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.