My social work team was contacted by a primary school with concerns about a 10 year old girl. It was the time of year when schools were sending letters to parents asking them to choose which secondary school they wanted their children to go to. The young girl, who I shall call Nina, returned to school with the form completed and ostensibly signed by the parent, but it was obvious to the school that Nina herself had filled in the form and signed it, so they contacted the social work team to investigate. They had never met the mum but I did a home visit.Nina and her mum “Susan” lived in a council flat in a high rise block in an inner city deprived area. Nina answered the door and I was shocked by what I found. The whole flat was full of packing boxes and nothing else. There was no floor covering other than linoleum. Suitcases lay on the floor. There were no curtains at the windows, no personal knick-knacks, nothing but packing boxes and suitcases. It was cold and desolate. The place looked like they were about to move house that day and were waiting for the removal lorry. Both Nina and Susan sat on the packing boxes - there was no other furniture. Nina slept on a blanket on the floor, as did Susan. When I was offered a drink, Nina reached into one of the boxes and pulled out 3 cups and a kettle and went to the kitchen to make tea. On the sideboard were teabags and “stera” milk - longlife milk. There was no fridge and all the kitchen cupboards were empty. When we finished our tea, Nina washed the cups and put them and the kettle back in the packing box.I asked Nina how long home had been like this and she replied “Always”. We went back into the “living room” and sat on the boxes. It became obvious that there was something really wrong here and the story unfolded.The family had decided to return to Jamaica, and Nina’s dad left the house one day with the money to buy the ticket to Jamaica, and book and pay for the shipping of their belongings. He never returned. Susan nevertheless packed everything away ready to move. That was over 5 years ago. She was still waiting for him to come home, said he would be back soon and refused to unpack the boxes. As I spoke to Susan, Nina was combing her mothers hair, trying to smooth out the tangled mess. It was touchingly clear that there was a strong bond. Susan drifted in and out of the conversation, sometimes lucid, sometimes not. “Who has been looking after you Nina?”, I asked. She misheard my question (or maybe not!) and said, “I’ve been looking after mum since dad went away a long time ago. Mum is waiting for him to come back with the lorry”. Nina did all the shopping and paid the bills with money her mum gave her from the welfare benefits - “ but sometimes the bags are heavy and the shopkeeper helps me to carry them to the lift in the block of flats”. It transpired that Nina had been cooking and cleaning for her mum for more than 5 years, she couldn’t say accurately how long but she didn’t remember when it started, just “when I was very young”. Nina thought her mum might be ill - “she’s tired and she sleeps a lot”, but she didn’t want to be taken away so she looked after her instead. Nina struggled to remember what life was like before. Clearly dad had done a runner with the money and left Nina and Susan to it.What to do? It was clear that Nina couldn’t stay there. She had been a young carer for at least 5 years, but mum was obviously ill and needed psychiatric treatment. I contacted the mental health services and they “sectioned” Susan - removed her to a psychiatric hospital via a court order. Nina was placed in foster care - she was distraught, and deeply anxious about her mum, but there was no alternative. I stayed in touch with her for a year or so. She never got over the separation from her mum. I passed the case onto a long term team.Susan was very ill, but eventually she was able to return home. The new social worker negotiated for the family to receive extra support - a home help, an assistant social worker, and pastoral support from her new school. Nina was able to return home to her mum. No doubt she continued to care for her mum, but was happier than being separated from her. Much later Susan apparently died, I don’t know how or why, and Nina went back into care.9 years later from that 1st knock on the door, I got a call from Nina’s long-term social worker. They were doing a family history book as part of Nina leaving care, and my name had come up. Could Nina come to see me as part of the work they were doing with her? Of course I agreed. Nina had grown into a beautiful young woman, had done well at school and was as happy as she could be under the circumstances. She said she remembered me as the first person that has tried to help and she wanted to thank me. I felt humbled because I had caused her a lot of distress when she was separated from her mum. I was pleased that things had worked out as best they could for Nina.There is more than one type of destitution and neglect. Not all the cases which are “worst” involve physical abuse or harm, or maltreatment. Think of the emotional loneliness of Nina, but also of her resilience. Susan clearly loved her daughter and Nina had loved and cared for her mum, alone, as a child until she was 10 years old, and sporadically afterwards, never questioning that she should do anything else.It’s rare for a social worker to get thanked - that’s understandable because people are usually in terrible crisis when we get involved. And I don’t expect to be thanked for something that I’m paid to do. But nevertheless, it’s nice when it happens.