Well, I’ve spent the weekend working in two different care homes for teenagers being accommodated and cared for by the state. To be honest, as far as I could see, they weren’t really being cared for but rather catered to. Here’s what I observed.
The first place I went to was a large five bedroom house where three young girls lived. Two of them were fourteen and one of them was fifteen. The two younger girls were extremely wild and are in the habit of constantly absconding from the home for days on end and getting in all kinds of trouble. The older one was clinically obese, which probably thwarted her efforts to abscond with the other two. She sat in front of a TV the entire day, hopping the several hundred channels at her disposal and gorging on junk food and intermittently telling me I was a 'c**t'. To allow her to live and behave in this way is neglect.
Both the younger girls were tagged and monitored by the youth justice system for various offences. They may well end up in a juvenile detention centre should they abscond from the home again, but then again seeing as the youth justice system fails to deal effectively with more serious youth crime, I’d say the tag is as bad as it will get for these two girls. That is a shame, as they need protecting from themselves. They openly talk about taking drugs and one of them has already had an abortion.
What really baffled me was the ease and regularity of their absconding. After all there are always three members of staff and sometimes four in the house twenty four seven, so I wondered why they didn’t put a stop to this. I asked Sarah, the senior support worker, how was it they could run away from the home with no one stopping them.
“Sarah, I’m just curious, do the staff fail to notice that these young girls are leaving the home?"
“Well, sometimes they just run off without telling us but often they tell us they are going out and don’t know when they will be back” answered Sarah.
“Why don’t you stop them? After all they are supposedly in care and they are only fourteen and very vulnerable. God knows what could happen to either of them and what they could get up to. It’s simply not right to allow them to wander around for days on end with no clue as to where they are.”
“Look I agree the whole system is mad but the simple fact is that we are not allowed to touch them so we cannot grab them and pull them into the house. That could be construed as assault and we could get in trouble. We do try to encourage them not to abscond.”
“Does that ever work” I ask?
“Sometimes, but rarely. If they want to go there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”
What kind of a care system is this that believes it is better to allow fourteen year old girls wander about for days on end without supervision rather than grab them by the scruff of the neck and command them back in their home where they are properly supervised?
“Do they usually stay away for long?” I asked.
“Sometimes just overnight but often for a couple of nights at a time sometimes longer though. Once they were away for four nights. What happens is that they get fed up and run out of money or places to stay and will telephone us and ask for a lift back to the home. This can often be at three or four in the morning and we have to get up out of bed and drive and collect them as we have a duty of care towards them.”
Is this care or rather a government funded taxi service for juvenile delinquents?
Another Support Worker, Steve, who was working with us that day, usually works at another home nearby owned by the same organisation. He revealed that absconding in his home was even worse.
“At least these girls are only gone for a few days and then come back. There are three lads all aged fifteen in our home who all absconded a month ago and we have no idea where they are or what they are up to. The other Support Workers and myself still have to go to work and the home has to be monitored twenty four seven in case one of them or all of them return, as technically they are all still in care and the care has to be there for them should they come back” disclosed Steve.
If this is care I would hate to see what negligence looks like.
“God, you must be really bored sitting there all day with no residents and nothing to do” I commented.
“No, not really, the Support Workers have a laugh with each other. We spend an awful lot of time playing on the residents’ xbox so that passes the time.”
The following day I was sent to a completely different care home that housed only two residents and had two members of staff on at all times. There was only one resident present as the other one had absconded and no one knew where she had gone.
The sole resident was a fifteen year old hideous yobette devoid of manners or respect for others. What’s worse is she was indulged in this behaviour by the care system.
She was tagged and on a curfew set by the youth justice system, as she had taken a knife to a foreign student, a few years older than herself, and mugged her for a mobile phone and money. She did this whilst having absconded from the home. I wasn’t made aware if she had indeed inflicted any injury on the foreign student in question. At least the foreign student can go home knowing that she experienced a genuine slice, pun intended, of modern British culture.
Anyway, as the shift progressed, I watched as the other staff member smoked cigarettes and gossiped with this young girl who was allowed to smoke. I was given the charge of cooking a roast dinner for the young madam. She wasn’t expected to lift a hand to help, not even wash the dishes.
Later on, after I had finished acting as her butler, waiter and chef for her evening meal I sat and had an interesting conversation with her. That is after she finished insulting me. She shared with me her future ambitions and aspirations. Although completely ignorant in almost every sphere of life, there was one area where she displayed a degree of knowledge and that was how to traverse the benefit system.
“Did you know you are going bald? You wear funny clothes” she said this pointing and laughing at my chinos and hush puppy shoes. Obviously any clothing on a male that isn’t a tracksuit is seen as hilarious. I ignored her comments. She was looking for a reaction but she was’t going to get one. A few minutes later she gave up trying to taunt me. I enquired after her plans for the future.
“I am going to get a flat when I am eighteen and do whatever I want. They have to give me one as I’ve been in care, it’s the law.”
She is right, it is the law. The Homelessness Order 2002 will give her a priority status in obtaining social housing above that of other individuals due to her having been in care. Granted, as there is a shortage of social housing she will not be guaranteed a place immediately, but she will be given a flat long before decent hardworking people on low incomes. If she coupled her care leaver status with being an expectant single mother, she would have double priority status. No doubt she is probably aware of this.
At sixteen she is becoming fluent in her ‘entitlements’ and what she is owed by society. I can picture her in a few years with several unruly urchins demanding her ‘right’ to an even bigger flat. By providing this young girl with these type of entitlements, we are guaranteeing the perpetuation of the underclass for at least another generation.