Coffee and cake with the inspector   2 comments

The preamble  

Before I start on the actual blog about coffee and cake with the inspector, I think I should explain a thing or two to readers about why I have not been writing blogs lately. It is true that I have wrote a couple of blogs for Childcare Expo, and I have managed to write my monthly article for Child Care magazine, but anything for this blog site have been noticeable by its absence.

So let me explain why I have not written any of my usual ‘soapbox’ blogs or even any about my experience of providing ‘Granny Daycare’ for my grandchildren. Back in November 2016, we realised that thngs were not going well with our fostering agency, part of which was to do with our personal disappointment around not going on our 40th Wedding Anniversary break, or attending my graduation ceremony; and part to do with changes made to services provided by the fostering agency connected to our professional development, and support for ourselves and the children. I will say more about this at a later date but this information will be enough for you the reader to come to the same conclusion as we did –  which was either the agency started providing the services we required or we needed to move to another agency.

You will not be surprised to find out that me being me we started to follow the agencies complaint procedure, and asked to raise our concerns verbally. We did this on the 8th November 16, and to be honest were completely shocked at the verbal response that we got, which was anything but reassuring, and we were told that a written response would be sent but no date by which  we would receive this was given. This was enough to convince my husband Garry and myself that we did need to change agency because it was clear from the verbal response that the changes we required to services provided were not going to be implemented. Therefore we formally requested to move agencies.

At the same meeting, we were told that a foster child who had left our care in July had said a few things that needed clarifying with us. I cannot give full details but they were not of a safeguarding concern and in fact most had been previously discussed under practice guidance. We were saddened that the child concerned felt like this, but not surprised due the trauma experienced in the past and the very complex needs displayed. However. we were pleased that the child had been able to express their thoughts and feelings.

After that there were a series of meetings that we were not told about until after the event, and a number of additional meetings were held at our home to clarify things with us. At the beginning of December we were told that we needed to go back to panel to ensure we were still suitable to be foster carers. We were not alarmed about this and in fact pleased that procedures were being followed to ensure the well-being of our foster children, both those currently in placement, and any other future placements.

Little did we know what was going on behind the scenes or the inaccurate information being provided about us that was very negative and in fact led to decisions being made that should not have been made, and which led to serious trauma for ourselves and our  foster children.  The outcome of the meetings and the decision made about us, led to a child being removed from our care without notice to ourselves or the child concerned,  five days before Christmas.

The local authority have since agreed in response to our complaint that the child should not have been removed in that way, or at that time. Whilst it is good to know that changes have been made to local authority procedures to safeguard children and foster carers in the future against such actions, the emotional damage to the child removed and the one left in our care had been done.

I can say no more at the moment as still have to wait for the outcome of the final stage of this whole nightmare, caused primary by the mudslinging by the fostering agency through the inaccurate information provided about us. I am sure regular readers of my blog and those who have met me / worked in partnership with me, will understand how I felt about a child being removed from my care in such a way.

Yes, I fell to pieces – I could not understand why this action had been taken, why the information had not been checked and why no one who worked with us in the team around the child had spoken positively about the care the children received and how they were flourishing. (it later came to light that this was because they either had not been asked to the meetings or could not attend due to being on sick leave.) How could I be awarded a British Empire medal in the Queen’s birthday honours on one hand, with so many colleagues from all early years sectors and from CEO to hands on practitioners, congratulating me and publically saying how well deserved it was, to on the other hand over 70 people attending a celebration event on my retirement from childminding, all writing such positive comments about me and the care I provided, about my honesty and my desire to make a difference to children’s lives – while on yet another  hand our agency could say such negative things about me suggesting I was not honest, that I did not have the children’s best interests at heart – and worse was failing to safeguard them. It just did not make sense to me. To add to the confusion, the social worker team around the child still in our care were adamant that he should stay in our care, and went to extreme lengths to ensure he did indeed stay in our care.

Garry also went to pieces and in addition realised he had to get a job and quick because our income had been reduced by 50% overnight. So Garry spent the Christmas period applying for jobs and attending interviews. When he was offered a job, he took it even though beneath his capabilities and not in his personal interests and experience. He took the first job he was offered –and another part time just to make ends meet as both were of minimum wage status. This in turn had an impact on me, as it fell to me to walk the dogs, and it was during one of these walks that the dog pulled me over and caused a lot of pain, and as it turns out, the start of my journey of back issues. So we ended up with me in constant pain on high levels of pain relief, plus an inability to drive or do anything much for myself: and Garry working long hours including Saturdays.

However we reflected and said things could be worse.

Well they did become worse with the Police investigating the concerns raised about us, and DBS also investigated as it had been suggested that we should be barred from working with children. (I must reassure readers that both the Police and DBS are happy with the edvidence of their investigations, and we now both have new, clear DBS records)

Dark days believe me. Friends tried to reassure us, our dogs and grandchildren did their best to show through their actions that we remained caring and supportive individuals. The CEO’s of all the national early years organisations that I had previously worked in partnership with,  very reluctantly actioned my request to cancel my membership of their organisations because I did not want any negative impact on the organisations through whatever was thrown at us next (and me in particular because as time went on, it became clear that I was the ‘bad guy’ in all of this, with emails and letters being personal attacks on my professionalism) BUT each and every one of those CEO’s stayed in touch on a personal level, replying to my update emails and on occasion initiated contact with me, just to check I was as ok, as it was possible for me to be in the circumstances.

Our 4 daughter’s all rallied around us providing emotional and practical help. They worked together to make sure at least one of them could pop in, took us for coffee, invited us for meals and so on. It is times like this that you realise how lucky you are to have such supportive friends and family, who totally believe in you, and refuse to accept that you (we) have suddenly become the opposite of what we actually are, and have always been.

The Inspector

This is where the inspector enters my story, and events lead to coffee and cakes. I should maybe, before I write about this part of my blog, make it clear this is an ex Inspector – in that she has retired. However, she was not a run of the mill inspector, she used to focus on early years compliance inspections, and she was not just any compliance inspector, she was the one who had investigate the complaint about me in 2014

Of course at that time in 2014 , although we had attended a few of the same meetings in the past when I worked for the LA, we did not know each other and certainly did not enjoy coffee and cake together.

So you might be asking, how did we move from a professional relationship of childminder and compliance inspector, to one of going out for coffee and cake together?

Social media!

In early 2017, I had a friend request on facebook from Esther, of course I recognised the name (it is not the sort of thing you forget)  no matter what the outcome of a visit from a compliance  inspector (In my case, it was decided it a malicious complaint). I accepted the request because I do like to maintain relationships with everyone in the early years sector – and of course it must be remembered that I resigned as a childminder at the end of March 2016, and so as  far as I was concerned there was no conflict of interest. I private messaged Esther and she agreed and said once she had actually retired, that we could have more of a friend based relationship.

Then I heard nothing more until mid May 2017, when I received a private message from Esther saying she was sorry to hear about my ill health, that she read my blogs – and was there anything she could do to support / help me. I replied and said I was getting fed up of the walls of my house and if she wanted to maybe she could come for a coffee or even better maybe she could take me somewhere for a coffee.

And so it was arranged – Esther would pick me up on the afternoon of Tuesday 30th May and we would go out for coffee. I admit I was a little nervous, after all when we had last spoke it was not in the best circumstances, and of course I had only experience the serious, professional side of Esther (as you would expect from a compliance inspector).

Esther arrived on time and got our get together off to a good start, showing her sense of humour. She said ‘I am sorry, I have not got an identify badge to show you’ I responded with something on the lines of  ‘Well, you can’t come in then’  and she said something like  ‘Good, let’s go out then’

There was then some logistic things to get round, I had to get onto her car, and she had to get my walking frame into her car boot. Once these things were achieved we set off towards a nearby garden centre, chosen by Esther because it is fairly flat and a short distance from carpark to café, thus making it as easy as possible for me. We chatted easily on the journey finding out a little more about each other.

Once at the garden centre Esther pulled up in front of the entrance helped me get out of the car and reunited me with my walking frame, then she went to park. We went to the café and Esther asked me what I wanted to drink and if I fancied a snack or something, I gave my order of a coffee and a piece of coffee and walnut cake, and then did as Esther suggested found somewhere that suited me to sit down.

You may be wondering what an ex compliance inspector and an ex childminder could talk about for the best part of 3 hours –  the answer is just about everything!

We talked about people we both knew, both those who still work for Ofsted and those who had retired / left Ofsted (within the boundaries of confidentiality of course). I actually have maintain professional relationships with quite a few ex Ofsted people via social media but don’t generally talk about it (and I must make it clear that Esther knows I will be writing this blog and that she will be named – in fact she encouraged me to do so). We talked about childminders we both know, about our families, finding out we have a lot in common – I have four daughters, she has one but dyslexia is a common thread. I have grandchildren, so does she –  and I noted that like my car, she has a child’s  carseat in her car. We talked about our shared interest in autism and our personal experiences. We talked about what is happening within early years and within Ofsted. We talked about our shared depression around the state of childhood and the lack of support for children and families. Most things were discussed in detail and at length revealing our similar passion for such things. Esther who had worked for Ofsted for 16 years said she felt she was not making the difference she wanted to make, and that in her retirement she hoped to make a difference via a different route. I said ‘Ditto’

Time went really quickly and was most enjoyable (we even had a second drink), but the observant Esther had noticed I was tiring and had been ‘grimacing’ a bit more towards the end, and I admitted I was in pain and needed the next dose of medication. So the logistics of car, me and walking frame were managed at the garden centre and back at my house.

We said our goodbyes and both expressed how much we had enjoyed our conversations And then just as we parted, the ex compliance inspector moved forward to give the ex childminder a big hug.

Later on in the evening, just as started to write this blog, I saw a post from Esther on facebook, publically thanking me for our conversations and saying we must do it again.

Thank you Esther, you brighten my day, and I too really enjoyed our conversation – and yes we must do it again soon.

Oh and if readers are wondering if I make a habit of receiving hugs from ex inspectors – well yes I do – as many of my colleagues are ex inspectors but so far only Esther has that personal connection to my childminding past.

2 responses to “Coffee and cake with the inspector

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  1. [Gulp] Penny. What an ordeal. You and Garry really have been through the mill. I cannot imagine how I could even begin to work through something like that. What a lucky lady you are indeed to have such wonderfully supportive and loving people in your life. Tragic set of circumstances but just goes to show that love truly does conquer all. I hope everything comes to a positive closure and soon. I never thought it possible but my respect for you has reached dizzying new heights.

  2. Dear Penny I wish you and Garry both well. I am so sorry to hear of so much heartache and upset and can only imagine what a toll that can take on your whole family. I am glad you are supported by close family and friends to help you through this difficult time. I really hope that this concludes very soon. Anyone who knows you will know how passionately you feel about families children and childcare. Your honesty and integrity shines through. I wish you and your family well. Take care.

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