I write this emotional and angry but compelled to open up a discussion.
It pains me to accept that all of my life, I have been subservient, submissive and a victim of the most overwhelming abuses of power. From the emotional, physical and sexual abuse I suffered as a child, the treatment I received at the hands of ex-partners, and finally in the paralysing dynamic of power imbalance wielded as a tool by my local authority; these experiences have deeply affected me.
It pains me to accept that I have been a victim because I don’t want to be that person. I know I am survivor, a strong and confident woman and mother, able to give of herself, able to be vulnerable and able to make a difference to another person’s life. I feel empowered and at peace. But as there is light, there must be dark, and I am reminded at times that I am still vulnerable.
I have very recently experienced, yet again, the mismatch of power between a local authority – specifically my own – and its service users – specifically me. I will not use this platform to detail this incident, suffice to say it was very distressing and I will be taking appropriate action. However, when I reflect back on the events of that day, I realise that the people involved relied upon this power imbalance to achieve their aims.
I also realise just how conditioned I am to immediately slipping back into the role of being frightened and subservient; the people involved had no right whatsoever to behave in the way that they did, yet I allowed it because I did not feel safe enough to challenge them as they were in positions of authority.
I often say that the relationship I have with the local authority is the most emotionally abusive one I have ever experienced. In recent months, I was lead to believe it would improve. It would now appear not which makes me feel very disheartened indeed.
I cannot control the local authority. But I can control my responses, and my actions, and I can work again upon myself.
Most – if not all – parents and families who go through the child protection process have experienced this same imbalance. Power and control are key features in toxic relationships and they have catastrophic effects on all of those involved, including children. If you are a parent going through proceedings reading this, it is likely you will be familiar with some of the things I am talking about.
The all-encompassing influence of power and control is not something I can fix for those who are crippled by it today. Whether that control is within your relationship, your family or the power of social workers during the child protection process, I understand its dominance and the effect it has.
All I can do is offer you words of wisdom on how to survive it within the realms of social work involvement with your family.
I hope the advice below is of some use.
Parents and Family Members
- It is within your control to stop the cycle. Sometimes we are only powerless because we have been conditioned to be that way. You can take control of your life, you can do it.
- Recognise that social workers do have power over you, but that the vast majority do not exploit it. It doesn’t feel like that, I know, but in the main social workers want to help you.
- Think about what the social worker can do to make you feel like the working relationship is more balanced. What would help to make you feel more in control?
- Are there any courses in your area around assertiveness and/or confidence building? I did both during my newborn’s proceedings and they gave me a number of tools I still use to this day.
- Sometimes, social workers do have to use the power entrusted to them to make difficult decisions about your family. When that happens, try to sit down with them and have a conversation about why.
- The feeling of injustice is incredibly potent. If this is how you are feeling because of decisions taken by social workers, you will feel angry, frustrated and utterly powerless. I know, I have been there. The energy required by these emotions is substantial and you will be drained. Be kind to yourself, please. Allow yourself “time off” from feeling this way, without guilt. Even if it’s only a warm bath, a nice walk or practising a bit of mindfulness, take care of yourself.
- Wield the tool of power carefully and don’t deny its existence. Acknowledgement is key.
- Have a conversation with your service user about how to work in partnership to lessen the impact of the power imbalance. What works for one, will not necessarily work for another.
- Build up a relationship with your service user based on mutual respect, consideration and kindness. Lift your service user up, empower them to take control of their lives.
- Conversely, consider at all times the service user’s history, and how damaging repeated disempowerment or lack of control over one’s life can be. Be the one person in their life who doesn’t perpetuate that cycle.
- When and if you need to exercise the power entrusted to you, do so with kindness and compassion. You may not realise it, but that might be enough to keep that person going through the blackest of days.
- All of this is draining for you as well as your service user. Allow yourself some “time off”, without guilt to build your emotional resilience. Use supervision and reflective practice, and lean on your colleagues when it gets tough.