Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Rogue Encounter

The last Housing Association that I worked for has several projects of various sizes dotted in towns throughout the county. These projects house a variety of young people aged sixteen to twenty five. There are those who are under eighteen whose parents fraudulently claim to the local authority they are estranged from their offspring but that then visit regularly. One resident in particular went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with the very family she was claiming to be estranged from, which meant a genuine young homeless person was going without secure accommodation.

Then there are the loveable rogues who indulge in drug and alcohol abuse, like many people, and in some cases petty crime, but who at the end of the day are always polite and respectful and take on board being given a talking down to for breaking the rules of the project and listen as you challenge their dissolute lifestyles. Many of these do, did and will learn from their mistakes and excesses. There have always been youngsters like them, I was one myself, and in the end they turn out to be imperfectly decent human beings like most people.

There are also those young people who cause no problems whatsoever and are effectively socialised. Many of these come from tough and dysfunctional backgrounds therefore trumping the theory that crime and anti-social behaviour are determined solely by one’s background. These young people are considerate of those they live next to and they are usually working, studying or training.

There are then the deeply troubled youngsters for whom we are just not trained to provide specialist support. Some of them get help from outside agencies and are progressing, some regress even with help and others just stay in their rooms and isolate. Of this cohort, they can direct their anger and inner turmoil towards staff and peers, or in many cases themselves, but most of them keep themselves to themselves. Of this latter category, whilst they would mostly benefit from specialist therapeutic assistance, they would also gain from living in a structured and disciplined environment where there would be negative consequences for excessive and repeated breaking of house rules.

That brings me to the final cohort, the unlovable rogues, bad minded nasty teenagers and young adults who pleasure at causing upset, pain and grief to others. Many of my colleagues don’t believe that this final cohort exist and make constant excuses for them. I’m not saying some of them are not redeemable, but at this point they lead pernicious lives and inflict themselves on all who come in to contact with them. Even most of the lovable rogues will have nothing to do with this lot or soon tire of them.

A while back I encountered one of these unlovable rogues at one of the sister projects I was sent to fill in for a colleague who was off sick (I wonder why?).
He was a small weedy nineteen year old, but what he lacked in stature he tried to compensate for with an extremely confrontational and aggressive demeanour. As with many of both the loveable and unlovable rogues, he also possessed a penchant for hideous tracksuit bottoms that he tucked inside his socks. I shall call him Cecil, although I could think of a few other things I could call him, but on account of not offending some of my more conservative and elderly readers I shall reserve my fluency in the street vernacular on this occasion.

I had heard from my manager and several other colleagues that Cecil was the nastiest piece of work to have ever crossed the door of the housing association. In just one instance the other week he had barged in to the office without knocking and when reminded he needed to knock before entering he became verbally abusive and threatening and then refused to leave when asked by my colleague Jenny. He invaded her personal space by picking things up off the desk, opening drawers and continuing to swear at her. He eventually left in a tirade of expletives when she threatened to call the police.

He repeatedly disturbed the other residents at night and the night staff by bringing back unauthorised guests, getting drunk and blaring loud repetitive misogynistic gangster grunts masquerading as music. He was threatening and menacing to the staff that have had the misfortune of doing sleep over shifts and who have had to confront his behaviour and its effects on his peers and neighbours. Despite being on his final warning he continued in the same manner and the manager only refused to kick him out because one of our bleeding heart colleagues, Nicola, felt he is misunderstood and pleaded to have time to turn him around. Nicola failed to understand that Cecil’s behaviour is a form of bullying and intimidation in which he hopes to exert power and control over all he encounters.

Anyway, I was sitting in the office and had just come on shift and was looking forward to meeting the notorious Cecil and was determined not to take any of his nonsense should he start. I didn’t have long to wait. There was a knock on the office door so he had obviously learned something.

“Come in.”

He walked in clutching a frying pan in his hand. He must have been on his way to cook his breakfast or perhaps to assault someone. After reading his file nothing would surprise me.

“Any post?” he barked.

“No nothing for you Cecil. I’m Winston by the way. Nice to meet you.”

I’m always polite to people I first meet even if they have a reputation. I’m not going to lower my standards for anyone and even with unlovable rogues its best to lead by example.

“How do you know my name? Where’s that other worker? The bitch Jenny, I fucking hate her.”

“Listen Cecil, I know your name as you are the newest resident, but I wont have you come in here swearing and being abusive about staff, who after all are here to assist and support you to make progress in your life.”

“She’s a bitch, keeps telling me what to do in my own house.”

At this stage he invaded my personal work space and started picking various items up off the desk and moving them around whilst eye balling me; obviously trying to wind me up.

“First off Cecil put those files down they are confidential and get out of the office I don’t want you in here. You are being rude and are now trying to intimidate me.”

He laughed stubbornly with an insouciant and arrogant look on his face and started swinging the frying pan all the while fixing his gaze on me intently.

“You can’t make me leave and if you touch me its assault and I’ll put in a complaint about you. Out of curiosity, what would you do were I to drop this frying pan by accident and it hit you on the head,” he stated whilst smirking as if he exercised a level of control over me.

“Well Cecil, lets see now what I would do. As this is very obviously a thinly veiled threat of violence against me what I would do is ring the police, who seeing as that you are on a conditional discharge, (I had read his file), would come and quite possibly hall your scrawny ass off to prison. So I take it you will now leave the office otherwise I’ll be ringing my friends in the local police office, whom I would like to add, I get on very well with and know on a first name basis. So what’s it to be? Leave with the pan or wait for the police van?”

This little speech seemed to do the trick as he left the office. A little while later I watched him as he went out the front door to contribute further to the overall moral deterioration of the town in which he lived. I expect unlovable rogues like Cecil to be the way they are, but I am still forever flabbergasted by my colleagues that make excuses for him and his ilk’s unacceptable behaviour. Nicola who came to take over on the next shift tried to justify Cecil’s constant outbursts of aggression.

“Look Winston, he has never been taught to knock or to wait or to say please and thank you for things so I don’t hassle him when he doesn’t live up to those standards. Why are you expecting him to behave if he has never been taught to?
He’s just not used to it so he gets frustrated when people have a go at him for it. I think in time he will come around if we are just nicer to him when we remind him of what we expect. I mean he is fine with me and I can chat to him no problem.”

That’s because she has cigarettes with him and doesn’t challenge his behaviour and indulges him in his victim status.

“Listen Nicola, if he hasn’t been taught manners at home then it is our job to do so now. None of us are rude to him and are in fact nothing more than professional and polite when asking him to adhere to very basic standards of civility. He simply chooses to act in a brutish manner and has continued to do so despite repeated warnings.”

“ Well I think he needs some more time.”

Well Nicola got her way, but Cecil lasted only a month despite being listened to and understood by Nicola and management.In that short period of time he vandalised the property, threw bags of rubbish in to the hall and defiantly refused to move them and continued in being confrontational and menacing towards the staff. He also intimidated another resident to the point that he was to afraid to stay on the project for fear of violence.

It is not time or understanding that Cyril needs, but tough love administered in the form of negative consequences for his socially destructive behaviour.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

All these Foreigners...

One of our residents, Mike, whom I have written about before, arrived the other day at the office door complete with gormless shuffle and his two hands placed firmly down the front of his tracksuit so as to remind the world that he has testicles and has already used them to pollute the planet with his gene pool. He has recently moved from the Housing Project in to a one bedroom flat provided by the Housing Association. He lives in here at half the cost (which Housing Benefit pay) of what the same flat would cost him in the privately rented sector. Despite living a very comfortable life on the proceeds of others hard work, as well as the income he derives from selling drugs to his peers, Mike still finds a lot of time to come and complain to staff at the project whilst visiting his girlfriend who is still a resident here. As per usual he just walked in to the office uninvited and started demanding what he perceived to be his rights.

“Winston, I need the spare keys to my flat. I’ve lost mine again. I might have left them in there. Give us the spare keys will you?

“No,I won’t give them to you. The last time I gave you the spare keys you lost them as well and we had to get the locks changed at our cost. When the caretaker comes in he can go around with you and let you in and if you want a new set you will have to pay for them to be cut. For God’s sake Mike , that’s the third set you have lost over the past few months. If you can’t even manage keys to a flat how can you manage the flat itself?”

There are several of our residents who as well as being unable to sign on the dole on time without constantly having their benefits cut off are also incapable of having keys without losing them. Before Mike had time to respond to my question the doorbell at the project rang. It was the Pizza delivery man who is about 21, around Mike’s age, and is from Eastern Europe and speaks perfect English. Mike went to answer the door as the Pizza was for him and his pregnant girlfriend. Afterwards, he came back to the office to offer his opinions on EU enlargement and the influx of immigrants that have ensued in to the UK as a result.

“See that Polish Pizza guy it’s the likes of him that’s stealing all the jobs of young British workers like me. I don’t agree with all these foreigners coming over here taking our jobs. It’s just not right. What do you think of it Winston?”

What I really think is that the Eastern European should be allowed to stay and that Mike should be stripped of his rights as a citizen and deported to an uninhabitated rock in the outer Hebrides. However, I don't say this as I have been trained to view Mike as a vulnerable victim who is at risk of becoming homeless.

“First of all Mike that Pizza guy might not be Polish he could be from another one of the Eastern European countries that joined the EU.”

“Well they all sound the same to me,” responded Mike in true Alf Garnettesque ignorance.

“Besides Mike don’t you think that you are being just a little bit hypocritical? After all your Mum emigrated here from Greece back in the sixties as you told me before.”

“Yeah, but my Dad is English and I’m fully British as I was born and raised here and Britain should be for the British, not foreigners.”

“What about your Mum should she be sent home to Greece if her and your Dad decide to return to the UK after working abroad?”

His parents emigrated to the Middle East as his Dad works in the oil industry, but again the irony was lost on him. In fact, although Mike is a member of the underclass his parents are quite well off and he only ended up in supported housing because it was an option available to them when they both wanted to emigrate.

“Don’t be stupid she’s got British kids and she’s been here most of her life so is more or less British.”

“Oh, so you believe in assimilation and integration for some immigrants particularly those related to you, but just not for Eastern European Pizza delivery men.”

“What’s assimilation and integration?”

“In a nutshell it means that immigrants can become a part of British society, the degree to which that occurs differs depending on whether they either integrate or assimilate.”

“I just believe that British people should get jobs before foreigners.”

“OK so why are you not applying for jobs delivering Pizzas or working in the catering or hospitality industry or in care homes with elderly British people like so many Eastern Europeans and Africans of your age? You only go to college part time and you would only lose some of your benefits if you worked part time.”

“It doesn’t pay enough to do those kind of jobs and their crap anyway. If I am going to work I want to make good money.”

Like you do as a cannabis dealer I think to myself. His flat has been raided by the police before but they failed to find anything but we have seen him dealing outside the project a few times. It’s only a matter of time before he gets caught. As he has a string of other convictions for anti-social behaviour and shoplifting hopefully he’ll get a few months behind bars to teach him a lesson. Not to mention that he regularly makes complaints against staff which in one instance led to a colleague being suspended for speaking sternly to him over contravening one of the policies (i.e. a rule but we can’t call them that according to management because it’s viewed as authoritarian and oppressive). She was so de-motivated by this experience that she resigned and Mike openly gloated about it.

“So who would deliver your Pizzas to you because most young British lads like you refuse to do these kinds of jobs?”

“I just don’t like all these foreigners in my country. I don’t want to talk about this anymore I’m going to my girlfriend’s room to eat this Pizza.”

I was just as glad to leave the conversation there as I’ve had several conversations with Mike along these lines and he simply enjoys reveling in his own ignorance on a variety of issues and it is very difficult to get him to open the limited mind he possesses. Whilst I am not dismissing people’s genuine concerns about the scale and pace of immigration or tensions that can arise with very different cultures living cheek by jowl with no real integration occurring I simply find it mind boggling that people can be opposed to all forms of immigration simply on the grounds that they don’t like foreigners solely because they are from abroad.

This exchange with Mike got me thinking just what does it mean to be a British citizen or indeed a citizen of any country. In that the aforementioned Pizza delivery man is a contributing member of our society through working and paying tax and has learned our language, then if he abides by our laws and respects the rights of his fellow citizens then that to me makes him a more deserving citizen of our country than Mike the drug dealing, benefit dependent, anti-social criminal who believes that he should have a free flat and generous benefits given to him based solely on the fact that he was born in this country. From my perspective there are a lot of immigrants who are more active members of British society than the indigenous underclass who just expect to be handed benefits and housing without doing a damn thing to contribute to the country they are so vociferously patriotic about.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

A Parent's Perspective of Our Shambolic Care System

Recently I received an email from a committed and responsible parent who through circumstances beyond their control and despite their best efforts had to put their teenage stepson in to care. They have kindly allowed me to publish the email here which I have edited only very slightly. Here is their story and their assessment of the care system:


I've just found your Blog and I wanted to express my congratulations on firstly writing about your experiences and secondly for winning the award earlier in the year. My 17 year old step son M was placed in care when he was 13. He was a regular cannabis user and extremely violent to other family members when not having access to it. We always had problems with him and faced numerous challenges in keeping him out of trouble at school and at home. It was hard, my God was it hard but we did our best for him. It would have been so easy to take the soft option like many other parents and give in to him, but we took our responsibilities seriously. We took the grief, we took the smashed bedrooms and the thumps and we attended the parenting classes because we wanted to be good parents. We kept him busy: scouts, football clubs, rugby, boxing, you name it we did it. He never missed school and was about to start the run-up to his GCSE's.

Despite our best efforts and commitment to M the situation deteriorated and his violent behaviour was affecting his siblings. We were faced with Social Services recommending that he be removed and we thought it would do some good. Perhaps it would mean he could address his drug problem and get some anger management counseling. How naive we were.

We dropped him off at a care placement which consisted of three other teenagers on a Wednesday evening and he looked so scared .We hugged him and arranged to drop over on the Saturday to bring over some of his belongings. When we returned on that Saturday he was unrecognisable. He had been "adopted" by a 15 year old youth in the placement who had clearly advised him that he could do anything he wanted as there was nothing the staff could do to stop them. They were literally out of their heads on the exhilaration of being "in control".

Within a month he was using all sorts of drugs and solvents and was missing from the care home at least three or four times a week and ALL his belongings had been sold for drugs. Thirteen years of parenting had in effect disappeared in three days. For the next twelve months M never attended school along with the other resident in the home because the care home didn’t have the power to force him. We even attended a meeting where M was told that it wasn't so bad missing school at fourteen as it was his GCSE years that were really important (as if he'd magically start attending again next year). At every subsequent meeting we went to (which M was also present), when we raised concerns about his skipping school and suggested consequences, we (and he) were told that "we can't stop his weekly allowance" or "we can't stop him leaving for late night parties" - it was music to his ears.........madness ....sheer bloody madness.

After months and months of pestering and meetings with Social Services we finally managed to find a placement well away from home where he was away from the influence of these other youths. By and large it worked. He started school again, sure he had blips but he was happy and we could see him improving physically and mentally. However, things were far from perfect in that everything was done for him and he had to take no responsibility for his actions or suffer any consequences. He would abscond and then ring the home in the early hours for lifts home. If he wanted something then he knew that he'd get it and if he didn’t he'd trash the house. He was getting older but not growing up. He was a ten year old in a sixteen year old's body.

When he reached 16, Social Services decided that the expensive placement was no longer justified so he was shifted back to his home town despite our protestations on account of the friends he had made here in his first care placement.

As I write this M is a crack addict with a conviction for burglary and living at his grandfather's home - even though he's not wanted there. He steals his savings and has even sold his Granddad’s TV and yet Social Services say they can't do anything unless Granddad is physically going to remove him. The last time M was arrested it took 4 policemen and leg shackles !!

M is the product of a care system which instils NO discipline, where everything they want they get, and where they are treated with kid-gloves by the police and by the courts. This cannot be the right way to raise children in care, to use the term "care" is an insult to those people who actually do care.

Please please keep up the good work. We must keep highlighting what is going on in such care placements.Sorry, I've ranted on long enough but it's such a relief to actually be able to talk to someone about this issue.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Language Barriers: When Rules Are Not Rules

The Supported Housing Project that I have been placed with for the last few weeks is undergoing a lot of late night disturbances from drunken young people. To make matters even more disruptive for their fellow residents, who don't drink themselves stupid at every available opportunity, the drunken contingent bring back late night revellers and strays they have picked up whilst out on the town. Only a few nights ago whilst on a sleep in shift I was awoken several times throughout the night by anti-social revelry from several residents’ rooms. When I asked them to go to bed and for their unauthorised guests to leave the building they refused to co-operate and there was nothing I could do about it. The police wouldn’t be interested and could do nothing about it anyway. In the morning those young people not involved in the disturbances from the night before came to complain about being kept awake until the early hours and demanding that something be done about it. I assured them I would talk to the manager and that sanctions would follow. However, when I talked to the manager about the situation there appeared to be a language barrier with regards to the manner in which we could describe the solutions we wished to put in place.

"So Dave I was looking around for a copy of the house rules and was going to photocopy them and give them out to the residents to remind them of their responsibilities and that they can be evicted for persistently breaking the rules and disturbing their fellow residents. However, I can’t seem to find a copy of the house rules anywhere."

"Well Winston you can’t find a copy of the hose rules because we don’t have any. The senior management of the Housing Association feel that as most people don't have to live by rules in their own homes then neither should our residents. It's a load of nonsense really because of course we have rules but we just don’t call them that. Instead, there is a clause in the licence agreement (similar to a tenancy but with less rights) that the resident signs that states they must refrain from anti-social behaviour that is disruptive or acts as a nuisance to others. There are also rules with regards to the number of guests allowed on the project and the times they have to be gone but we don’t call them rules we call them a policy."

"So this clause tells them not to act in a certain way and the guest policy outlines certain requirements also?" I remarked.

"Yes they do."

"Then the clause and the policy are rules," I pointed out.

"I agree Winston they are but we can't call them that that as senior management view that as oppressive."

"As senior management have worded these licence agreements and also enacted the policies can they not see that clauses and policies that tell people how to behave are rules? At the end of the day we should be able to put up a list of rules around the building that informs the residents that breaking them means they are contravening the clause in their licence agreement pertaining to anti-social behaviour and that repeatedly doing so will lead to their eviction. They will then know exactly where the boundaries are and the other residents who are not disruptive will feel reassured that there is a clear and effective policy to tackle anti-social beahviour."

"Look Winston, you are getting too bogged down in semantics. At the end of the day when there is anti-social behaviour we are able to issue warnings due to contravention of the clause of the licence agreement and that is open to how we interpret it as well so it gives us leeway.”

“Well, I think failing to give young people clear and consistent boundaries in the form of written rules fails them. These youngsters don’t use terms like ‘clause’ and ‘licence agreement’ but they do understand the words ‘rules’ and ‘consequences.’ And as we have pointed out we have rules we just don’t call them that because some idiot in policy has decided that using the word ‘rule’ is a violation of a person’s human rights.”

“Well there is one way that we can have a printed list of house rules put up on the noticeboard.”

“How?” I asked.

“If at one of our consultation meetings with the residents they agree to having certain rules then we can print them and put them up.”

“But half of our residents are potheads who fail to sign on, cant successfully apply for housing benefit, are always in rent arrears and are in and out of court for petty offences. They can’t apply order to their own lives and seem to flout most social norms as well as the law so surely they are the last people that we should be consulting on how to run this project? Besides they only ever turn up to these resident involvement meetings if bribed with fast food. Part of the problem is that they lack any semblance of structure in their lives and we are failing them by not giving it to them because some Marxist with an antipathy to power and authority working in policy has decided that the word rule is anathema. Anyway, what are we going to do about these late night parties that are affecting those residents who get up early to go to work or college?”

“Well, I’ll give a few guest bans to the culprits involved for a week or two but you know the way it is they will either flout it straight away or when it expires be back to their anti-social ways,” stated Dave.

Anyway, I had to go and tick some boxes and chase up some residents for their signatures on forms stating I had supported them by handing them a telephone to ring the jobcentre. I was flirting with the idea of not completing the paperwork and when challenged by senior management I would inform them that it wasn't a rule that I complete the paperwork merely a policy, and that I should have been consulted on whether I agreed with it or not before I was asked to comply with it.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

An Open Door and A Bleeding Heart

One of the issues that I have had intense debate with other colleagues over is the issue of an open office door policy where a teenage resident can just walk in to the staff office uninvited to seek support, guidance or more often than not complain or make an unreasonable demand or hurl abuse at you if the mood takes them. The other day one of my colleagues, Nicola, decided to rebuke me for the fact that the office door was closed upon her arrival as this was injurious to her working philosophy of the bleeding heart. She also complained because I demand that the young people knock and wait to be invited in to the office. A diplomatic yet heated debate ensued.

"Winston, why do you close the office door and ask the young people to knock? We have an open door policy here so that the young people can feel they can talk to us about anything at anytime and we don't believe in barriers here."

"Well Nicola, I've talked to Jim, the manager and he said its up to the discretion of the staff and when Im lone working it will be closed. The reason that I am opposed to an open door policy is that it doesn't actually help the young person in that in the real world you have to queue for assistance in banks, shops, benefit offices, job interviews and so on. It also teaches the young person to practice patience which is a virtue in itself and it also teaches them that they are not the centre of the universe, just a part of it. Above all though, it fosters respect in the young person for other people who are taking time and effort to assist them. So, what you on the surface describe as me putting up a barrier is in fact imbued with values that I believe help develop functional young adults with respect, not deference, for their fellow citizens."

"Well, I think its authoritarian and this project is their home and they should be able to go in to whatever room they like and at the end of the day you are here to assist them not hide away in the office."

"Authoritarian? Are you equating my belief that people should knock on a door and wait to be invited in with the Third Reich or Franco's Spain? Perhaps you are right and trying to cultivate good manners is the thin end of a wedge that could lead to a modern day Auschwitz or Guernika. Sarcasm aside, I have spoken to all of our residents and informed them that when I am on shift that they can come and see me at anytime with any problem or with relation to any advice they need related to benefits or education. As they are used to being able to just walk in I have explained why I close the door, but that I am still available should they need me. Only two or three out of the fifteen of them seem to have a problem with this. The rest are fine with it. It seems to be you Nicola that are most opposed to my working practice and not the residents. We will just have to agree to disagree on this."

I saw no further point in talking to Nicola on this topic as I think her mind was well and truly made up. So, just what have been the fruits of the open door policy as practised by Nicola who also espouses a working philosophy of anti-authoritarianism, non-judgmentalism and an opossition to so called barriers? Well, upon coming to work one morning lately there was nowhere to sit for me as the office was full of teenage girls dressed in skimpy and revealing nightwear. Nicola saw nothing wrong with this until I objected and asked the girls to leave. When she is working the office is full of residents and ex residents and other waifs and strays from the neighbourhood, many of them stoned out of their mind and stinking of skunk weed. She allows them to take office materials such as pens, paper, sellotape, envelopes and to use the phone for personal calls. Instead of supporting our young people to do things for themselves, like fill in benefit forms or make their own enquiries to benefit or employment agencies, she will do it for them thus robbing them of the opportunity to learn to become independent. She never makes them wait for anything, including her time, and constantly reinforces in them what their benefit and state entitlements are. She rarely says no and has helped foster a belligerent, demanding, state dependent, instant gratification mindset in several current residents and many more of our ex-residents who still turn up looking for her 'help'. The likes of Nicola are very common across the state dependency sector. With so called support like this is it any wonder that so many youngsters leave supported housing even more entrenched in the value system of an excessive welfare state? The ironic thing is that we exist to help break this cycle and whilst we do have some success, in the majority of instances we are just making matters worse and perpetuating the existence of an underclass.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Family Breakdown on the High Seas

One of the residents at the project I am currenty working at has just returned from a cruise around the Mediterranean with her family. Emily, 16, lives in Supported Housing and is therefore deemed to be both socially excluded and vulnerable to homelessness. Oh how times have changed, less than thirty years ago the socially excluded slept under newspapers in parks and lived off the generosity of passing strangers and elderly ladies banging tambourines. Today you can find yourself categorised as poor or socially excluded but enjoy a lifestyle that would be the envy of Medieval monarchs. Apart from cruises in the Mediterranean, Emily also possesses all the accoutrements of the modern poor: laptop, large TV in room and video game box. Although Emily's family background is working/lower middle class she is now classified as poor due to living in Supported Housing. However, whether she should be able to access Supported Housing is an entirely different manner.

I actually like Emily she is a nice kid overall, mostly polite and is doing her best at the local college. Like all teenagers she can be a bit boisterous at times and when she gets a few drinks in her she can be a bit noisy like anyone I guess. In the cold light of day you can talk to her about it though and she will take on board what you are saying. This makes a welcome change from those young people I have worked with who become verbally abusive and threatening when reminded to comply with the terms of their tenancy agreement. In fact the project where Emily lives is mostly inhabited by likeable teenagers, even the odd rogue we get here tends to be of the loveable as oppossed to the menacing variety.

However, as fond as I am of Emily I object to Emily being a resident at our project. Emily obtained accommodation at our project by applying to the local council as being in danger of becoming homeless. In order for the state to accommodate under eighteen year olds who are living at home the parents have to prove that the family relationship has broken down in the form of an estrangement letter. Therefore Emily's Mum wrote a letter saying that her relationship with her daughter had broken down and she was no longer able to accommodate her. I wonder did she add as a footnote that although unable to live with Emily she would be open to cruises and safaris in the Zambezi as long as she could hand Emily back to the state once she started to have one of her awkward teenage strops. Besides foreign excursions Emily's Mum also visits Emily several times a week and even does her shopping for her and Emily also visits and stays in the family home.I asked Emily why she and her Mum wanted her to come and live in Supported Housing. Emily stated it was because they used to row a lot about her going out too much. In other words fairly bog standard teenage issues and no reason for the state to intervene to give parents an opt out clause from parenting their own offspring.

Whilst Emily is well behaved in many ways there are those kids who when the parents avail of the opportunity to discard them on to the state go completely off the rails. If they wouldn't behave for their parents why would they listen to a mung bean munching vegetarian like me? For the majority of under eighteen year olds in Supported Housing it is a licence to do what you want without the interference of exasperated parents. Then there is the issue that for all those parents like Emily's who pretend that they no longer have a relationship with their kids in order to mask their inability to cope with the normal ups and downs of living with a teenager, there are those kids who are really estranged from their parents because the parents are drug addicts, alcoholics or violent brutes and bullies. There are also those young people coming out of care who have no family and supported housing is the first option available to them. For all these genuine cases their right to basic and minimal accommodation is delayed by the fact that there is a limited number of beds available in Supported Housing projects. This trend will continue as long as the system is so easily exploited and the mere writing of a letter allows parents to forfeit accommodating their own teenagers through the usual ups and downs of adolescence. Tonight there will be thousands of teenagers (the majority not feral brutes like Liam who I have wrote about) just out of care who will be accommodated in B&Bs often for months on end waiting for a room in a Supported Housing project.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A Brush with Authority

Once upon a time about a year ago at a care home for teenagers I had another run in with a disaffected youth or unsocialised brat as I prefer to call them. Which terminology you use will depend on where you live and what your life experience is. If you suffer from middle class guilt and live very far away from such youths in a nice neighbourhood you may probably make excuses for them based on the slight understanding of social problems you have acquired from the Society section in the Guardian (which despite my criticism often has very good articles). However, if you live next door to such feral youths in a working class, underclass or even a lower middle class estate you will probably use less politically correct terms to describe such teenagers. You will also possess a more realistic understanding of the remedies that need to be taken to deal with anti-social youths.

Anyway, back to the care home, I use the word care loosely, I dont see how allowing children to grow up free from boundaries, discipline and effective authority is any form of care. Just after I had made three separate lunches for the teenagers there I asked them to help me clean up. The two girls just ignored me as they sat transfixed in front of some insipid music channel, I am also using the word music loosely, noise would be more apt. The third teenager, Wayne, 14, a small skinny lad took offence to being asked to assist in household duties.

"We don't fucking do cleaning up, we are not skivvies, that's the staff's job," he smirked, hoping to get a confrontational reaction.

I just ignored his comments and didn't bother trying to convince him to the merits of contributing something to the small community in which he lived. I had tried this earlier and it hadn't worked. It was time to just admit defeat. I carried on cleaning whilst Wayne went outside and smoked a cigarette next to a staff member who was also having a nicotine break. Needless to say this is highly unprofessional but very common. In fact, Wayne should have been at school but he refused to go that day. In fact, he often refuses to go.

When he came back in to the kitchen where I was finishing off my cleaning he started to complain about being bored.

"Well, perhaps if you had gone to school you wouldn't be so bored," I remarked.

"Oh shut the fuck up Winston. I hate school, its full of pricks telling you what to do. I just want to head to town and get stoned with my mates."

A few seconds later he picked up the broom and started spinning it around. It almost hit me so I asked him to be careful and stop fooling around. Instead, he shoved the bristles of the dirty broom in to my face. Not a nice experience I can tell you. I took a few paces back and again Wayne lunged the brush towards my face. Only this time I wasnt going to passively accept his bullshit behaviour. As the brush came towards me, I grabbed it by the handle.

"Listen Wayne. Im not going to stand here idly whilst you try to humiliate me with that brush. It's just not going to happen. Im a good ten inches taller than you and several stone heavier as well as extremely physically fit so it will take you some effort to get me to relinquish my grip on this brush and if you get too violent about it I will not hesitate in restraining you."

My little speech was like a red rag to a bull. Teenage boys like Wayne rarely encounter male authority figures, any males in authority they do encounter are usually emasculated figures who have been indoctrinated in the mantras of the ultra-liberal apologist brigade for anti-social behaviour. Therefore, when the likes of Wayne encounter the likes of myself it becomes a power struggle as they are usually used to getting their way.

Wayne spent a good ten minutes with all his might trying to pull the brush from my grip. He was livid with anger, but at no point did he lash out violently which surprised me as these power struggles often escalate. However, the battle for the brush was quiet physical and agressive as he pulled and swung me around the kitchen with all his might, but to no avail. In the words of the reformed bigot the Reverend Ian Paisley there would be "no surrender, never, never, never!"

Eventually Wayne tired himself out, he had to admit defeat, so he let go of the brush and I locked it in the office. For the next view hours he swore and glared at me every time I passed him by in the lounge. He was seathing that he wasn't able to exercise power over me in the form of humiliation.

A while later I was in the office doing some paperwork when there was a knock on the door. Foolishly I opened it fully as opposed to using the partial lock and as soon as I had done so Wayne had thrown the dirty water left in the mop bucket all over me. I stood there dripping wet and Wayne wandered off laughing as he went. In his mind the balance of power had been restored.

However, before you judge poor Wayne too harshly, as I mistakenly did, perhaps you should consider the theory that he has no control over his behaviour as he is suffering from a psychological condition (actually it is those in his company that are suffering) known as conduct disorder or was it oppositional defiant disorder or even school refusal disorder. Here's an interesting piece from the Telegraph on these conditions.

I considered the theory that Wayne was 'suffering' from conduct disorder and then I immediately dismissed it as the nonsense that it is. Instead I judged him to be the feral brute that he is at this point in his life. Hopefully, this may change at some point in the future. With the right guidance, discipline and boundaries (the things he doesn't get in 'care') Wayne could actually make something of his life. I spent a few weeks working with him and in the times he wasnt pretending to be a hard and tough yob there emerged a teenager with an excessively curious mind with regards to History and Geography and whose vocabulary was much more advanced than many of his peers. This inquisitiveness along with the ability to retain and recite factual information indicated the signs of intelligent life beneath the feral exterior. It's an awful shame that none of the services that have been involved in his life to date have been able to assist Wayne in developing his potential.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Up on the Roof

One day at the care home where I had the misfortune to be employed for a period of time, we were having another particularly difficult time with Liam the unfriendly giant.

On this particular day, Liam was trying to climb out on to the roof of the three storey house in which he was being accomodated in and rewarded for his feral ways by the state. Allowing Liam to play on the roof was deemed to conflict with our duty of care towards him so myself and two other Support Workers were wrestling with Liam to prevent him from getting up on to the roof and potentially falling to an early demise and thus never realising his adult potential as a future inmate of one of her majesty's salubrious penal establishments.

However, Liam viewed our intervention not as a display of our concern for his physical well-being, but rather as an interference of his right to do what he wants and also as a power struggle between himself and authority figures; a battle he has almost always won with threatening and violent outbursts.

Anyway, one of the other project workers, Dean, and myself managed to hold Liam's legs so he couldnt climb on to the roof. As he is a strong lad he managed to struggle free a few times and lash out a few kicks, but luckily we backed off in time so they didnt connect. However, in between us trying to restrain him and his kicking out, the third support worker present, Jim, managed to secure the lock on the skylight window which Liam had been attempting to climb out. This outcome didn't go down too well with Liam and threats of violence ensued, of which I was the main recipient.

"I know which fu**ing room you sleep in Winston and tonight when you are in there asleep I'm going to kick the f**king door in and mash you up and there wont be anything you can do about it."

I simply ignored his comments and daydreamed about enticing Liam out on to the roof by taking the lock off the skylight window on the thirdfloor and leaving it wide open and pouring goosefat all over the roof tiles.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

An Inflammable Situation

Some months back I ceased working in Children's care homes due to the stress and unsafe nature of the job (I still work in Supported Housing though). I also couldn't bear working in an environment where teenagers with no boundaries or ability to regulate their behaviour seemed to have more rights than the staff charged with caring for them. Its not that I believe adults are above reproach or that they should never have their authority questioned, but in these homes, effective authority, the kind troubled teenagers need, was largely absent and at the end of the day this leads to the youths becoming maladjusted and dysfunctional adults.

There were a myriad of incidents that pushed me to leave and I will document them here over the coming weeks and months. Below is one such incident.

It was a Tuesday evening and Liam came to the office and knocked on the door. He demanded to have all his incentive money paid to him there and then even though the money wasn't paid until the Saturday and he had yet only earned three pounds for the week. For those of you new to my ramblings cash incentives are paid to the young person for complying with certain standards and behaviours Monday to Friday. For instance, one pound each day can be earned for getting up when called in the morning, settling to bed on time, brushing your teeth, not smashing up the house or staff for the day, making an hour long appearance with your one to one private teacher in your private on site school. In the olden days they had a different word for these incentives, they used to call them bribes. They had a different incentive scheme as well. It involved behaving well so as to avoid a clip around the ear.

Anyway, Liam was informed by myself and the staff that we only paid the incentives on Saturday. Even though he already knew this he was having none of it and his behaviour started to escalate.

"I want that f**king money now, all of it. Its mine and I am going to get it and you lot are going to give it to me," he said with a menacing and threatening stare.

Although only fifteen, Liam stood about six foot one and came in at about fifteen stone. What he lacked in intelligence he made up for in brute force, ignorance and agression which many of us had been on the receiving end of at various times. He started to throw things around the office and pushed me and another member of staff. Three of us managed to restrain him with much effort and get him out of the office but he was only warming up.

Liam went to his room and proceeded to throw cups out of his window which could have injured an innocent person passing by. The manager on duty suggested we ignore Liam's feral behaviour, as oppossed to intervening to restrain him, and that in time he would calm down. That took about another hour which Liam spent trying to kick the office door down whilst physically threatening the staff therein.

When it was deemed safe to go and talk to him, Laura and I went to his room and where as his physical energy for mayhem had subsided he was still psychologically trying to intimidate us. He emerged from his den of delinquency with a lighter in one hand and a highly flamable deodorant can in the other. He kept igniting the lighter and threatening to spray the deodarant in to the naked flame and in our direction.

"I could burn you and there would be nothing you could do about it," he threatened. Like a hound who can sense fear Liam picked up on the look of worry on my face.

"Look at you, you are f**king shitting yourself." He bellowed with laughter at the obvious distress his behaviour was causing me. I didnt think he would do it, but then again I wasn't sure and he knew this and so played on it. Laura and I removed ourselves for the situation.

Was he punished for any of this behaviour you might be asking? What lessons did he learn? Well, he did lose his one pound incentive for good behaviour that day a payment he shouldnt receive in the first place.

A couple of hours later, in accordance with the policy of 'positive reinforcement', I listened to the manager praising Liam for 'choosing' (they love this word in social care) to have calmed down as he sat ignoring her whilst playing a video game on a giant TV screen in the lounge. How does praising him for playing video games and ignoring his dangerous behaviour help him in the long run?

Liam came in to care under section 20 of the Children's Act with his Mother requesting he be taken in to care. The reason being that she was unable to control Liam due to never having disciplined him or provided him with adequate boundaries. As a child Liam learned to get what he wanted by throwing temper tantrums which when he became a teenager became agressive and violent outbursts in which he asserted power over his Mother. It is not Liam's fault that he was allowed to become a bully and to believe that he could have what ever he wanted or that he was more powerful than effective and just adult authority. This was the mistake of his Mother and sadly and tragically for Liam the state is continuing in the same vein.

A few days later we took him to Butlins for the day with his peers. He verbally abused us on the way but to a lesser degree than he would have done if we had stayed at home with him on a Saturday (activity day). I was just relieved he didn't bring a lighter and a can of deodarant for the journey.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Requiem for an Armchair

I have just returned to work in the Supported Housing project I currently work for after a few days away and have been informed that we need to do more work as a team to ensure that we can evidence that we are complying with the government’s Quality Assessment Framework. This explains the new posters around the building. One of which is trying to promote resident involvement in the running of the project. The poster tries to encourage the young people to become involved by offering such glib pronouncements as ‘All ideas are worthy’. What about those residents whose ideas lead to ingesting large quantities of drugs and/or shoplifting or disturbing other residents and neighbours? Do I have to appreciate their ideas as well?

Anyway, a couple of years back I worked for a day centre (some of my earliest posts are from this time) run by a charity that allowed young people that lived in supported housing to sit around eating free food all day and surfing the internet without trying to guide or direct them in any way. In fact, we were discouraged from doing so as this was considered judgemental. In fact, just like the government regulated sector, this charity was obsessed with client involvement. The following anecdote exemplifies the absurdities that often have to be indulged when working for an organisation that believes young people must be consulted about every minor change that occurs.

Underneath the window, in the corner of the common room of this charity, there was a decaying blue bulky armchair. It had spent over a decade supporting the weight and inertia of a variety of young people. Its torn,worn and tattered complexion resembled that of many of the service users who wallowed away the days ensconced between its arm rests.

The fate of this armchair was one of the items on the monthly resident involvement meeting. As this meeting used to occur in the evening and so clashed with drug taking, anti-social behaviour and crime we rarely had any attendees. However, tonight was a different story as three service users turned up to voice their anger that the charity would be charging each service user one pound a week in order to be able to continue funding unlimited internet and phone calls. The meeting was chaired by Lorraine (a senior project worker and member of the charity’s executive committee) she informed Nigel, Darren and Patsy that the centre had recently been donated several new armchairs, a sofa, and some chairs and that in light of this we could discard the detritus masquerading as furniture in the corner of the room. Lorraine described the new furniture to the service users and asked them what they thought of it and how they felt about it, of course.

One of the things I noticed whilst working for this charity was that the young people objected to almost every new initiative or decision taken by the charity’s committee or management. Even when a new initiative would be of major benefit to them, they still felt the need to be consulted on everything. They were, in the majority, extremely defensive people who took the slightest change as an infringement of their rights. And once aggrieved they were always indulged to some extent.

The underlying value behind involving residents in the running of the charity (or indeed the supported housing sector) is that they become empowered to then make decisions in their own lives. However, what no one seems to consider is what if these decisions are inane, unconstructive or just plain daft? All that seemed to matter in this charity and again in the supported housing sector, is that the service users feel listened to and have a say in the decision making process. Whether this say is constructive or worthwhile seems irrelevant. And so it was that the removal of a decaying piece of furniture and replacing it with a clean and new piece of furniture was never going to be a straightforward matter.

Nigel, 23, was the first to speak out about the removal of the chair in which he had up to that point whittled away several years of his life without anyone trying to help him in case he felt judged.

“I don’t think we should get rid of this chair just straight away. People have spent many days sat in this chair and it has been a part of their lives. It’s been here since the centre opened and we shouldn’t just get rid of it overnight. We need time to get used to the idea.”

The only other two service users that turned up, Darren and Patsy nodded in support of Nigel’s inability to wean himself off a diseased ridden chair.

Lorraine asked what Nigel thought should have been done.

“Well, I mean we do need a new armchair and that’s great, but like I said we need to say goodbye to the one we have had for so long. I suggest we put up several memos around the building informing the other clients the final date that the chair will be here. Then I think we should get to burn it and have a few drinks around it and say goodbye.”

Lorraine met them most of the way but not all.

“I understand that many of you may feel attached to the chair so we will circulate a memo and put up signs informing the others of the final day of the armchair. However, we can’t give you the chair to burn as it will have to be dumped appropriately so that we don’t contravene any health and safety laws by allowing it to be burned in a public place.”

Although Lorraine imposed some kind of conditions on the service users' ludicrous request she still indulged them in the most part.

I sat silently through this portion of the meeting. I knew for a fact that my common sense approach would not be considered. I would have liked to inform Nigel and the rest of his peers that he didn’t need any period of adjustment to sit on a new chair and that the furniture would arrive when convenient for the donor and not the whims of idle youths. In fact, Nigel should spend more time contemplating getting up of his arse rather than where he plonks it.

I would also have liked to inform Lorraine and the rest of the committee that this type of indulgence does nothing to “empower” these young people, on the contrary, it perpetuates and encourages their belief that they are owed something by the rest of society without first having contributed something to it.

It is with this anecdote in mind that I am dreading having to facilitate any kind of client involvement meetings in my current workplace and besides to even hear their daft ideas we will have to bribe them with fizzy drinks and fast food as is the norm in most supported housing projects. We will then document our meetings and take on board the residents' suggestions and place it all in a file as evidence. Then another state bureaucrat will use this evidence as part of his or her evaluation of our wonderful service. Needless to say this is a complete waste of taxpayers' money. If the government need any suggestions on where the axe should fall in the next round of cuts they should look no further than supported housing for young people.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Lessons in Punctuality

One day a few months ago I was sitting in the office on the telephone enquiring after the status of one of our resident's housing benefit (they wont do it themselves) when Jerry, 19, decided to turn up ten minutes late for his support work meeting with me. I jestured to Jerry, who was standing at the window looking in to the office, that I would be another three or four minutes. He shook his head in disbelief and outrage and started to pace up and down outside the window. After about a minute, he started to knock frantically on the window and started tapping on his watch. I don't know what his rush was as he is unemployed and has all week to walk around gormlessly. Anyway, he had arrived late for his meeting so he had no right to be indignant as far as I was concerned. However, I decided to end the call with the council and have stern words with Jerry. I called him in to the office and before I could get a word in he was venting his frustrations.

"I shouldn't be kept waiting I have things to do and we had a meeting arranged. Anyway, what's this latest letter threatening me with eviction for? I have a rent repayment plan and have been paying it so you lot need to get off my back!" lectured Jerry.

"First of all Jerry, you were late for your meeting with me so I don't have to justify or apologise to you for having to wait. Now, whilst we are on the subject of tardiness let's talk about the issue of rent, something you are almost always late with and frequently avoid paying all together. Now, the thing with a rent repayment plan Jerry is that in having one you are suppoused to comply with it. You, in fact, have had three over the past four months and have not abided with any of them consistently. Even when you were working (he was recently sacked for constantly arriving late and being absent) you didn't pay all your rent. When I would try to talk to you about it you would become rude, dismiss me with a wave of your hand and would walk off. When I did manage to pin you down you would try to haggle with me on how much rent you felt was reasonable for you to pay (I did try to explain to him that rent was not a haggable commodity but I did admire his persistence in this delusion). This latest warning letter will be your last and the next letter you get will be your notice so we need to sit down and work out how you are going to sort out your rent arrears. At the end of the day I will take no pleasure in seeing you evicted and am disappointed that you recently lost your job. However, the first thing you need to do is apply for Housing Benefit, which you should have done a few weeks ago when you were sacked. We have already had this conversation twice...."

And so ended another frustrating keywork session and like so many others I have worked with Jerry failed to even manage to get his Housing Benefit sorted and we eventually evicted him. He returned to live with his Mother who like Old Mother Hubbard had so many kids she didn't know what to do. I wish that we had effective policies to assist the likes of Jerry to make progress in their lives. Young men like Jerry exist because as a society we have failed to inculcate them with the very basic of lifeskills. Supported Housing is supposed to ameliorate these problems but it so often just entrenches and perpetuates fecklessness and dependency.

On a more positive note, the nice people at the Orwell Prize have awarded me with this year's blog prize. To say I am honoured is an understatement. I started this blog initially as a form of catharsis and never imagined it would receive such prestigious recognition.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Danger of Imposing Values

A few weeks back I was subjected to a day of training gobbledegook from one of our Senior Managers. I tried to get out of it by protesting to my immediate Manager (there are so many Managers)that as I am already well acquainted with the supported housing sector, having worked for years with other housing associations, that there was no need for me to go on a training day entitled "Introduction to Supported Housing." My interest might have been engaged if it was a course entitled "A Conclusion to Supported Housing." However, this particular housing association need to ensure that their own box is ticked with regards to me receiving the appropriate training even if I have received it before.

During our inculcation, one of the first things that the manager discussed was the importance of our roles "in helping young people to gain life and social skills so as to move on to independent living." Who could argue with that? After all, that is what I try to do when engaging with the residents. However, in supported housing it is possible to implement two diametrically opposite policies at the same time and fail to see the inconsistency and the damage this does to those young people the system claims to want to help. Allow me to explain by way of anecdote.

One of my fellow Support Workers, Stuart, complained that many of the residents kept their rooms in appaling conditions and that he was astonished that management objected to him trying to use punitive measures to ensure the rooms were kept to an acceptable standard.

"Some of the rooms and the shared kitchens are not just untidy, but actually very dirty. There are bags of rubbish in there, dishes lying around that have rotting food on them, carpets that have never been hoovered, again with food all over them and toilets that are never cleaned. Once we had a kitchen that had a fly infestation because none of the residents would empty the bins. Now although these are the extreme examples they are not uncommon and there are those that keep their rooms and kitchens in almost as bad a condition. I won't even repeat some of the things I've seen lying around in some bedrooms. Now, I dont think its fair that any maintenance worker should have to go in there when the rooms are in these states or that I should have to enter for health and safety checks every two weeks if they are this filthy."

"Well, Stuart, I can see how this would be frustrating, but unless there is an obvious health and safety issue such as an exposed electricity socket or a faulty smoke alarm, then we have no right to tell our residents how to keep their rooms. We need to be very careful here as there is a danger of imposing our own value system on to the residents. What you perceive to be tidy and clean is subjective and their living standards, as long as it doensn't impede on anyone else, are also valid," stated the Senior Manager. She's paid a significant salary from the state coffers to peddle the ideology of moral relativism.

I decided to speak up on behalf of common sense as no one else was coming forward to fight its corner.

"With all due respect, I completely disagree. Dirt is dirt and it is not subjective. A plate of rotting food or a floor covered in unwashed clothing is objectively unhygienic and filthy. You said earlier that part of our job is to guide young people to develop life and social skills, but this requires the imposition of values such as personal responsibility, punctuality, self discipline and so on and so forth. So on the one hand we are being encouraged to impose values and on the other we are being told not to. This is highly inconsistent. What's more is that the rooms don't belong to the residents, they rent them from the state which in most cases also pays for them and then these rooms have to be inhabited by other young people after each resident's two year stay and so should be passed on in good condition. Also, if allowed to keep their rooms in such unhygienic and deleterious conditions when living here they will leave the rooms in a similar state when vacating the premises and then the staff will have to clean up their mess. This is something I refuse to do any longer. I've seen enough used condoms and soiled clothing to do me a lifetime thank you very much," I ranted.

"I can see some of your points Winston, but at the same time we have to respect that the rooms are their homes and you wouldn't want anyone coming in to your home and telling you how to live," stated the Senior Manager.

"Yes, but I don't live in Supported Housing which by it's very definition makes a value judgement that the residents are not fully functional individuals and that they need to be guided. How can this be done without the imparting of values?"

After this exchange, there was a few hours of further goobledegook relating to the Quality Assessment Framework (government regulations), in which I contemplated faking an epileptic fit in the hope of being led out of there on a stretcher. Instead, I day dreamed of working in a job that saw results and where my outlook was appreciated.

At the end of the day the Senior Manager, who doesn't actually have to work directly with any of our residents, thanked us all for the work we do.

"I must admit I couldnt do the work you lot do and we really appreciate all of your efforts. I don't think I could last a day in your roles with all you have to deal with. Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend."

We thanked her. She was a well meaning soul despite being indoctrinated by the waffle of Supporting People and the Quality Assessment Framework. However, most of us wouldn't have the great weekend she wished us as we would be at work and some of us on sleep-in duties which often means interrupted sleep as one wakes to deal with the noise of drunken and drugged youths disturbing the house.

I couldn't help but wonder what it is about the role of Support Workers that she wouldn't be able to abide? Would it be the verbal abuse? The threat of a complaint being made by a resident should you speak in a forthright manner when required, or even the fear of a physical assault? Perhaps, it was none of these things, after all who is to say any of this behaviour is bad. Surely, I should have learned by now that this behaviour is perfectly normal for our residents and to expect any thing is me trying to oppress them with my subjective value system. Of course, I am being facetious, as I said earlier the supported housing sector tends to employ moral relativism and the notion of subjective reality to deal with certain problems and the opposing belief system that there are universally accepted values to deal with others. Somehow, I don't think this helps any of the young people we deal with in that they need firm guidance and direction at all times not the misguided hogwash of moral relativism one day and the attempted imposition of loose boundaries and minor consequences the next. Is it any wonder that so many young people are so lost and dysfunctional when adults are refusing to guide them.

Friday, 30 April 2010

A Paternity Squabble, A Smashed UpTV and Catching Up with An Ex Colleague

There are plenty of days where I just don't want to talk or write about any of these issues any longer. There is a thin line between the cathartic relief this blog provides me with and the negative reinforcement of seamlessly dysfunctional lives and the ludicrously insane policies and initiatives that purport to act as a solution. In short, writing about these issues and recalling certain experiences frustrates me as much as it acts as a release valve. There will come a time when I will write no more on these issues. Just like the work itself, this blog will have a shelf life. In fact, all of the stories on this blog are written retrospectively so as to protect the confidentiality of those I work with. Any story that you read will have happened anywhere from two months ago to two years depending on how long ago it was posted of course. In fact, I have in the recent past stopped working in Residential Care Homes with 12-17 year olds and I am now solely working with 16-25 year olds within various Supported Housing projects through an agency. In the not too distant future I will also leave this sector. In one of my future posts I will outline the incident that was for me the final straw which led me to quit the residential care sector.

Meanwhile, back in the world of Supported Housing one can observe the goings on in the lives of many of our more dysfunctional members of society. Some weeks back I overheard one sixteen year old girl relating gossip to a friend regarding another teenage friend of their's:

"Did you know that Millie [another 16 year old] doesn't have a clue whether the baby is Jason's or Mike's and it's causing all kinds of hassle? Well, I told her to ring up ITV and they can get the baby Jeremy Kyled [to get a DNA test]."

For those of you unaware of the Jeremy Kyle Show on ITV in the morning, it is a vile programme where the descendants of pirates, fishwives and the rest of the lumpenproletariat slug it out over disputed paternity as well as other issues such as whether smoking crack is conducive to being a good role model for your children. Inspirational and life affirming TV it is not. I do find thought that about five minutes of it will fill you with a sense of gratitude that you are not living the lives of the participants. Any longer than that and you can hear your soul oozing out of your body so corrosive to the human spirit are it's contents.

A few weeks back I bumped in to one of the ex managers from a care home we both worked at as receptacles of abuse from the discarded offspring of the underclass. How I wish I could share with you that we relived tales of heartrendering transformations of disaffected, damaged and feral teenagers, but as I am sure you are aware by now that is a rarity thanks to a system that is useless and ineffective. Anyway, he reminisced with me about some of the idiotic dressing downs he got from his superiors for trying to impose standards as well as guide and direct the youngsters in the home he was managing.

"Well Winston, just before you were working with us Rachel (see the post Driving Miss Crazy) was getting ready to go to college one morning but she was very dirty and had on a t-shirt that was completely covered in food stains. As I was aware that this may bring her unwanted negative attention even bullying from her peers I told her she shouldn't go to college dressed as a homeless person. It might have been blunt but that's what she needed to hear as she was smelly and dirty. Anyway, instead of addressing the issue she telephoned head office and complained to my manager who then reprimanded me for my forthright advice, in that the language I used could have been viewed as oppressive or words to that effect. Then there was the time Rachel smashed up the wide screen TV in the lounge whilst having a tantrum because she couldn't get her way. I informed her that as a consequence I would not replace the TV for a month. Once again she phoned head office and complained and they telephoned me and ordered me to replace the TV immediately as it was Rachel's right to have one. [she had one in her bedroom anyway that she could have watched]. Like you used to say to me Winston, how does that system help Rachel if she never learns from her mistakes and the system fails to give her consequnces for negative and self-destructive behaviour?"

I think on that note I will leave it for today. It is sunny and I think I will do something life affirming for the rest of the afternoon instead of trailing through the tales of social detritus that are now woven in to my consciousness.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Honesty is Not Always the Best Policy

Many of my colleagues believe strongly that young people should be able to act and speak with little or no constraint without fear of judgement, censure or negative consequences. As one of my colleagues, a father of two teenagers under the age of eighteen, put it:

"I buy my kids booze and let them get drunk at home. In fact my daughter (16) had a party in the house last week and I bought her a bottle of Bacardi and I did so for her friends as well. I'd rather they did it under my nose and I don't see anything wrong with it as I used to drink when I was their age."

One of the consequences of this man's excessively ultra-liberal approach to parenting is that one of his kids is also dabbling in drug use and has been in trouble with the police for possession of drugs, but as he put it: "My daughter is just smoking a bit of spliff and she shouldn't be criminalised for this."

Well, yes she should, it is after all a criminal offence. However, that said I don’t think she should be penalised her whole life for a minor offence. Needless to say this staff member feels that we should turn a blind eye to both alcohol and drug abuse within the project even when it is being committed by under eighteens.

Now, whilst I do agree that young people should be able to talk to adults openly, I disagree with the notion that adults should then eschew their responsibility to provide a degree of judgement and a negative consequence for bad behaviour.
However, in both the care and supported housing sectors terms like ‘judgement’, ‘authority’ and ‘discipline’ are viewed as oppressively obsolete concepts that have little or no place in dealing with young people.

What then are the fruits of this approach, where all authority is undermined and where young people and children can be forthright with adults in how they lead their lives without fear of censure or the absence of any kind of judgement?

Well, from what I’ve observed (in schools, care homes and supported housing projects) the first casualty of this approach is the deterioration in the consciences of many young people. The absence of any judgment has led to a moral climate where anything goes regardless of the effects it has on oneself or the wider society. Here are just a few examples of what I’m referring to: girls from the age of 12-18 openly talking about their sexually promiscuous lives in front of staff without any degree of how inappropriate this is, feckless young men openly talking about children they have fathered casually (they don’t use protection as they don’t like how it feels) with no compunction for the fact they can’t/don't or wont support their offspring, kids as young as 12 openly admitting to being under the effects of drugs when you are talking to them and teenagers/young adults that openly talk to you about various kinds of criminal activities they are involved in with no sense of shame or remorse. What’s more if you challenge any of this behaviour they often get confrontational and accuse you of being ‘judgemental. ’ The majority of staff and management have inculcated them with a hostility to all forms of authority that they view as a right in itself.

Now, I was no angel as a teenager and I expect a degree of rebellion and the pushing of boundaries in young people. However, it is the role of adults to provide such boundaries and do their best to enforce them and if they are a wise adult they should expect their young to try to circumvent the boundaries laid down to a minimal degree. Thus it always was until adults that have never grown up themselves decided to be friends with their children instead of parents.

There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I smoked a lot of cannabis which brought me in to conflict with both my parents and the law. My education suffered a lot for a few years as did my mental health. Throughout that period of my life I was often troubled by my conscience which nagged me incessantly about the fact that I was living a dysfunctional existence. However, that conscience didn’t evolve in a vacuum, but was shaped and formed by the society in which I grew up, which deemed it unfitting for one to be stoned out of one’s brains day and night, week in and week out. Eventually, as problems mounted due to my lifestyle (including an appearance in court for drug possession) I had to seek help from my parents, but it wasn’t an easy or comfortable conversation being honest with them and nor should it have been. Knowing I had caused them trouble, worry and hassle played heavy on the conscience they had helped instill in me. Although they were supportive in helping me, they were judgemental and laid down some immediate consequences for the way I had been living my life. This is what I needed from them, although I didn’t see it that way at the time. If they had taken the softer, non-judgemental approach with me and tried to be my friend then I would probably still be living under their roof smoking a bong and trying to learn the didgeridoo. I am grateful that my parents tried to parent me when I needed it rather than be a friendly colluder in my own dysfunction. It’s a pity that the care and supported housing sectors don’t operate a similar approach.

They say honesty is the best policy, but I would rather have a young person lie to and deceive me about his or her dissolute lifestyle as this is an indication of guilt and perhaps shame, (the guilt and shame may one day be the thing that reforms them), rather than have one ensconced about the house honestly and openly destroying him or herself in a non-judgmental fashion.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Fleeting Moments Of Inspiration

There are fleeting moments of uplifting inspiration in the work I do, granted it's rare but it does happen from time to time. Earlier today, one of the girls I keywork was going on her first driving lesson. Catriona, 17, who left foster care last year is one of our success stories. Her Mother was an active alcoholic and from a young age Catriona had to play the role of parent to her two young siblings. She was very close to her Father, whom the Mother left and then informed Catriona and her siblings that he wanted nothing to do with them, this tunred out to be untrue and Catriona has located her Dad and now sees him regularly. Catriona entered the care system aged 12 and was split up from the siblings she was close to and loved dearly.

Catriona had a mixed experience of the care system with some succesful foster placements and some not so successful. She admits that until she was 15 she was a bit of a troublesome teenager until she had an epiphany of the trajectory her life could take. In her own words:

"At 15 I realised that I was more or less all alone in the world and that whatever I did and how I behaved would affect where I was going in my life. Although I didn't like school and had no interest beyond GCSEs I decided to work towards doing something with my life and not just sitting around drinking and drawing benefits like so many other people I know."

Catriona was so responsible and mature in her attitude and behaviour that Social Services allowed her to leave care at 16, most kids stay on until they are 18. She now lives with us in our Supported Housing project and works part time in a local hairdressers and is almost finished a hairdressing course at the local college. We never have to write her letters about paying her share of the rent or talk to her about bad behaviour. In fact, Catriona often has to stay elsewhere as she loses sleep due to the undealt with anti-social beahviour of other residents. Now, instead of holding up the likes of Catriona as a shining example that one's childhood doesn't have to pre-determine your path in life I have to listen day in day out to the disempowering mantra that young people with anti-social behaviour problems behave the way they do due to their negative childhood experiences. A convenient theory that then allows the young person to self destruct and the agents of state intervention to abdicate all responsibility.

I've been getting a bit of attention in the National press this week. Im in the Daily Mail today and the Guardian yesterday. I find it interesting and quite reassuring that a lot of the supportive comments on the Guardian's website are from people that have or are working in the same or a similar field.

I'm crossing my fingers that I make the Orwell shortlist that will be announced later today.

Friday, 9 April 2010

When Policies Clash with Reality

If the Tories get in I will be ending my blog. Why? Well, it’s because David Cameron has come up with one simple idea that will solve all the problems associated with British youth and thus my rantings will become obsolete. He has decided to send all 16 year olds to concentration camps for the summer where they will be shown T.V footage from days gone by of how tough the majority of teenagers used to have it what with getting belted about the head at school day in day out before having to endure a lifetime of tedious backbreaking work down a mine or in a factory.Well, at least in those days young people had jobs to go to and houses they could afford to buy or rent.

Cameron is the master of gimmicks and policy announcements that at the end of the day will go nowhere and if they do, in many instances, will have no effect. Didn’t he used to have a wind turbine on the roof of his house to generate electricity that he was forced to take down? Maybe he could stick it to his head to see if it can generate any sensible ideas in relation to youth issues.

The main problem, amongst others, with Cameron’s National Citizen Service is that it’s voluntary. He has embarked upon this plan as an antidote to gang violence and the more serious manifestations of youth disengagement. If these youths won’t engage constructively with the myriad of services already available to help them turn their lives around then how does he think he is going to manage to do it? Maybe he will threaten to hug them again as he did a few years back. If Cameron wants to help the really disaffected youths at the fringe of our society, a minority but a sizeable one, then he should take his lead from the Eastside Young Leaders Academy.

He says that the root cause of vandalism and youth crime is a lack of discipline and that this initiative will be the cure. Well, discipline involves people often having to do things they would rather not be doing in order to improve their character and requires one individual to transmit the discipline to another as there are very few teenagers that willingly and openly invite discipline in to their lives. The more feral kids in society need discipline and structure so let’s have a plan that has these values at its heart and in order for it to be effective it needs to be compulsory. As a voluntary measure it’s akin to shooting the horse before you’ve even opened the barn door.

The initiative is also aimed at all 16 year olds and not just gang members and those youths who haven’t been effectively socialised. What sane teenager who behaves well or relatively ok at school and isn’t involved in crime or anti-social behaviour will want to spend time in the company of their unruly and aggressive peers? For some of these kids the summer is the only break they get from thuggish behaviour that blights their lives in bog standard comprehensives. Luckily for them it’s voluntary so they can spend their summers doing what they please a right they have surely earned.

Cameron’s speech to announce the National Citizen Plan also reveals Cameron’s strategy of trying to appeal to voters of all persuasions. In this speech he was careful to mention the word discipline (to appeal to the more Conservative voter) but emphasized that this scheme would be voluntary (trying to appease the more liberal minded). I am tempted to vote for the Conservatives (I like the noises they are making about school discipline and cutting police bureaucracy) as well as the Lib Dems (tax policies and efforts to cut inequality) but Cameron’s lack of any clear, committed and consistent stance in many areas worries me. He appears to be a man more concerned with seizing power than one with a clear vision.

After reading about Cameron’s plan to turn the lives of yoofs around it got me thinking about all the harebrained plans and policies I have to work with. In fact, right outside the office on a notice board there is one outlining our policy on Keyworking (a.k.a Support Working, Link Working just in case anyone finds the term Keyworking offensive they have options). The policy outlines all the different qualities that the resident’s personal assistant, sorry KeyWorker, should exude, thus instilling at a young age that the state is there to serve you before you have done anything in service of the state. Most notable of all though is the definition of what keyworking purports to do: “helping you to realise your goals in order to move forward in life.” This definition doesn’t allow for the fact that many of our 16-25 year old residents don’t have goals beyond getting as wasted as they can on a regular basis. This then involves me having to support them in setting some goals all the while being “careful not to impose one’s own value system” as one manager put it to me recently. The residents who don’t have goals never turn up for their Keyworking sessions and have to be threatened with eviction to engage in setting goals they don’t aspire towards. All of this is recorded, monitored and audited by layers of state financed bureaucrats.

Then there are those residents, usually the older ones but not always, who have goals and aims and are progressing and just want to be left alone to do so which they should be permitted to do. They resent formal support plans that state obvious goals like: continue to pay your rent, go to work etc. etc. They can’t understand and neither can I, why all this needs to be written down and why they have to talk about it every two weeks for an hour. They feel patronised for having their lives interfered in and they are right. However, as they can’t afford to rent properties of their own due to unjust rents they are forced to adhere to the state’s ludicrous interference to qualify for a roof over their heads.

If Cameron’s dream of becoming Tony Blair’s successor falls flat on its face perhaps he can get a job as a policy officer in the Supported Housing sector. Just like Dave’s National Service initiative, many of this sector's policies bear no relation to the realities of the young people they work with and are just as ineffective at combating some of the more serious problems associated with our young. Another similarity is that just like politicians when faced with the evidence of the failure of their policies, they will do their utmost to convince people that it’s all working wonderfully well, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Evil Triumphs when Adults Abandon Their Responsibilities

The brutal murder last week of Sofyen Belamouadden, 15, by other teenagers, in front of hundreds of adults at a packed commuter station is an extreme, but not uncommon, example of the complete breakdown of effective forms of adult authority to thwart criminal and anti-social behaviour in our young.

Less extreme examples of the ineffectiveness of adults to guide and direct the young are on display in a variety of milieus from schools, care homes, the youth justice system and the supported housing sector. I have worked in three of these settings and have dealt with the other directly so I am speaking from personal experience as oppossed to prejudice.

In fact, there has been a gradual abandonment by adults of their responsibilities to guide, direct and discipline children and young people for trangressions of accepted social norms. Whilst working in a school I regularly met parents who were annoyed, frustrated and angry that the school had failed to straighten out their errant son or daughter. The school and the teaching staff in turn blamed the parents for the more egregiously badly behaved pupils. As far as I am concerned it was the fault of both the parents and the school and indeed the wider society. We are all responsible for the transmission of social norms to the young. I am referring here to a minimal adherence to generally held social norms such as not verbally abusing people or being violent or agressive, as well as an ability to take instructions from authority figures.

The same trend is on display in the care system and in supported housing. The system is powerless to effectively instil boundaries and discipline in the more challenging and disturbed residents i.e. those who need it most. In some cases, counselling in conjunction with firm and resilient adult authority would in my opinion help turn lots of kids around. However, instead of these measures being put in place you hear the usual nonsense where by the blame is shifted back on to the parents, despite the fact that they are now under the care of or receiving support from the state and in many cases have been from a young age.

In effect, what is happening is that all spheres of adult authority are abandoning their responsibilities towards children and young people. In the past, if one's parents failed to transmit social norms to you the wider society would step in and do so whether in the form of the extended family network, neighbours, at school or with a harsher youth justice system for the more extreme cases. I dont deny that there were problems in this model and that some of the authority of the past needed to be challenged, rethought and restructured. However, what seems to have happened is the jettisoning of all forms of effective adult authority in some parts of society and hence the inexorable rise in problems associated with young people over the past two decades.

In some sections of society the erosion of adult authority has exposed many young people to unprecedented levels of bullying, intimidation, aggression and extreme violence. Traditionally, strong male role models in the forms of teachers, the police and fathers were responsible for stamping out the incipient aggressive tendencies within young males and replacing these inherent dispositions with civilised norms. The fruits of abandoning this approach are all around us and the welfare state, as well as neo-liberal economics, are largely responsible for this development.

In fact, a while ago at a supported housing project I was commended and praised by a manager, for not physically intervening to stop one of our residents whilst he was on a drunken rampage throughout the project. He smashed up his room, kicked in a window and attacked several other residents who managed to get away from him in time. This young man, Sean, 18, was so intoxicated, in the middle of the day for that matter, that he had no idea what he was doing. The following day he remembered nothing of the incident.

Anyway, as we watched the CCTV footage of his debaucherous trek through the project, the manager repeatedly praised me for my non-aggressive body language and non-interventionist approach as well as my use of de-escalation skills, none of which were effective in any way. As a result of employing my useless politically correct armour in dealing with drunken louts, Sean was allowed to continue on his trail of destruction. After getting bored attacking his fellow residents, as well as the fixtures and fittings in the project, Sean decided to share his rage with the wider community. He proceeded on to the street in front of the project and attempted to pull an elderly man from a bike as he was cycling by. At this point I decided to abandon the non-interventionist, non aggressive approach. I managed to grab Sean by the scruff of the neck, place his arm behind his back and lower him to the ground until the police arrived.

In the face of such aggression what else was I to do but intervene? However, I can understand why so many people don't and it is because in our schools, care homes, supported housing units and even in the family home, if a child or young person accuses you of using excessive force the onus is on the adult to prove their innocence to senior management (in some instances this is an understandable stricture) that seem to be a lot more effective in dealing with alleged or minor transgressions of adults than the feral savagery of the young people in their charge. However, with such a sword dangling over one's head, is it any wonder so many adults in positions of authority have effectively abandoned trying to transmit morals and norms to the young?

It is therefore not at all surprising to me that some young people, including teenage girls as well as boys, were involved in the aforementioned murder at Victoria station in front of hundreds of adults. These young people have grown up in a society where adults have abandoned their duty to ensure that their young are civilised and adhering to a minimum standard of accepted social norms.

The underlying cause of the demise of effective adult authority is best articulated by the words of the 18th century Anglo-Irish Statesman and Philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”

Thursday, 25 March 2010

'Funky' Worker Required and some good news

I've just had a call from the social care agency I work for trying to entice me in to doing a placement with some eighteen year old care leavers. The conversation deteriorated in to farce once the word 'funky' was used in trying to persuade me to undertake the placement. The conversation went something like this:

"Hi Winston, we've just had a call from the leaving care team at the local social services. They're looking for someone youthful and funky to work with care leavers. What they said the young people want is someone who dresses funky and likes the same music as the kids. Basically, they want someone like the kids that can relate to them."

This snippet of information leads me to believe that they would be happy with a stoned adult slacker that walks around with his trousers hanging off and who listens to Dizzy Rascal and Lady Sovereign in their spare time. I regularly encounter these kind of teenage adults in both care homes and the supported housing sector. If they are a particularly uncivilised group, as some care leavers are, do they wish me to mimic their behaviour in this area as well? Perhaps they want me to turn up for work with an insolent and aggressive attitude towards even the most minimal displays of authority?

It's a terrible shame that social services are not seeking a worker who has overcome problems in his own youth and whom the young people are trying to emulate as opposed to the other way around. I concede that establishing this relationship and attitude isn't always easy, but any sane society should be seeking for adults to lead and guide problematic youngsters as oppossed to the inverse. However, social services would seem to prefer for me to lower myself to the levels of dysfunctional youths. Can someone please tell me how this will help these young people? Contrary to what many of my detractors say I actually care for what happens to young people and our kids and just don't understand how nonsense like this serves the interests of misguided youngsters. These kids need guidance, boundaries and discipline not emulation. How can the fools in the local social services not see this?

I politely turned down the placement on the grounds that it was too far away as oppossed to the fact that it was an asinine initiative.

For once I'm ending a post on a positive note with the news that I've been longlisted for this year's Orwell Blog Prize. If I only get this far I feel very honoured to be recognised. Firstly because I think some of my earlier posts are slightly sloppy in style and secondly because George Orwell has been one of the greatest influences in my life.

You can read some of the blog posts by some of the other bloggers on the longlist here. Congratulations to all the other bloggers.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sleep Disorder

I am in the office alone updating all of my Support Plans. I’m making sure I’ve signed each page of each Support Plan in the correct place; after all efficient bureaucracy is obviously the key to ensuring progress in our resident’s lives.

All of a sudden, a slightly obese, uncouth twenty one year old female member of the underclass storms in to the office. It’s Kirsty, Kenny’s current girlfriend. She immediately starts shouting.

“This place is a f**king joke,” she growls.

I agree with her but for very different reasons.

“First of all, calm down Kirsty. Please don’t walk in to the office on the offensive. For a start, you should knock and wait to be invited. If I wanted to talk to you I would knock on your door and wait until you opened it.”

However, I never want to talk to Kirsty. Sometimes I have to but I can’t get away from that. She ignores my comments and continues her rant.

“Where is Brendan? I want to talk to him?” she asks.

“He is keyworking some one.”

“Well, I put in a request for a wake up call with the night worker and they wrote it in the book and then I only got called once and so I slept in. I had an important appointment and it’s this place's fault I missed it. I specifically asked to be called three times within half an hour,” she remarked.

“Well Kirsty, for a start we are not a hotel we shouldn’t be doing wake up calls and if you had asked me I would have told you to use the alarm on your mobile phone to get yourself up. We are supposed to be helping you to become independent. We are not servants. You should not have been told you could have one wake up call never mind three. However, you did have one and should have got up then. We have other things to do. If it had been me working you wouldn’t have even got one.”

“Look, I’ve got a disorder where I can’t get up easily in the morning. I’ve told the Doctor about it and all so you can ask him about it. I have to be woken several times or I just fall back to sleep.”

I didn’t know being lazy and stupid was a medical disorder but there you go, you learn something new every day in this place. I wonder is her inability to get and keep a job or stay on a course a disorder as well. The fact she is two stone overweight is also probably a disorder called Repetitive Shoving of Pies Down One’s Gullet Syndrome.

I somehow doubt that Kirsty’s Doctor would validate her insistence that her laziness is an illness. You never know though after all many in the medical fraternity believe addiction is an illness as opposed to the results of people’s choices.

“I think you may find that a large proportion of the country suffer the very same difficulty with getting up in the morning, but they have to make sure they get up as they don’t have keyworkers,” I comment.

“You lot are supposed to help us and you hassle us when we are not doing anything. I had to go and see about a job this morning and thanks to this place I’ve lost that chance,” she barks.

“Well you are going to have to learn to get yourself up. If you cant get up for an interview how the hell are you going to get up for work?” I ask.

Kirsty shrieks in frustration at such straight talking, partially because she isn’t exposed to too much of it around here.

“I’m putting in a complaint form about this, it’s not on,” she says as she wobbles in her tracksuit out of the office.

You do just that Kirsty. It’s your right after all and as our Complaints Charter states:

We treat all complaints about the qulaity of our services and the conduct of our staff with serious concern…We endeavour that all our service users are comfortable and confident in making complaints about our services. To do this we will provide as many different options to make complaints as possible, including text, telephone, in writing, email and in person.

Now, with policies like this is it any wonder we have people making complaints about not getting the sufficient number of wake up calls. What is worse is that Kirsty’s complaint will be dignified with a written response from management. Personally, I wouldn’t waste the paper. Then both her complaint and the manager's response will be placed in a file which will be scrutinised, as part of an audit, by bureaucrats from the Department of Communities and Local Government.