Eleanor Newman - 24th May 2023
Reflections of an old Social Worker
Today, I am reflecting on one of those life events that makes being a Social Worker for nearly 30 years worthwhile. I claim no credit for the achievements of this incredibly special woman, I am just grateful for being part of her journey.
I first met ‘Belle” (she is a Disney fan, so we agreed on this as her pseudonym) in the 1990’s as her fostering Social Worker. She was a feisty, mixed-up teen, rightly angry with the world but also clearly possessing a strong and positive spirit. We immediately struck up a great rapport that has now stood the test of time, having just been to her wedding in 2022.
As I write this, I can feel the goosebumps rising on my arms, because to see her walk down the aisle, looking like a Disney Princess, beaming with a sense of peace about her was a moment I find hard to describe-my heart swelled, and I shed a tear-particularly when I saw the look on the face of her husband to be-filled with love, telling her how fabulous she looked.
Belle had a rough start to life, she was part of a family of four and they were all separated as children-her younger brother being adopted on his own, her older brother remaining in foster care because he was seen as ‘too old’ to adopt, and Belle and her sister going to live with an adoptive family together. For Belle, the adoption didn’t work out-the adoptive family rejected her and kept her sister-causing a fracture in their sibling relationship that lasted many years. Belle went to a fostering family who specialised in looking after teenage girls and she found a place where she felt accepted. Feeling part of this family gave her some space to express some of the anger and hurt, and on top of the usual challenges of growing up, she was trying to come to terms with her past-this led to such a mixture of emotions for her, but her fostering family and I could always see what was underneath and I’m glad we were able to help hold her while she raged at the world.
Belle did well at school but the transition between childhood and adulthood was hard, and as she moved into independent living; Belle bounced around a lot in different accommodation. She always had a great sense of justice and I remember her losing her place in the YMCA for hitting someone who was a bully. Nowadays she still has that sense of defending the vulnerable, but she does it with well-chosen words!
Despite her inner struggles, she connected well with her community and was a regular on the local karaoke scene, often winning competitions as she is such a talented singer. She also performed in local pantomimes, something she still does, making connections wherever she goes.
Whilst academically gifted, Belle found it hard to focus on a career choice; she was too busy just learning how to make her way in life day to day. The legacy of such an unsettled early life can continue to be felt at many milestones in adulthood. This was also affected by her becoming pregnant with her daughter, a much-loved surprise.
Belle adapted to life as a single parent brilliantly, loving her daughter fiercely, being determined to give her everything she hadn’t had, and her daughter has now grown from the ‘bald boxer’ I affectionately and not very politely, used to describe her as, to being a beautiful reflection of her mother, an absolute credit to Belle.
Belle made the decision to move to the north of England, to work with children in care, having always been clear that she wanted to ‘give something back’, an attitude that I thoroughly applaud, and respect. She had very little herself, yet she was still looking at how she could help others. This also gave her the opportunity to re-build her relationship with her sister and today they are incredibly close, demonstrating that although experiences in childhood can carry with us through adult life, they don’t have to define it.
I remember going to Belle’s goodbye party before she moved away, and as I arrived, she shouted ‘my Social Worker is here!’ I can’t say that made me the most popular party guest, but it did give me the opportunity to show her friends on her estate that I wasn’t too scary!
Belle is now working in a school, carrying on the tradition of helping others, she attends her local church, she performs in panto, and she has just married a man who clearly thinks the world of her. She has a family with her daughter and his girls. She is still feisty; she still expresses her opinions with feeling and clarity, and she is still a uniquely lovely person who I am proud to know, and care for deeply. At her wedding were all four siblings, together for the first time in many years.
But the last word has to go to Belle:
“You missed the part where YOU used to go above and beyond what was expected of you to make sure I always got what I needed, even when I didn’t know I needed it.
And the part where I chose to name my daughter after one of the fiercest warriors in social worker history in the hope that she becomes just as fierce and composed and loyal.”
This is what makes being part of the Fostering Social Worker community so worthwhile.