habit to read other people’s personal emails, but he said I would understand when I had read it. When I did so, I was frankly flabbergasted. Despite all the intervening years, the pupil had written to him as “Dear Sir”, and the paragraph in question was one of heartfelt thanks. He thanked his teacher for taking him seriously and responding to his desperate cry for help, and then went on to describe Mill Grove. It had been the very best setting that could have been found for him and his three siblings. It was a place of welcome, of security, and where they experienced care, love, encouragement and nurture. What’s more it had been there for each of them when they needed it later in life.
It was of course gratifying to read something about Mill Grove that was written to someone else: something that would hardly be appropriate to say to us, because we had become effectively part of the family over the decades. But what I realised was that it was overwhelmingly reassuring and comforting for the former teacher. It is no small thing to intervene in the life of a family, and to set in train such a serious sequence of events that resulted in the removal of four children from their family house. But here, forty years later was confirmation that he had chosen the right course.
He had no idea that any of the family would be present on this occasion at the church. But on hearing that one of the siblings (and her family) was there, he made a bee-line for her, and introduced himself as the teacher who came to her house when she was very young. And he was the reason that she and they had come to Mill Grove. She didn’t know him, but had heard from her brother about him, and was able to explain that Mill Grove had been there for her many years later when she and her fledgling family needed help again.
So it was that the wheel had continued to roll, and another generation had come to experience life at Mill Grove.
I am not sure of the moral of the story, but for some reason, it seemed significant enough to share. This year Mill Grove reaches the 120th anniversary of its founding (in November 1899), and there have been roughly 1,200 children who have lived with us since then. Each one came to us through the intervention of one of more people, and in many cases we do not know who or how it happened, but what a blessing all round when there is a reminder of the day it all started, how and why. And when the story is continuing exactly as the brother, who bravely blew the whistle, described to his former teacher!
There is something to consider carefully in the long-term memory and commitment of both the teacher and the place to which he pointed the children. These children, starting with the pupil, obviously meant a great deal to the teacher, so how reassuring for the now grown-up pupil to know he was still remembered by “Sir” as well as by the family of Mill Grove. I am not sure there is a lot of likelihood that children are being held in the healthy minds of their teachers and carers for decades. Is this an example of a by-gone era, or is there the chance that person-centred casework and its like may be rediscovered?