It was back to one of the children’s residential care home’s last week on top of the supported housing shenanigans. People ask me if I often work such long hours for the money or they mistakenly presume it must be rewarding on some level, but what motivates me in many instances is the adrenalin rush I often get to experience when working with wild and unruly adolescents as threats to your own well being constitute a part of the job. Of course no one tells you that at the interview. Instead they use the word ‘challenging’ which is a euphemism for everything from verbal abuse to violence.
Last Friday night, another support worker and myself had to go and pick up Rachel, 17, from the local town centre. She had purposefully missed the last train home because she knows that we have a ‘duty of care’ towards her and that we can get in trouble for refusing to give her a lift. To all intent and purpose we act like a chauffeur service for her. Her partner in obesity and coarseness, Sammie, 14, demanded to come along for the spin despite the fact it was past her bedtime. Of course senior staff capitulated to Sammie’s demands, they almost always do, as it’s easier. It was also past the staff’s bedtime but our needs are not relevant as teenagers rights take precedence.
Anyway, we arrived at the destination that Rachel had demanded to be picked up from. Despite the fact that we had come to drive her home she was none too pleased to see any of us and particularly yours truly. As an intermittent presence in her life for over a year I try to instill in her personal responsibility, respect for others and self discipline. As she gets none of this from the other staff I am something of an oddity to be singled out for vitriol and abuse. This night she was in a particularly foul mood and wasted no time in directing insults at me.
“Why, have you brought this c**t with you to pick me up? I’m not getting in the car with him in it.”
So, she waited outside smoking and spitting and verbally abusing Valerie and myself as we sat in the car. Sammie succumbed to the allure of participating in this yobbery and joined Rachel in the street to hurl insults at those charged to wait on them hand and foot. We ignored all of this so as not to ‘escalate the situation’ in the terminology of management. Rachel was demanding that I get a taxi back to the house but after fifteen minutes she realized she wasn’t going to win this battle so she begrudgingly got in to the car but the real fun was only about to begin.
Now, my brother enjoys extreme sports such as surfing and kite surfing and he testifies that the adrenalin surge from these pursuits is addictive. However, he knows nothing of adrenalin until he is driving on a busy motorway at night at sixty m.p.h. with a deranged teenage girl kicking the driver’s seat with all her might and opening and closing one of the back doors so as to instill fear and intimidate the adults charged with her responsibility. Sitting in the front passenger seat afforded me several slaps across the head and a clear view of the terror on Valerie’s face each time her seat was violently kicked from behind causing her to jerkingly lunge forward as she tried to concentrate on driving and not to focus on her potentially imminent demise in a metal fireball at the side of the motorway.
We tried to remedy this behaviour by pulling over to the hard shoulder and threatening not to continue with the drive but as Rachel reminded us we were already two hours past our bed time and had to be up and on duty again in seven hours whereas she could sleep all day if she wanted. In the interests of getting some sleep over avoiding a crash we soldiered on with Rachel continuing with her dangerous and intimidating behaviour.
When we got back in to the office we still had to complete some paperwork despite the fact we were completely head fried and emotionally drained from driving Miss Crazy. In accordance with the concept of ‘duty of care’ which lies at the heart of the work we do with these teenagers we are often in situations like this in cars. Surely there should be a corresponding ‘duty of responsibilities’ that the teenager has to adhere to? Would this not be real care to teach them respect for others and themselves? This would involve sometimes being tough and enforcing negative consequences. However, as management have informed me they don’t like to focus on the kids negative behaviour, but prefer to encourage and reward positive behaviour. However, in failing to tackle the former they rarely get to experience the latter but they never seem to make that connection.
I was assured by Valerie that there would be a consequence for Rachel’s appalling and dangerous behaviour. I went off duty the following morning and returned three days later. Rachel had indeed been punished, if you could call it that, and of course there was some paperwork to do before the sanction could be delivered. She had just completed a two day car ban and was that very afternoon being driven here and there by staff. When I asked why it wasn’t substantially longer as well as having some other privileges removed for putting people’s lives at stake I was informed that this could affect her rights and conflict with our ‘duty of care’ towards her. Call me old fashioned but if we were really caring for her we would be teaching her right from wrong but that would require authority, discipline and judgment and these are terms that don’t roll to freely from the tongues of liberal policy makers and social services.