Friday, 24 April 2009

Supported Housing and A Plan to Sign On

First of all, I would like to say that I like young people, certain contributors to this blog have suggested otherwise, simply because I don't subscribe to the wooly, namby-pamby policies they obviously espouse and which have contributed to the problems we have with our youth.

All of them, from the kids in the care homes that verbally and physically abuse me and my colleagues, to the young adults in the Refuge Day Centre that lead the most dissolute lifestyles imaginable, have some kernel of potential to be better and more complete human beings. Rather than solely blaming these young people's backgrounds for their problems and thus giving them an excuse to engage in criminal and anti-social behaviour, would it not be better to tell them that they have some choices in life and that they have a degree of power over their futures? You hear the word empowerment a lot in social care but it is just a buzz word that sounds good on training days and gets lots of boxes ticked on various 'performance indicators'.

Lately, and in the past, Ive been working at a few supported housing projects for young people in the 16-25 year bracket. I do a lot of work through an agency somewhere in the north of England. This work is funded and regulated by the government and costs millions of taxpayer's money every year. I actually agree with giving these young people a form of relatively cheap accomodation as the greed of the last twenty years has made housing almost inaccessible for a large swathe of the population. Many of these young people do actually work or are at least seeking employment or are studying/training and trying to progress in their lives. However, they tend to be the minority in the projects that I work at and constantly have to contend with their anti-social neighbours blighting their lives.

Perhaps you are wondering just what kind of support we provide to the young people that come to live with us at one of these many projects. All of our residents have to have a keyworker. Then, this keyworker will help the young person do an 'action plan', based on 'support needs'.

One of these 'support needs' will, in most cases, involve accessing benefits, both housing benefit and then either jobseeker's allowance or income support or a disability benefit. Therefore an 'action plan' is drawn up for the young person to access these benefits and they are then helped to obtain these benefits by their keyworker.

Why do these young people need a 'plan' to sign on and why are they being provided with a personal assistant at the expense of the taxpayer? None of them have any major impairments that prevent them from sorting out their own benefits without a personal assistant and a written plan. Well, a minority of them are functionally illiterate and that is the fault of the education system (Check out Frank Chalk's blog on my blog roll).

There are other people already employed in Job Centres and in local councils to help people apply for benefits. Why do we need to replicate these jobs? Is it to give people with useless degrees employment and prevent them from turning to radical politics because they can't get jobs in the real economy, even before this recession?

All I know is that there are thousands of keyworkers up and down the country supporting young people to write long winded action plans to sign on. These plans are then filed and very well paid internal managers as well as other bureaucrats from the Department of Communities and Local Government come and audit these 'action plans' or 'support plans', to make sure we are providing adequate support in teaching young people how to sign on and apply for housing benefit.

It is the nanny state at it's most pathetic and it disempowers so many of our young when we don't even have the faith that they can successfully apply for benefits at the Job Centre without the assistance of some Sociology graduate who couldn't find a better job. I obviously fall in to this category. I find there is more integrity in giving an honest appraisal of one's role in society rather than trying to put some spin on what is in effect a largely superfluous job.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Hiding in the Office

I have recently been on a day long course that was supposed to equip me with skills and techniques for dealing with aggressive and potentially violent individuals. Needless to say, none of these skills involved learning how to keep a chav in a headlock until the police arrive, that is the type of skills that would be useful. No, these skills are more of a touchy-feely variety, they try not to lessen the self-esteem of the perpetrator, you get the idea. Basically, they are of no use to you once a violent person decides to beat you to a pulp. Today, I will have an opportunity to put some of this newly acquired wisdom into practice.

It’s around noon and the food delivery has just arrived at the Refuge day centre for pseudo-homeless young people. The centre is relatively quiet this lunch time, there are only five or six service users here. One of whom is Terry, a tall well built lad of about twenty, with a serious rage problem as I am about to discover.

Terry isn’t all bad as many of these young people aren’t. At first glance you would dismiss him as a complete yob, and up to a point you would be right. However, Terry has an aptitude for cookery and is amazing in a kitchen at rustling up very nutritious meals with limited ingredients. He has a passion for fish and in particular Caribbean recipes. However, a first glance at Terry and you wouldn’t have him down as a skilled Afro-Caribbean cook, for a start he is white, and dresses in the type of clobber you would more associate with pies, chips and other junk foods. It’s a pity the state couldn’t develop an education system to ensure that the likes of Terry utilised their aptitudes as opposed to turning to a life of crime from a young age, which Terry has.

Terry isn’t too fond of the few rules that we have and was recently banned for a month for openly drinking alcohol in the centre. Today, he decides to eat his lunch in the common room where eating is prohibited and only drinks are allowed. I remind Terry of the rule and he blatantly ignores me and stands in the centre of the common room eating. After about twenty seconds I remind Terry again but this time inform him that if he doesn’t abide by the rules he may find himself banned again for a month. Terry doesn’t like authority or rules (like so many of our youth), and he feels the need to rebel instantly. He becomes very verbally abusive telling me to “f*ck off and leave me alone”. I follow him into the kitchen/dining area.

“Terry there is no need to talk to me like that I am simply reminding you of the rule regarding no food in the lounge, it’s the same for everyone.”

Terry starts to get very agitated and is pacing up and down the kitchen. I stand with my back against the wall awaiting his response. He tells me:

“I told you to f*ck off, get out of the kitchen for your own sake, I’m warning you.”

I am pretty frightened but decide not to capitulate as it would be sending out the wrong message to the service users that the staff will take all kinds of abuse. I stand with my back to the wall and ignore his request.

Terry becomes extremely angry and I can see there is an avalanche of rage accumulating within him. He throws his sandwich at me and screams, not shouts, at me as well as other members of staff:

“Get the fuck out of here. I’ve already told you to go. You better for your own sake.”

I stand my ground and don’t budge. I also look him in the eye as his threats escalate. Very bad move, I obviously wasn’t listening on the course. He flips out and flings some more food about the kitchen.

“I’m going to f*cking kill you! Outside now! If you don’t come outside I’m going to come back at closing time with a crowbar and I am going to seriously mess you up! You f*cking c**t!”

Judging by the look in his eyes and the people holding him back I take his threats very seriously. I decide to put one of the guidelines from the course in to practice:

“Also, since violent impulses are often momentary and fleeting, it can be useful to have furniture between yourself and the service user.”

Instead of placing furniture between me and Terry, I opt instead for a thick wall and a locked door. I am now hiding in the office and Matt one of our male volunteers keeps me company.

Terry is in the kitchen still screaming about what he will do to me when I come out. I can hear dishes being smashed. Agnes and a few female volunteers are trying to calm him down. Whilst holed up in the office, apart from shitting myself, I muse on some of the possible techniques from my recent course I could have used to defuse the situation with Terry. Here is a list of some of them:

“If possible you should be firm, assertive, but fair.”
I tried that one, that’s what kicked him off.

“Let the service user know that you recognise how they are feeling.”
“Terry I recognise that you are in a state of rage, please don’t hit me.”

“Encourage the person to express verbally their feelings.” He is continuing to do that at this moment. I can hear him telling the other staff that he feels I deserve a beating and he will be the one to deliver it. Is now the time for me to leave the office and ask him to express his feelings or should I wait?

“Use the person’s first name as frequently as possible. If the client is projecting their anger against others (e.g. social workers, authority figures) do all you can to let them see you as an individual rather than a role, Tell them who you are. Disclose minor personal details.” If only I had remembered that one as his rage escalated, I could have told him a light hearted anecdote about myself or asked him, “Did you know my favourite animals are ducks, what about yourself?”

“It can be useful to let the person know the effect they are having on you.”
In case you weren’t aware those are my teeth that you just knocked out and are you aware that you are kicking me in the face. Just thought I would let you know, in case you hadn’t realised.

“Avoid physical contact, at least until the incident is over.” I’m glad I remembered that one as I was going to try to hug him whilst he was threatening to bash my head in with a crowbar.

“Avoid sudden sharp movements”. There goes running away.

"If you are going to take physical action (e.g. stand up, walk away, leave the room etc.) let the person know what you are going to do before you do it. In this way you avoid your actions being interpreted as hostile." It is disturbing to think there are people who can construe walking away from a situation as a hostile act.

After a half hour or so Terry calms down and Agnes comes in to the office to see how I am.

“You ok? He has calmed down now.”

“I am a bit shook up I thought he might have grabbed a knife or something he was that enraged. I take it he will be barred for that. It does state in our rules that threats of violence or actual violence will lead to people being barred. I don’t feel I should be the one that issues him with the ban either after what I’ve just been through with him it could kick him off again.”

Verbal threats around here constitute a month’s ban and actual violence a lifetime ban. However, I feel that even threats of violence should lead to a lifetime ban, as it is very difficult to work with people that have physically threatened you in the past. Besides, threats of violence are a form of intimidation and there should be a zero tolerance policy on this.

“Well, whatever you feel is necessary, he does have a problem with male authority on account of his violent father. He is sorry so maybe we should just give him a warning, but if you feel he should barred then go ahead and do so,” states Agnes.

“According to the rules we should be banning him for a month, and if the rules made sense he would be out of here permanently for this behaviour.”

I have just decided that I am going to leave this place within the next two months, as I really don’t feel safe working here. What’s more is that Agnes should be sticking strictly to the centre’s policies and issuing this lad with a ban. By not doing so she is putting her staff at risk of violent, threatening and aggressive behaviour.

Terry gets a month ban and I have to push for Agnes to be the one to issue it as I feel that being the one just threatened I should have the support of management. If I hadn’t been determined and outspoken Agnes would have been happy to have just asked him not to do it again.

Agnes is like so many adults in today’s society that excuse or fail to confront the anti social behaviour of our problem youth and young adults. People of Agnes’s temperament and outlook pervade the education and care system and the youth offending sector. Is it any wonder then that crime amongst young people is spiralling and the behaviour in many of our secondary schools is out of control?

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The Right to be Morbidly Obese

I've just finished another shift where the deodorant can assault took place. One of the things I've observed here is that two of the girls, Rachel,17, and Sammie, 14, appear to be getting larger by the week. These girls are extremely over weight, unhealthily so. The younger behemoth is so fat that you can barely see her eyes as they are ensconsced behind a layer of chips and turkey twizzlers disguised as a face.

Now, how did Sammie and her lardy chum, Rachel, become morbidly rotund? It's simple, by eating whatever they want, which at the end of the day is provided for by the care home. They also get driven everywhere and refuse to walk anywhere that takes more than five minutes. It is easy to see on first glance, that in the area of physical health these two girls are simply not being cared for, unless being allowed to metamorphose in to Jabba the hut is a a new care therapy I'm not accustomed to.

One evening, I watched Sammie, who is about 5'5 and about 16 stone, and expanding by the day, eat a large fish and chips supper bought for her by staff. An hour later she was shouting and swearing that she wanted ice cream. In order to placate the child and so have an easier shift, the duty manager drove her to a shop where Sammie was bought a ten box of Magnum ice creams or something identical. I watched in horror and disgust as she was allowed to eat one after the other. It kept the little elephant quiet though, which meant she wouldnt be abusing staff or in the office ripping up files, as she does, which leads me to believe that the purpose of the Magnums suited the staff's needs rather than the child's. However, worse neglect was to come.

An hour or two after Sammie had gorged herself on a week's recommended intake of saturated fat in one sitting, she went outside to have a smoke. A few seconds later she was joined in the yard with the shift leader and another member of staff, as well as Rachel, who had torn herself away from channel hopping and gorging for a well deserved nicotine break. I was so appaled and shocked at what I was seeing that I later confronted the shift leader.

"Lucy, I'm a bit shocked that you openly allow a 14 year old girl to smoke on the grounds of the home and smoke with her. Another thing that confuses me is that despite their serious weight problems both Sammie and Rachel are allowed to eat what they want. Do you not try to control what they eat? Give them choice, of course, but limit it to healthy food with the occasional indulgence," I comment.

"Well Winston, we can only encourage the girls to eat healthily, but they have the right to choose their own meals we can't dictate what they eat. With the smoking issue, if we were to try to stop Sammie from smoking she would simply go somewhere else and do it so we would rather she did it here in a controlled environment where we know she is safe," stated Lucy, obviously believing her own waffle.

Why cant they dictate to them that they cant have the right to eat themselves in to an unhealthy state? They are children. How is it a 'controlled environment' and 'safe', if you don't try to control their actions to keep them safe? I wonder if Sammie or Rachel were to want to smoke a crack pipe in the house or have under-age illegal sex would this too be tolerated on the grounds that at least they are doing it in the house. It baffles me that some people view allowing a child to be self destructive as a from of 'care', without even trying to enforce any boundaries.

Anway back to today's shift. Just before I left, I asked Spencer, one of the full time support workers, how was it that the girl's social workers didn't question the unhealthy state of the two girls. After all, social services regularly visit the home to see the girls.

"It's simple Winston, what happens is that the management here re-write the girls weekly care logs to make it appear that they are eating healthily. This company get a lot of money to keep these kids and they make sure that everything looks as it should on paper."

It costs about 2,500 quid a week to keep a child in care. I got the information here about half way down the page in italics. Click the link

"Then Spencer, the social workers must be choosing to turn a blind eye because there is no way that any one could believe that those two delinquent hippos are being nourished on mung beans and spinach."

Anyway, even within the company that house Rachel and Sammie there are some good homes, not many though, with effective managers and staff that really care and give the children consistent and fair boundaries. It is my view that it is difficult for good care homes to flourish within the care system, in that, it leans towards allowing the child to dictate the agenda. There has been a profound and disproportionate shift in power away from adult forms of authority to "empowerment", the sector buzz word for allowing youngsers do and behave as they wish. The fruits of this philosophy are also to be seen in the schools and on the streets of the country and affect all classes and backgrounds to some degree.

Friday, 3 April 2009

The Deadly Case of Assault with a Can of Deodorant

Once again we read of another father kicked and beaten to death by feral youths. What is more shocking though is the fact that the man, who was under siege in his own home, and his neighbours rang the police six times for help only to be told that they were too busy.

Some people might say fair enough the police only have so many resources and with the crumbling moral fibre of the country they can't be at every incident. However, from the perspective of someone working with kids in care I am absolutely shocked at how often police resources are wasted dealing with trivial squabbles.

A few weeks ago I was working at a care home. Two girls of gargantuan proportions, due to being allowed eat unhealthy food all day and being chauffeur driven to where ever they want to go, were having a massive fracas over which of them consisted of more lard than the other. Needless to say they didn't discuss the issue in a civilsed manner and before long the situation looked like it would turn violent. Thankfully it didn't. The energy they used screaming at each other was about all the exercise they could handle for the day. However, the younger of the two picked up a can of deodourant and threw it at the larger gargantua slightly brushing her arm.

The 'victim' of this pernicious attack then phoned the police claiming she was assaulted by her 13 year old housemate. Now, seeing as the 'victim', let's call her Rachel, she is aged 17, has been arrested and charged with making false allegations in the past and has a host of other convictions then perhaps plod will use their discretion and politely ignore the allegation seeing as it's a trivial matter. No such luck.

I had just got in to bed at 0100, having been at work since ten that morning, when up arrived the old bill to take witness statements from my colleague, myself and also from the 'victim'. All of this took almost two hours. I told the constable that as far as I could see the can hadn't actually hit Rachel. The officer informed me that the throwing of the can itself is an offence.

"Well officer, I think this is such a waste of the police's time and resources. Surely there could be better things the police could be doing than becoming embroiled in a teenage squabble where no one was hurt," I stated.

"I agree entirely with you Winston, however once that call is made and logged on our computer system we have to respond. We don't have a choice. We are not able to use discretion. Even if we are too busy with real crimes, the type most people think we exist to deal with, we will still at some stage have to deal with the allegation and bring it to a conclusion, 'detect' it in the jargon of the police force, I mean service."

After almost two hours of witness statements and interviewing the 'victim', the police left. They would have to return to interview the perpetrator in the morning as they had to get off to deal with other matters, I hope of a more serious nature. Now, these two officers were the only police officers on call within an area that consisted of several small towns comprising almost 20,000 people.

The police definitely didnt want to be there dealing with this idiotic issue but due to the bureaucratic stranglehold they operate under they had no choice. Do our politicians that place these impediments in the way of the police not get it? All people, whether they be on the left or right, want a police force that protects the law abiding and the vulnerable. As I got in to bed at 0315, I had to be up at 0800 to work again, I couldn't help but imagine some old lady, who perhaps had just been burgaled and even assualted, on the phone to the police only to be told they are too busy, whilst at the same time the only available officers in the area are up to their necks in the minutiae of the Deadly Case of Assault with a Can of Deodorant.