This week I was struck by an article in community care called “Is corporate parenting one challenge to far?” In essence the decision making process as workers working directly and indirectly with children and young people should make. The term corporate parenting does not replace parental responsibility or parental consent. However, it does mean commonsense and thinking sometimes out of the box and often within a restrictive environment that requires forms to be completed for every activity.
Working in a child focused way often means taking a step back to take a holistic view of everything that is taking place for the young person. In social work this is especially important when working with young people in order to develop rapport and trust. And this is not always easy, especially if the young person has already had numerous previous social workers. It is also important to remember that corporate parenting is not about being a replacement parent.
Having worked both in residential and social work I have seen both extremes of practise. Finding a commonsense balance is hard with often no immediate indication and reward as to what you have done has worked, or even the right thing to do. It is not over compensating and ignoring boundaries, such as rewarding negative behaviours with activities, food or financial rewards. This is more harmful and abusive to the young person, as it does not help with their development and understanding of their environment. It is also not prescriptive, institutional, distant and cold.
More recently Neil Morrissey in his documentary highlighted the need for good corporate parenting. In this example, his teacher promoted and nurtured his interest in the arts. The same should happen in a children’s home or foster home. I know when my own children start showing signs of getting into trouble and boredom that I need to do something to prevent this. The sooner I do this the better the outcome for them and me. So when working or caring with children in care it is important to recognise and prevent these behaviours, to find young peoples interests and nurture and develop these. The result will lead to better outcomes for the young person and more stable placements. This does not I believe always need to be spontaneous, instead thoughtful and consistent. This I believe is the greatest challenge in social work with high case loads and tick box checklists, which can often reduce the quality one to one time with the young person.
So is corporate parenting just an idea? Is it good practise? It is definitely not a way of replacing the family. It should be thought about in care planning or pathway planning and should be a way to keep the young person in mind, and a useful way to look beyond the plan and nurture it to ensure the young person can see their dreams, wishes and feelings develop. Evidencing a feeling that they are not just in care but being cared for as the care leaver in the article describes wanting to feel. Otherwise if we can not do this, children in care will be like battery hens stored in crammed conditions and only released when they no longer need the service, which is not a good idea.
Is corporate parenting then one challenge to far? Maybe, if profit is the first objective. But as evidenced by many families with low incomes money does not mean good parenting. Therefore corporate parenting should not be a challenge instead something that is embraced and supported by every worker, carer, teacher, youth worker, or anybody in contact with children and young people.