This has become my new name ever since I became a social worker in residential care. It is funny how the
work done with children makes one slip into a role they never thought they could slip into. Growing up and whilst doing my four year degree in social work I never thought I would one day be called ‘Aunty Getrude’ unless one of my siblings gives birth to a child. I still laugh to myself when I think about it.
During the first days I found it disconcerting to have to answer to my name paired with an auntie. It made me feel a little bit old because the children I work with are between the ages of 0-18. Especially with the girls in their late teens I still find it weird since we are just a few years apart. I needed to understand why I could not just be called by my name. I then found out it was an issue of respect and so that the children do not get too familiar with you that they treat you like they would their peer. I also realized with pride that my degree puts me into a position of respect regardless of my age. So I had to get used to it…
But then I really dag deeper into the meaning of “auntie” in a children’s home. When working with vulnerable children some of them come from traumatic pasts and experienced betrayal by their own families. One needs to be careful in dealing with them. If for example when the children relate to a worker and form a relationship based on trust and mutual
understanding, it is so easy for attachment to form. Imagine if a child who has lost her biological mother or whose mother abandoned her at birth starts calling you “mummy”???? That would definitely change the dynamics because there is a certain role and expectation that comes with that name. It also becomes hard upon termination to leave a child who has gotten attached to you as a “mother”. This puts a huge responsibility on one’s shoulders and blurs the lines of professionalism. Also one does not want to replace real parents in social work; you help children rebuild their lives with the hopes of reunification with their real families where possible. So it is better not to confuse the children into thinking wherever they go they can get new “mummies”.
So “aunty” for me became the most neutral name one can adopt when working with children. It means I am here for you; I care for you even though I am not part of your biological family. “You can call me aunty”!!! I have experienced that the children too find it easier to call a stranger “auntie” when they are introduced to them the first time.
I love being “Auntie Getrude” because it shows I have a role to play in these children’s lives. My relationship with them is not superficial but it is also not trying to take the place of the real relatives in their lives. They always have to be reminded that even though they are in a care facility they still have their own families who might or might not care for them but they exist. Here are a few quotes I found on family :
To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there ~Barbara Bush
Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing ~Donna Hedges.