A personal message
They were shockingly good.
20 or so professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds who just placed every child the centre of everything they did.
No airs or graces, personal ambition or politics. They just rolled up to work every day wanting to do what was best for the kids and the school.
I hesitate to say that they were the best care team in Scotland because I don’t know what goes on elsewhere, and in this whole sordid saga of fake news and misinformation it would be easy to sink into platitudes and hyperbole when the truth was probaby more profound. But they were good. Very, very good.
Not perfect. But they were very good.
I recall asking them in August 2018 if there was anything more that they could do for the school. Several came up to me and asked if they could volunteer to do baking, panel beating, car maintenance, therapeutic interventions. They didn’t want to be paid; they just wanted to contribute.
Our Head of Care was one of the most sympathetic, knowledgeable, and professional human beings that mankind is blessed with. She defines what care should be about and tackled head-on the challenges that she faced in professionalising what we did in school.
Her career was destroyed.
She was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crushed by the juggernaut of local authority politics and a horribly corrupt regulatory regime that was devoid of humanity and any sense that kids and families deserve a future.
But they underestimated her resolve. Like any true professional she has come out fighting, and like the parents and former staff of the school are now regarded with the respect that they deserve for their resilience and their integrity. Those who brought the school down, less so.
For anyone unfamiliar with what happens in residential care, this may all seem rather emotive. They were after all just doing their job.
But the job in question is often misunderstood. It is not simply about being with children and young people. For the genuinely dedicated care professional, every act, body movement, tone of voice, and social overture has to be carefully judged, especially when you are working with kids who have additional support needs such as autism and PDA.
Sometimes humour works. It can be very powerful. But there are times when a good care professional will withdraw and give space to some young person who is experiencing difficulties. Knowing when and why not to intervene is one of the most critical judgements the we have to make.
We made mistakes. Nearly all of the time. But carefully judged and critically analysed. There was no hiding behind the truth and the school was remarkably transparent about everything that it did. That is what made it so difficult for parents having to go back into authority control when the school closed and the dishonesty and subterfuge that came with it.
There are times when you need to touch a child. Not your sake but for theirs’s. It can be a comforting tap on the back, a mere acknowledgement of presence, a playful gesture, or something more soothing and comforting. There was no tokenism about this. It was part of a planned intervention and a careful consideration of what worked with any young person.
For that the school was closed. 24 children lost their education, and 50 members of staff lost their jobs.
The irony is that we were probably one of the most self-critical and analytical care organisations in the country. Forever beating ourselves up for failing or not achieving perfection. Forever striving to meet the bureaucratic demands of people who had no experience, training, or understanding of what care really means.
To be brought down by a lie, and by the malevolence of external professionals charged with judging us, makes all of this extraordinarily painful.
In the 11 months that I worked at the school I never heard a raised voice, a criticism of children, or any derogatory remarks about the parents. No child was secluded from their peers, punished in any negative way, or harmed to make them behave differently. If we had to restrain, it was done with great reluctance and sadness, and it happened once every blue moon. We had very, very good people making sure that this was the case.
Care staff demonstrated a sophisticated appreciation of the nuances so necessary in understanding and addressing a complex range of needs, and asked questions rather than making demands when things didn’t go as they had planned.
There was humility and respect for each and every individual, and above all humour.
It was a place where everybody smiled (but not all of the time!). For us, parents and families were the most valuable of resources. We might not always agree, but there was always respect.
Losing that, and the sense of community, has been one of the most painful aspects of this whole debacle. Dawn and Rose who manned the telephones and the desk in reception were two of the most vital people in our whole operation. They were paid little but did so much and were an intrinsic part of what the TNS community was about.
Good people torn apart by malice, dishonesty, and innuendo.
I will always salute the teaching staff of TNS for their dedication and professionalism but my admiration goes to them and their colleagues in the care team for the way in which they created a unique school community in which no child felt left out, and where all could succeed.
It would be a travesty if I myself was to be credited for what TNS was. All of that came from Angie, Chris, Scott and others long before I came on the scene. But I am very proud to have been a part of it - however unworthy.
Whilst the false accusations and incompetent judgements may at a superficial level appear to have damaged those who were part of that team, they and I know that extraordinary work was being done and that Scotland has lost a vital resource that can never be replaced.
Small people and crooks hit below the belt. We would never stoop that low.
That was why we failed.