I hate personal disclosures, which is rather unfortunate in this field of work, as we all need them.
They remind me of pink socks; a constant reminder of that one time you accidently let a red sock sneak into the washing machine with your white ones. This doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t mean you should be banned from doing the washing for the next six years, or even for life. It was a mistake, leaving stains that you can’t wash out.
All of us have had these pink socks at one point. For most people you can hide them and ‘get away with it’, by wearing them under boots so no one spots them, by keeping them as a funny anecdote to use at parties or amongst friends, or by throwing them away….
But some of us don’t get away with it.
We don’t own the boots to hide them with, we can’t just view them as a funny story, and we can’t throw them away and forget they ever existed. We got caught, and now we are stuck wearing pink socks for all to see. For everyone to know of that past mistake we made years ago, silently judging our pink socks whilst theirs remain whiter than white.
I have pink socks. And no matter how hard I try to keep them buried at the back of the drawer, every now and then I spot them, or need to wear them, and I find myself justifying them to people all over again.
Everyone knows what pink socks mean. Criminals wear pink socks. Pink socks represent a ‘dodgy past’, worn by people deemed a risk of criminal behaviour or a risky person to employ or leave alone around your valuables. My pink socks have recently made a reappearance. I was offered a job and inevitably, another PVG form.
I’m never sure what to say in advance about my disclosures. I don’t know what still shows up and what was long enough ago to have disappeared. No one ever explained this to me, so I’m stuck in the endless dilemma of ‘what do I say?’
Do I mention my past record? Do I try to explain that I was just a child and that there was more to the incidents than meets the eye? Or will that make it seem like I am dismissive and unremorseful for my ‘crimes’? Will anything appear on my disclosure anymore? Have I just drawn attention to something that no one need ever have known?
Or do I not say anything? Do I hope that my record is clear by now? Do I not say anything to showcase how insignificant and irrelevant I feel it all is? But then with no explanation, no context, it sounds awful if anything does flag up, and then things that I did 10 years ago suddenly become more important than all the things I have achieved in the last five. I am no longer a young professional, I am a young offender all over again.
My pink socks have fortunately never prevented me from getting a job, but they have certainly proved for some awkward conversations. They never stopped me from embarking on my Social Work training, but they delayed it. They haven’t prevented me from any volunteering opportunities, but they have seen me attending interviews to discuss my ‘appropriateness and suitability’ before approval to participate.
Do I think minor convictions received before 18 should be nullified? Yes. Should childhood cautions be wiped at 18? Absolutely. The clue is in the title: caution…
A caution is a warning – a reprimand – to hopefully deter you from committing ‘repeat offences’. For non care experienced young people, a shouting and screaming match at home usually remains just that; a big shouty family argument with several slammed doors that’s soon resolved and forgotten about. For a looked after young person, this is different. If you shout at the wrong worker, you could have the police called on you, and get charged or cautioned with affray. If you throw something across the room or break the door when slamming it, you run the risk of being arrested for criminal damage.
How is this fair? How is this just? Yes, these behaviours are wrong and need to be worked through as part of teenage development, but there are healthy, humane responses to a traumatised teenager, and then there is calling the police over a situation which could be handled in a much easier way.
Children in care who may have been neglected or lived in extreme poverty remain in survival mode for a long time, sometimes forever. If a child hasn’t been receiving regular food or meals, why are we so surprised they steal? If a child has grown up around domestic violence, why are surprised when they sometimes display violence? We should help and support these young people, not criminalise them. Especially in situations where biological families would most likely just ‘shout it out’ for a while.
A young person in poverty steals, they get convicted of theft, their options of employment become massively reduced, they can’t get a job and they end up right back where they came from – trapped in poverty. Where is our logic? Where is our compassion? Where is our empathy?
My pink socks embarrass me. They humiliate, hinder and misrepresent me. They have done so for years.
We need to learn from our mistakes, but not be continually punished by them for years after.
Let us continue our review of disclosures, discuss and highlight the unnecessary pink socks we are forced to wear for so long, and hope that eventually it all comes out in the wash.
About our blogger
Rosie, a social work student at the University of Strathclyde is also working as part of the Discovery Group in the National Care Review and is an experienced youth worker for both Aberlour and the Sound Lab charity. Rosie volunteers at the Life Changes Trust as part of the care experienced advisory group.
You can hear more from Rosie via her twitter account: @RosieMoore1993