Saturday 12 December 2009

Driving Miss Crazy

It was back to one of the children’s residential care home’s last week on top of the supported housing shenanigans. People ask me if I often work such long hours for the money or they mistakenly presume it must be rewarding on some level, but what motivates me in many instances is the adrenalin rush I often get to experience when working with wild and unruly adolescents as threats to your own well being constitute a part of the job. Of course no one tells you that at the interview. Instead they use the word ‘challenging’ which is a euphemism for everything from verbal abuse to violence.

Last Friday night, another support worker and myself had to go and pick up Rachel, 17, from the local town centre. She had purposefully missed the last train home because she knows that we have a ‘duty of care’ towards her and that we can get in trouble for refusing to give her a lift. To all intent and purpose we act like a chauffeur service for her. Her partner in obesity and coarseness, Sammie, 14, demanded to come along for the spin despite the fact it was past her bedtime. Of course senior staff capitulated to Sammie’s demands, they almost always do, as it’s easier. It was also past the staff’s bedtime but our needs are not relevant as teenagers rights take precedence.

Anyway, we arrived at the destination that Rachel had demanded to be picked up from. Despite the fact that we had come to drive her home she was none too pleased to see any of us and particularly yours truly. As an intermittent presence in her life for over a year I try to instill in her personal responsibility, respect for others and self discipline. As she gets none of this from the other staff I am something of an oddity to be singled out for vitriol and abuse. This night she was in a particularly foul mood and wasted no time in directing insults at me.

“Why, have you brought this c**t with you to pick me up? I’m not getting in the car with him in it.”

So, she waited outside smoking and spitting and verbally abusing Valerie and myself as we sat in the car. Sammie succumbed to the allure of participating in this yobbery and joined Rachel in the street to hurl insults at those charged to wait on them hand and foot. We ignored all of this so as not to ‘escalate the situation’ in the terminology of management. Rachel was demanding that I get a taxi back to the house but after fifteen minutes she realized she wasn’t going to win this battle so she begrudgingly got in to the car but the real fun was only about to begin.

Now, my brother enjoys extreme sports such as surfing and kite surfing and he testifies that the adrenalin surge from these pursuits is addictive. However, he knows nothing of adrenalin until he is driving on a busy motorway at night at sixty m.p.h. with a deranged teenage girl kicking the driver’s seat with all her might and opening and closing one of the back doors so as to instill fear and intimidate the adults charged with her responsibility. Sitting in the front passenger seat afforded me several slaps across the head and a clear view of the terror on Valerie’s face each time her seat was violently kicked from behind causing her to jerkingly lunge forward as she tried to concentrate on driving and not to focus on her potentially imminent demise in a metal fireball at the side of the motorway.

We tried to remedy this behaviour by pulling over to the hard shoulder and threatening not to continue with the drive but as Rachel reminded us we were already two hours past our bed time and had to be up and on duty again in seven hours whereas she could sleep all day if she wanted. In the interests of getting some sleep over avoiding a crash we soldiered on with Rachel continuing with her dangerous and intimidating behaviour.

When we got back in to the office we still had to complete some paperwork despite the fact we were completely head fried and emotionally drained from driving Miss Crazy. In accordance with the concept of ‘duty of care’ which lies at the heart of the work we do with these teenagers we are often in situations like this in cars. Surely there should be a corresponding ‘duty of responsibilities’ that the teenager has to adhere to? Would this not be real care to teach them respect for others and themselves? This would involve sometimes being tough and enforcing negative consequences. However, as management have informed me they don’t like to focus on the kids negative behaviour, but prefer to encourage and reward positive behaviour. However, in failing to tackle the former they rarely get to experience the latter but they never seem to make that connection.

I was assured by Valerie that there would be a consequence for Rachel’s appalling and dangerous behaviour. I went off duty the following morning and returned three days later. Rachel had indeed been punished, if you could call it that, and of course there was some paperwork to do before the sanction could be delivered. She had just completed a two day car ban and was that very afternoon being driven here and there by staff. When I asked why it wasn’t substantially longer as well as having some other privileges removed for putting people’s lives at stake I was informed that this could affect her rights and conflict with our ‘duty of care’ towards her. Call me old fashioned but if we were really caring for her we would be teaching her right from wrong but that would require authority, discipline and judgment and these are terms that don’t roll to freely from the tongues of liberal policy makers and social services.

Thursday 3 December 2009

Horse Tranquilisers and Recommended Reading

Just the other day, I was sitting in the office at a Supported Housing project filling in evidence of the support I'd given a 'client'. I received an email last week from someone in the policy department instructing that from now on I refer to 'residents', as they were formerly known, as 'clients'. If the term resident is somehow now offensive or disempowering they should hear what I call some of the 'clients' when Im down the pub. Have these people nothing better to do than dictate the pedantry of language? Probably not. I can think of so many better uses of taxpayer's money than funding Newspeak officials straight out of Orwell's 1984.

Anyway, as I was recording that I had successfully reminded him to pay his portion of rent and to sign on, one of our less socialised residents came to the office to see if he had any post. For someone with limited literacy skills he is very interested in being written to, but then he has us to read him his letters. As I rummaged in the post box I noticed that the resident's nose was slightly bleeding.

"Jim, do you know that you have a nose bleed?" I asked.

Taking a tissue to his nose, he responded, "Oh yeah, that happens a lot probably from taking ketamine." This is a horse tranquiliser and ironically it never seems to actually sedate Jim who is regularly involved in a variety of forms of anti-social behaviour including aggression, violence and threatening behaviour. Maybe he needs to up his dose?

"Then stop taking ketamine as it's damaging your health and is a dangerous drug," I remarked.

"But Ive been taking it for ages and Im ok," he said whilst blood trickled down his nostrils.

How do you reason with that kind of thinking? It's almost as if Jim is intrinsically incapable of sorting out his life.

I wrote this down as well. Any conversation is deemed as support. The social malaise that is stalking Britain in the twenty first century is being well documented for future historians to read, depending on whether the confidentiality of the dissolute classes will still have to be respected after their death.

If you enjoy reading my blog, if enjoy is the right word, I recommend visiting Monday books. This publisher is at the forefront of giving a platform to the chroniclers of the social demise in Britain and the complicity of government in that process. There is Frank Chalk's both hilarious and distressing dispatches from the frontlines of a crumbling comprehensive secondary school. Then there are several acclaimed books written by police officers that hightlight the absurd regulations and bureaucratic constraints that hinder the police from doing what most people expect them to do: police. Last but not least, there are two titles from Theodore Dalrymple, an inner city hospital consultant who journals the wasted and despairing lives of the inhabitants of slum Britain and who The Guardian described as "a modern master."

Thursday 12 November 2009

A Self Sustaining Egalitarian Redistributive Food System

Last week, whilst working with 16-25 year olds in Supported Housing, I witnessed an act of such waste and profligacy that could only occur when it is other people’s money that is being spent. Let me explain, the thirty or so residents that live in this complex of small flats have to share four kitchens between them. That is, four or five residents share a considerably large kitchen. In each of these kitchens there is a large fridge freezer. They were all working perfectly well, apart from never having been cleaned or defrosted, but then that is par for the course working with most of these young people. They probably think it is someone else’s job. I can understand why they are confused, there are already several cleaners that do most of the work around the project.

To say the kitchens were a shared space almost conjures up images of disadvantaged youths working in solidarity to cook cheap and nutritious meals and dividing up cleaning and cooking responsibilities in an equitable fashion. This was not the reality or anything like it for the simple fact that the young people I work with are so profoundly solipsistic in their motivations that terms like responsibility, solidarity and community are not only words that some of them would struggle to read, but also hollow terms that hold no significance in their lives.

Perhaps I am being too harsh, in fact, I am. They did share food with each other almost every day. Sharing was so intrinsic to their value system that no one ever asked anyone else could they borrow anything, they just took it. However, in the few weeks that I have been working at this project several new residents are taking issue with this obviously perfect system of equitable distribution. They don’t seem to understand that this egalitarian distributive food sharing scheme works perfectly, even if it seems contrary to common sense. A bit like communism really. I mean look how great both Cuba and North Korea seem to be doing.

How the system works is on the day you get your Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income Support or Disability Living Allowance or any combination of benefit payments, after you have bought some super strong skunk weed and cheap alcohol you then make your way around to the local Iceland and stock up on nutritionless artery averse ready meals. Whilst shopping, it helps to have in mind what your fellow residents like to eat, as it is they who will be eating most of what you buy anyway. The fact that they also shop in Iceland means your margin of error will be slight. It also almost guarantees that you will get the food you want when you are stealing, erm, I mean sharing their food.

This is a perfect system as long as no one complains and everyone buys some food and is open to sharing. It is both an egalitarian self sustaining non-hierarchical redistributive exchange system as well an unfettered free market where Adam Smith’s invisible hand is hard at work in the pantries and refrigerators of unemployed young adults. It is a rare system that appeals to both far left anarchists and libertarians. There is only one slight snag with this model, as soon as even one resident questions the system i.e. complains, or uses the word ‘stolen’ then the whole system implodes. Complaints tend to arise when there is nothing left to borrow from your fellow residents. As with many supposed perfect economic models they are impeded by human beings and their behaviour.

As several new residents were averse to sharing or being robbed, depending on your perspective, the manager decided to deal with the issue. In each kitchen there was a large fridge freezer of about six foot. It had ample space for the cornucopia of cheap processed foods that provided our residents with the calories they needed to sit about stoned and/or drunk for most of the day. These fridge freezers worked fine, they just needed to be cleaned and defrosted and the residents needed to learn not to steal from each other. Instead, the manager decided we should buy each resident a small refrigerator without an icebox for their room. So, we did just that and bought thirty one Amica small fridges at a rough cost of four thousand pounds. The large fridge freezers in the kitchen were thrown out even though they all worked perfectly. We then spent roughly one thousand eight hundred pound replacing these with seven large freezer units. All of this money came from public funds. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it was judicious spending or not, as Im trying to be a lot less judgemental about things these days as my employers have informed me that judging a.k.a having an opinion based on standards is somehow negative.

The one thing I don’t understand is that won't the residents still steal each other’s frozen goods from the brand new communal freezers? Did management not consider this when they were deciding how to waste thousands of pounds of taxpayer’s money on how to police the shared pantries and kitchens of our young discarded on to the welfare state?

Thursday 22 October 2009

Mind your Language

In each adolescent care home a daily log book must be kept. This is a statutory requirement. There are also separate daily logs kept for each individual adolescent. However, one can’t simply write what one experiences in a working day in these log books. This is because social services object to what they call ‘harsh’ or ‘judgmental’ language. Frontline staff are expected to write up daily reports about the events in their respective care homes about each young person as if they inhabit some kind of morally objective universe where no one makes any kind of judgments or has any kind of standards. So, just what can be construed as ‘harsh’ or ‘judgmental’ language by those on high in social services? Here’s an example from the care home where the feral and violently dangerous Liam resides.

On Tuesday afternoon of last week, Liam was taken out shopping with his clothing allowance when he should have been at his own private school at the back of the house. However, he was being rewarded for having ‘chosen’ to go to school in the morning for an hour. ‘Choosing’ to stay in a classroom for one hour is viewed as a success as the standards of behaviour and compliance are set so low for Liam that he can’t but help to live up to them. He returned later in the evening with lots of new clothes and was only averagely verbally abusive to staff for the rest of the day.

On the Wednesday, Liam ‘chose’ not to go to school for the entire day and was rewarded by being given a walk in the countryside, as well as the hiring of a rowing boat on a lake at a local stately home. This was called an ‘educational outing’ in the paperwork at the end of the day. I can understand the teacher’s rationale. Sit in a class with a feral and aggressive lout twice your size who throws things at you and insults you or take him out walking in the countryside where with any luck he might get trod on by a bull. I know which choice I’d be making.

Anyway, having his every whim pandered to up until the early afternoon had set a precedent for the rest of the day. Liam demanded to be taken back out clothes shopping with the remaining twenty pounds left in his clothing allowance from the day before. I was going to walk with Liam to the train station and head to town with him as instructed by management. Liam still wasn’t happy in that there was no driver or car available to drop us both at the train station as they were out with the other delinquents somewhere else. Liam demanded that we get the support worker with the car back immediately to drive him to the station to get the train. Liam was told this wouldn’t be happening. He then proceeded to smash up the house. He tore several paintings off the wall, he threw a clock at myself and the manager but luckily missed, he later assaulted the manager, he spat in my face and later that evening grabbed me by the throat and he also spent a good hour trying to kick the office door down. For all of these horrific actions Liam was informed he would lose his one pound incentive money for good behaviour that day. He had already lost a pound for not going to school. He shouldn’t be bribed to do these things in the first place. He can earn up to twenty pound a week in bribes and this is before his pocket money or money set aside for weekly activities such as the cinema, bowling and amusement parks.

Liam is what used to be called a spoilt brat. He is in care because his Mother never disciplined him, his father left home when he was young and Liam learned to get his way by throwing tantrums and as he got older his tantrums became violent outbursts. Liam’s mother had the option of putting him in to care as the British state allows people to voluntarily abandon their responsibilities. Having been given no boundaries in the home, a form of neglect with far reaching social ramifications, the state has continued in the same vein by medicalising Liam’s behaviour by diagnosing him with two fictitious conditions. They are ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. These diagnoses are used by care management and social services to excuse Liam’s behaviour and to allow them an excuse for not successfully enforcing boundaries and discipline. Of course, I’m not suggesting this is a conspiracy to assist the state in abdicating it’s duty once the child is in care but it conveniently allows no one to be held culpable for Liam’s behaviour. At the end of the day Liam is the victim of a society that no longer enforces boundaries or instills discipline and respect in the young. Children and young people need boundaries, consequences and discipline to grow in to healthy and functional adults.

Whilst Liam might not be held responsible for any of his actions whilst in care the staff certainly are for theirs. The day after he thrashed the house and assaulted staff including myself I went to wake him for school. I went in to his room and called him. I was standing about three feet from his bed and repeatedly asked him, politely of course, I wouldn’t want him to log a complaint, to get up. He pulled the blankets over his head, ignored me and turned around to face the wall. It was a welcome change from the usual barrage of abuse and threats.

A few minutes after trying to awaken Liam from his well deserved rest after the previous day’s delinquent indulgences I wrote an entry in the daily log. It stated: “I went in to Liam’s room and attempted to wake him, he pretended to be deaf and ignored my requests to get up.” An hour after entering this in the daily log I was called in to the office by the manager. She politely informed me that what I had written would be viewed as ‘judgmental’ and ‘harsh’ language by social services in that I was “making a presumption” and “jumping to conclusions without being sure they were the facts,” according to my manager. I told her I was there and watched him ignore me but still my word and observations based on common sense were not valid as they were my opinions and not the facts as I couldn’t know for certain that he pretended to be deaf or had ignored me. I was going to argue with her but I didn’t bother. I have learned by now that this whole sector is infected with an institutional and ideological form of insanity and sometimes I haven’t the energy to argue with the insane. Another member of staff was reprimanded that day for writing that Becky was ‘‘sulking’’ as this too is ‘oppressive’ language. Liam however escaped any verbal censures for the previous day’s escapades but was told he could go on a trip to a leisure centre on Saturday if he managed to behave until then, thus inculcating him with the belief that one behaves appropriately, not because there is an inherent value in good behaviour, but because it entitles you to be indulged and rewarded with entertainment of one kind or another.

Friday 11 September 2009

A Holiday In Chernobyl

So Barnardo's chief Martin Narey thinks more children should be taken in to state care at birth. At a cost of five thousand pound a week to the taxpyer, for each child in care, is this really the sensible solution? Is extending the welfare state, which has contributed greatly to the ever expanding underclass, the correct remedy for feckless breeding? I think not. However, Mr Narey very bravely took a "judgemental" position by pointing out the obvious, that many people are not fit to be parents. However, the solution lies not in caring for the fruits of their loins but rather in ensuring that there is a lot less of their fruit about in the first place.

Instead, what should happen is that the state should remove incentives for those incapable of parenthood from becoming parents in the first place. Welfare benefits should be greatly reduced for those families and young people who breed simply to gain more in state benefits or simply to get to the head of the social housing queue. I can guarantee you that if there was less provision for the indolent and irresponsible to breed then they would do less of it. I have worked first hand with lots of young people who have told me they were getting pregnant to get a flat and an increase in benefits.

One young man I worked with in a supported housing project, who was expecting a child with his ex-girlfriend, (he has since left her and impregnated another of his ilk) refused to avail of the free condoms because as he put it, "I dont like them."

I responded, "Are you not worrying about becoming a Dad and all that entails and the expenses involved?"

"No not really, the benefits pay for everything. My ex already has a baby with another bloke and she got a flat from that and gets tax credits and benefits so it will all be allright."

As I said, he abandoned her and impregnated another girl in the project whom he also went on to leave. Now, if this lad and the women he slept with had to take financial responsibility for the consequences of not using contraception then they would be less likely to procreate. A good thing, if you ask me. It is not in the intersts of society or indeed humanity in general that the aforementioned young man should be extending his gene pool. A holiday in Chernobyl would do him the world of good.

Thursday 27 August 2009

Rewarding Young Criminals

A few weeks ago,an academic study revealed that the government's Intensive Surveillance and Supervision Programme to deal with young offenders is useless. Many of us working with young offenders in various contexts have known this for years. We see the proof of it every day. However, many working with the underclass in various contexts keep our mouths shut. To point out the obvious that the left-liberal approach to crime and disorder doesn't work is heresy and can have a detrimental effect on your career, but then again should you be doing a job you don't believe in? I know I won't last much longer that's for sure.

One lad called Perry, that I've worked with at a Supported Housing project was on an ISSP for driving recklessly whilst drunk in a stolen vehicle. It was his second offence of this exact nature in just six months. Now, Perry committed the second of these two offences just shy of his eighteenth birthday. By the time it went to court Perry was an adult in the eyes of the law but was treated as a juvenile as he had committed the offences when he was seventeen.

According to the Youth Justice Board, an ISSP is the most rigorous non-custodial sentence for young offenders. Now, I dont know about you but when I think of the word rigorous, in the context of dealing with criminal behaviour, I imagine some kind of negative consequence being visited upon the perpetrator in the interests of justice and also to act as a deterrent to committing future crimes. Sadly, this is not so, as the case of Perry so clearly illustrates.

Whilst on his ISSP, the surveillance component required that Perry was tagged and was on a strict curfew which meant he had to be in his room in the Supported Housing project every night by eight o'clock. When Perry failed to meet his curfew, as he often did, the electronic box in his room would send out a signal to the relevant authorities informing them of Perry's non compliance with his curfew. Oh by the way, the relevant authorities were not the police, but a private security company hundreds of miles away. They rang us at the Project, usually the morning after Perry had failed to abide by his curfew, in which time he could have committed a wide variety of offences. They then informed the Youth Offending Team and Perry went back to court. Just how is this close surveillance backed up by rigorous enforcement that reaasures the community? Yet it claims so on the Youth Justice Board's website (see previous link). People have committed horrendous crimes including murder whilst on ISSPs and their adult equivalent.

The judge actually praised Perry for only violating his curfew a few times and commended Perry for engaging fully with the supervision part of the programme. This involved dealing with the underlying causes ( a euphemism for excuses) for Perry's criminal lifestyle. To be fair, some of the supervision was positive, particularly getting Perry to succesfully engage on a literacy course. If our schools were properly run Perry would already know how to read but that's a whole other blog. Over to Frank Chalk.

The most shocking aspect of Perry's supervision was the amount of leisure and recreation that was being laid on for him by the Youth Offending Team and at the taxpyer's expense. Perry showed me a copy of his weekly Supervison rota. Everyday he would meet with his Youth Offending Team Support Worker who would take him on various outings and activities. These included, bowling, swimming, he was bought an annual membership for the local snooker club, taken to a stately home, taken on a naval battleship and everyday brought out for lunch to his favourite Scottish restaurant, Mcdonalds. This went on for the several months Perry was on the ISSP.

In the words of Perry, "I thought I was going to be punished, this is mad, I might steal another car to get back on it again," he half joked.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Making the Right Choice (part 2)

Having had a metal weight thrown at his head, which would enrage even the most passive person, Liam went in to an apoplectic frenzy. Edwin’s instincts quickly told him that were he to remain in the vicinity of Liam he would be the victim of grievous bodily harm. Edwin, for once, made the right choice and locked himself in his room. The pregnant Becky joined him, as did the two female members of staff. Liam emerged from his room wearing a pair of steel toe capped building boots. He headed for Edwin’s door and started to kick violently with all his strength. I asked him calmly to please refrain from trying to break Edwin’s door down, always with the manners of course, it’s good for their self-esteem you see to speak to them so. Of course, he didn’t listen and threatened me as well. I reminded him that there was a pregnant teenage girl in the room with Edwin and that she was terrified (he has attacked her in the past but been restrained by staff) and that such high levels of stress were not good for a pregnant woman. All to no avail. Liam told Edwin that he was going to “mash you up”, “shank you innit blood” and “mess you right up”. Edwin, having now the protection of a door with furniture against it, had a sudden burst of verbal bravado and both himself and Liam exchanged more threats. All the while, Liam was violently kicking against the door hoping to break in. By then, Liam had also acquired a frying pan and judging by the way he was holding it, he wasn’t planning to make Edwin an omlette with it when he got in to the room.

I heard the phone ringing in the office so I went to get it leaving Liam to kick at the door further and threaten Edwin. I secretly hoped that Edwin would open the door and throw another weight at Liam hopefully getting him between the eyes. I got to the office and answered the phone and it was Louise, the Senior support worker, ringing from Edwin’s room, telling me to ring the police as she believed that the door was beginning to give way and she was genuinely concerned that Liam was going to carry through with his threats if he managed to get in. I rang the Police and surprisingly they had two officers around within twenty minutes. However, they were none too pleased to be there and were initially quite rude. I told them I empathised with their frustration (there are only two of them for several villages encompassing several thousand people). They told me no offences had been committed and that I should have dealt with the scenario myself. I politely said, “Surely this is a disturbance of the peace? If I hadn’t called you now in an hour I would be ringing you about GBH.”

They reluctantly talked to both Edwin and Liam. This seemed to do the trick. However, as soon as they were gone Liam refused to go to bed and started demanding a lift home to his mother’s in London (he’s on a section 20 i.e. his mum still has most of the rights over him but the taxpayer accommodate and look after him). Liam demanded to talk to the on-call manager, as it’s his right to have everything explained to him he was allowed to phone her, to know why he couldn’t get a lift from staff to London. It was now 0145 am and staff had been on since 0800 and some of us, including myself, were on our second day straight through. Eventually, by 0230 in the morning tiredness got the best of Liam and he went to bed. It was a close call. The night could have gone so much worse.

Now, on the Monday morning after the incident on the Friday night, the manager called me to the office. I thought maybe it was to ask how I was having gotten almost no sleep on the Friday shift and having been threatened with actual bodily harm by a person with violent tendencies. It was very na├»ve of me to make this presumption. I had momentarily forgotten that the care system treats its frontline staff with disdain and views them as expendable and badly paid receptacles of abuse from the spawn of the underclass. The managers, many of them nice people, some of them not, spend their days in offices filling in forms and ticking boxes. Sometimes, they too can be at the receiving end of abuse but a lot less so than the Support Workers. Anyway, the manager was calling me in because Friday night’s incident was creating some bureaucratic and form filling issues for her.

“Winston, why were the two female members of staff hiding in Edwin’s room with Becky?”

“Well, it might have something to do with a 6’2 teenager in steel toe capped boots running towards them with a frying pan?” I quipped.

“Staff should not hide from the young people, by doing so they learn that they are in charge of the house. Liam should have been restrained in that scenario.”

Yes, he should have been restrained. I agree. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be two diminutive females with whom I would be doing the restraining of a teenager twice their size and several times their combined strength. There also wouldn’t be several forms to fill out after the restraint, to justify it and let’s remember we were already up several hours past our own bed time and had to be awake and on shift by 08.00 the following morning. There also wouldn’t be the constant threat of the young person making an allegation that you used excessive force. If they carry through with such allegations it can lead to immediate suspension from work whilst you are investigated. Even if you are proved innocent the fact an allegation was made stays on your record. Teenagers in care regularly threaten to make false abuse allegations, both physical and sexual against staff, some of them carry them through ruining the careers of their victims even when the allegations are untrue. It is these teenagers’ most effective weapon and the threat of it alone makes you very weary of ever using restraints.

“Look Winston, the bottom line is that the other staff should not have been hiding. Also, why did you call the police? There was no need to do so in these circumstances. I am going to find it very hard to justify in my report to OFSTED why the police were called for this raucous. I mean Liam often kicks off and mostly never carries out his threats,” remarked the manager.

“Yes, but sometimes he does carry out his threats and in this instance I judged it wise to call the police. This was the worst I’ve seen him and we do also have a pregnant girl in this house whose safety we must guarantee", I stated.

“Well, it’s going to be a nightmare to write up and OFSTED will not be happy.”

Obviously, the issue here is how this fits in to existing bureaucratic templates and the reaction of the state inspectorate, not how do we control this boy and make sure he cannot and will not behave like this again. My two colleagues were also reprimanded for the manner in which we dealt with this scenario. No one asked us how we were.

This same day, Liam was once again refusing to attend his own private school on the premises, whilst the teacher out of boredom surfed the internet. I’d say he was delighted. When Liam is in there he threatens him and smashes up the class. The walls have the holes to prove it.

The other staff and myself followed Liam around most of the morning reminding him how much money he could earn for the entire week if he only spent an hour a day in school and behaved himself by making the right choices. The manager told us to inform Liam and his peers that another trip to the amusement park was planned for the coming weekend dependent on behaviour. In reality, there only has to be a very minimal standard of good behaviour and not even on a consistent basis.

However, the biggest question that must arise for any sane person is where are the effective consequences for this young person that will make him learn from his mistakes and will tame his aggressive and anti-social beahviour? In reality, there are none.

Thursday 6 August 2009

Making the Right Choice (part 1)

I haven’t been posting for a while as I had to take some time off work with stress and the last thing I wanted to do was regurgitate the facts regarding the stress I was under. Anyway, here is a snippet that illustrates why people working with feral youths and the underclass regularly take time off sick and also tend not to last more than a couple of years in the sector.

A few weeks back, I was at a notorious difficult care home for teenagers. Kerry, Louise and myself were trying to settle to bed, Liam, 15, Edwin, 15 and Becky, 15 and pregnant. In the morning, we were to take them to a local amusement park to reward them for a week of verbal abuse, violence, criminal damage, truancy and inertia. Every weekend they get to go somewhere, as well as a few outings during the week, often when they should be at school. However, the management and staff had stipulated that if they didn’t settle to bed on time, this particular Friday night, then the amusement park would be cancelled. This was because they were all so hideously behaved during the week and it was felt they should have to comply with some of the house rules to ‘earn’ the trip out. Personally, on account of all the negative behavior mentioned there should be no trip at all. When I was a child this was called a consequence. However, in care homes for teenagers if they behave for even one hour they will get some kind of reward. On the other hand, when they kick off and are violent or abusive this behavior will usually lead to minimal sanctions, if any. The emphasis is put on praising the positive, it’s called ‘positive reinforcement’, but this tends to be done at the expense of ignoring the negative and not dealing with it. I am not against ‘positive reinforcement,’ it works, but only when used in conjunction with discipline and boundaries. If you only use positive reinforcement the child or teenager learns that he or she can do what they want. Simply put, they learn how to manipulate.

Anyway, as we were trying to get the youngsters to settle down Liam became argumentative and said he was going to play his music loud for as long as he wanted. He was told this would lead to him not being allowed go to the amusement park the next day with the others.
“I will be f**king going. I’d like to see you try and stop me,” he barked.

“Well Liam, it’s not a question of me stopping you, it’s a question of me refusing to take you there and if you haven’t noticed you don’t drive and live over thirty miles from the amusement park. Now, I need you to make the right choice (we have to talk to them like this its management diktat) so you can have an enjoyable activity tomorrow. I know you can make the right choice and turn your music off and go to sleep. If you don’t, then I will have to come in and turn it off as you are disturbing your peers and preventing staff from finishing their work and getting to bed,” I stated.

“If you come in to my room, I will f**king smash you right up!” he snarled, as he held a steel toe capped boot in his hand ready to throw it at me.
Liam is 6’2 and 15 stone. He is huge. He is very dangerous. He has assaulted staff on many occasions. He spits, punches, throws objects and smashes up the house several times a week. He has smashed up several staff members’ cars. His behaviour never improves, he just gets worse. He should be in a secure unit. He will probably end up there eventually, but before he does he will wreak plenty of mayhem.

At times, I am frightened of him. Tonight is one of those times. He has that vacant angry look in his eye. Going in to turn his music off will escalate his behaviour. I want to avoid this, if possible, but I may have no choice. He is always belligerent so that almost any request for him to do something even the most trivial of things turns in to a power struggle where he asserts his power. He always wins in one way or another because care is set up this way.

The other two residents, Edwin and Becky are worried that if Liam doesn’t calm down and turn his music down, they too wont be able to go to the amusement park. They have been reassured this is not the case but they don’t believe the other staff or me. Edwin appeals to Liam to turn off the music, peer pressure works a lot better than adult authority (which is almost non-existent). However, even the request of his friend doesn’t work on this occasion. Staff spend another twenty minutes talking to Liam encouraging him to make the ‘right choice’ and praising him for the few hours during the week when he wasn’t being a scumbag (as he was on his xbox he had no reason or time to be involved in anti-social behavior). None of this was working, it never does.

Edwin by then was losing his temper and shouting and threatening Liam, as was the teenage mother to be Becky. Anyone walking past the house would have heard a cacophony of angry violent threats, swearing and loud dance music. If someone was to listen close enough they would hear the staff praising the young people and offering them bribes to refrain from their behavior. By now, Edwin could take no more of Liam’s refusal to co-operate, he went to his room and picked up a large metal body building weight. He ran towards Liam and let the weight fly. Liam ducked out of the way just in time. Then, his eyes glazed over and veins were throbbing in his forehead with rage. There was going to be trouble for sure. Here is a lad who has smashed up the entire house and assaulted staff simply for being asked politely to go to school. He is never made or coerced to attend just asked and encouraged with a daily cash award if he attends. So, you can imagine what he is like when he has got a valid reason to be angry?

Thursday 9 July 2009

Just Another Burden on the Welfare State

Lately, I've needed some extra money and I also felt the urge to be verbally abused and perhaps even assaulted by a feral teenager, so I asked my agency to get me some extra work with teenagers in care whilst still working in Supported Housing for young adults.

I was sent to a home I've been to many times and where I'm not very popular with the girls that live there, on account of the fact that I try and enforce boundaries and discipline to the best I can within such a constraining system. One of the girls, Sammie(see one of Aprils posts for more on her), 14, was particularly verbally abusive and aggressive when I arrived for a twenty four hour shift the other day. I walked in to the lounge where she was ensconced on a beanbag in front of a large plasma T.V. flicking through the hundreds of channels available for her entertainment. There was a new member of staff that I hadn't met before and who got up and introduced herself to me as I entered the lounge. We sat and chatted quietly whilst Sammy gnawed on some turkey twizzlers or some other kind of junk food, all I know is that she definitely wasn't eating fruit or vegetables and judging by how even more obese she was since the last time I was here it's plain to see she is still being allowed to self destruct whilst ostensibly being cared for. This goes on in many, many care homes, this is not an abberation.

Anyway, after about five minutes of talking to Jenny, the new care worker, Sammie became enraged and threw her shoe at her and screamed, "Stop flirting with Winston you fat f**king slag Jenny, he'd never f**k a dog like you." Just for the record, Jenny was in no way flirting with me. Of course, like so much verbal abuse like this nothing ever happens and there are no consequences beyond asking the teenager to not speak like that in future or holding back the daily one pound bribe for good behaviour, it's not called a bribe though, it's called an incentive and you can also get them for 'choosing' to go to school or cleaning your room etc. etc. However, as there are no real conseqeunces for verbal abuse it is incessant but it's not as upsetting as being spat on or hit. That's definitely worse. More about that another time.

Now, many people will say when hearing this anecdote about Sammie that she probably had a tough and challenging childhood. Well,let's consider that. Was she physically or sexually abused? No. Was she being neglected? Judging by her weight when she arrived no. Is she from a poor or underclass background as so many people presume all kids in care are? No, in fact her parents are middle class and not at all poor.

So, just how did the likes of Sammie end up in care? Well, its all down to section 20 of the Children's Act 1989 which allows for parents to voluntarily put their children in care should they not be able to cope with them. Now, in the case of Sammie her parents were unable to discpline her or set her any boundaries as a young child and when she became a teenager she was uncivilised and bullied and hit her parents, unable to cope they turned to social services. As a result of Sammie's parents inability to parent her, you the taxpayer are paying around 2,500 pounds a week to provide Sammie with care (if you could call it that). Meanwhile, in a few weeks time Sammie's parents are jetting off to India with her little brother, where they go every year, as well as at least one other foreign holiday. Sammie is jealous because this is the first year she can't go. Sammie, despite her horrific behaviour is still a child and feels very rejected by her parents. Being dumped in a care home has made her behaviour worse not better.

There are thousands of kids under section 20 care orders who should not be accomodated and spoilt (as oppossed to cared for) with taxpayer's money. Many of them are dumped in care homes when Mummy or Daddy meet a new partner and the teenager can't cope with the new step-parent and the relationship becomes conflictual. I have no problem with the state offering counselling and support to families to help them communicate better or improve parenting techniques but the state should not be giving parents an opt out clause because they either have no idea how to discipline their child or because they've met a new partner and their teenager is jealous. The only people whose interests this serves are the private sector care homes (paid for with tax payer's money)and the well paid social services bureuacracy that maintains and monitors this system. The one group of people who don't benefit from any of this are the teenagers suppousedly being looked after. The state is complicit in assisting parents to abandon their children by keeping section 20 of the care order on the statute books and it is costing the taxpayer millions every year.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Valuing Diversity part 2

One of the issues that we discussed at this weeks staff meeting was complying with our QAF in relation to diversity and inclusion. Tessa, our manager, was quite concerned that we are currently not demonstrating a high enough standard of compliance with this QAF. In particular, she highlighted the fact that our project rarely has any people from an ethnic minority background. This is due to the fact that when we do have someone from an ethnic background they tend to work hard, save their money and then move in to private accommodation as soon as they can. This is after all our ostensible goal, to support young people in to independent living. Perhaps we should ask them to stay so that we can comply with our QAF re how many people with tans or who are practising Zoroastrians are residing with us?

Anyway, I had a pretty surreal conversation with Tessa which reveals how well intentioned policies can often degenerate into a farce.

“Well guys, I’ve been looking at our QAF in relation to diversity and we really need to be able to demonstrate more that we can do to ensure that ethnic minorities have fair access to our service. The local ethnic minority population is about two percent, but we don’t consistently have two percent of our residents coming from an ethnic minority background. We need to be able to explain why this is the case and evidence that we have tried to turn this around,” states Tessa.

“First of all, if our target is two percent then we only need to have 1.2 of our residents consistently coming from an ethnic background. Tariq will suffice as one whole ethnic person, and Zara’s granddad was a Hungarian Jewish refugee during the war so that might make up the 0.2 percent we need, as she is partially a foreigner,” I quip facetiously. “However,” I continue, “perhaps the reason, we never get that many ethnic minority applications is that the few ethnic groups we have living in the community are still quite bound by familial obligations and would never dream of offloading their offspring on to the burden of the state, I may be wrong, but it’s just a thought.”

Tessa, isn’t too pleased with my irreverent tone. I hate all this QAF stuff. It patronises the very people it purports to want to help.

“Anyway, we need to get in touch with various ethnic community groups and provide them with the information about our service. We need to document and record the contact with these organisations as evidence that we are trying to promote fair access for all in the community. I really want us to consistently reflect the ethnic diversity as well as the gender make up of the community,” states Tessa.

This gets me thinking, how in the hell are we to contrive reflecting the ethnic makeup of the community within our project? Are we to descend upon the local Indian restaurants in the evening with brochures promoting our project and asking the owner to consider sending some of his children to live with us when they turn sixteen in order to prove that our organisation isn’t secretly run by Nick Griffin?

Many ethnic minority groups in the UK today are from traditional and religiously conservative backgrounds which can produce a whole load of other social pathologies. However, to their credit, they see the family and not the state as the central unit of society.

Do you think they would want to see their young living in a project with rampant drug and alcohol abuse, abortion as a form of contraception, high rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs, domestic violence, inertia and criminal activity? Somehow, I think a place like our project is the last place many families would want to see their young living in whether from an ethnic minority or not.

If I were from an ethnic minority background I would wear it as a badge of honour that my community were not availing of such a service to the extent of the indigenous underclass, if any thing it would be a mark of integrity to have nothing to do with our project rather than an indication of being discriminated against.

Friday 5 June 2009

Valuing Diversity

The Supported Housing sector like so many other spheres of the public sector has to demonstrate that we are secretly not a bunch of white supremacists. Supporting People’s Quality Assessment Framework assists government bureaucrats to measure the degree to which we are complying with regulations on diversity and anti discriminatory practice in the workplace. As the QAF states our organisation should demonstrate, “that there is a commitment to the values of diversity and inclusion and to practice of equal opportunity (including accessibility in its widest sense) and the needs of black and minority ethnic service users are appropriately met.”

On the face of it this diktat sounds great but when put in to practice they are often farcical. In measuring compliance with the QAF one of the things that Supporting People will look for is that we have provided information to service users about the availability of cultural and religious organisations and centres. Again on the face of it sounds great but here is how it works in the project I am currently working at.

Upon entering the building and standing in reception you will be greeted by a variety of posters and leaflets outlining things like “How to Complain”, “What you can expect from our Service” and so on and so forth. All these documents contain illustrations of individuals from several ethnic groups and somebody in a wheelchair. They are all smiling and look well pleased with their lot despite the fact that they share accommodation with the feral indigenous underclass. However, as there are no obvious Celtic looking people or any partially sighted lesbians on any of these posters I am deeply offended. I will be forwarding a suggestion to our *Diversity Officer that a new poster be made up with a greater degree of inclusion.

After perusing the politically correct leaflets and posters you will become aware of a very large poster outlining the tenets of various religions including obscure faiths such as Zoroastrianism. The last time I checked there were no Zoroastrians residing with us. We will soon be updating our faith information poster to include information on druids and jedis.

I must say it is a lovely poster and is extremely positive about the world’s religions and makes no mention of any abhorrent practice within these faiths or the fact that they have all been killing each other for hundreds of years or ironically that many of these faiths don’t value diversity in the same way our organisation does. If you don’t believe me then read up on most of these faiths' attitudes towards homosexuals and women. You wont find a valuing diversity section in most of their holy books.

Next to this poster, there is an information leaflet directing would be worshipers to their nearest church, mosque, temple or synagogue whatever the case may be. Should the aspirant worshiper find the challenge of getting to the local place of worship a challenge we can incorporate this in to a key work session and come up with an “action plan” that we can document in the Support Plan. This will further help us demonstrate compliance with our QAF on diversity and will give the bureaucrats that the public pay something extra to read when she or he (just abiding by my diversity and equal opportunities training) come to carry out an inspection.

Now, the main problem with this initiative is that it doesn’t correspond to the reality of our project. The majority of our residents are white British and their centres of worship tend to be the local off licence and the nearest pub during happy hour where they praise the spirits of their choice.

We have only one resident from an ethnic minority background. He is an Iraqi refugee, Tariq, and a nicer fellow you couldn’t meet. Polite, well mannered and he studies and works part time. He is contributing much more to his adopted country than many of the indigenous residents who sit in their rooms all day stoned playing video games. No doubt watching friends and relatives being tortured by Saddam and then seeing his country descend in to internecine conflict have given him an appreciation of living in a fee society and he is using every opportunity he can to better himself.

One of our residents recently complained, “these bloody Poles and other foreigners are coming over here and stealing all our jobs, it’s not fair.”

I responded, “but you never actually look for work so why would you be bothered? Do you expect an employer to come and knock on your door and offer you work? You have to look for it.” He walked away perplexed at the notion that he would actually have to do something to get a job.

Anyway, back to Tariq our only refugee. Now Tariq did describe himself as a Muslim when signing up for our project but judging from the posters of naked women that adorn his wall as well as the discarded beer cans in his room I have deduced that he isn’t practising his religion too often these days. Who can blame him after the role he has seen religion play in the violence in his native land. Never the less, should he decide to revert to the practice of Islam then we have all the information at hand to help him access his cultural and religious needs and we get to tick the relevant boxes to demonstrate our compliance with the QAF.

Now, thankfully Tariq was a fluent English speaker and we didn’t have to provide him with any interpreting service. However, according to the QAF, “where necessary service users are able to communicate in forms other than English.” Perhaps, it would be more effective and helpful to teach service users with no English, to learn the native language, after all they will need it in applying for jobs or training. Surely this would be real support?

However, nowhere in the QAF does it outline that we are to assist people in grasping the rudiments of the official language of the country. I believe that this is due to the fact that the people that formulate these regulations are politically correct zealots who perceive that asking someone to learn or improve their English is tantamount to discrimination. This is nonsense. It is the best help that we can give migrants and would help them integrate in to our society and allow them to live freer lives as equal citizens.

Friday 22 May 2009

Addicted to Idleness

I did my last couple of shifts this week at the Refuge Day Centre for Young Homeless People who are in fact not homeless. From now on, I will solely be subjected to abuse and ingratitude from the same ilk, but only in the state funded sector as opposed to the charity sector. Anyway, last Wednesday I penned the piece below to highlight how lucrative the welfare state can be for certain individuals.

Last year, a national newspaper highlighted the fact that there are over one hundred thousand drug addicts and alcoholics receiving lucrative state benefits. This group can be broken down in to two types, those who are still actively indulging in their addiction and those that have abstained but through having damaged their health are able to continue to claim benefits. Many of this latter category are well able to work. The degree to which they have damaged their health varies amongst individuals.

Several service users at the refuge are young alcoholics or addicts feeding their addiction with the help of the state. I will have an illuminating chat with one today.

It’s Wednesday evening and I have started the weekly budget cookery workshop. Only the same two people ever turn up for this. This further highlights the fact that none of our clients are that hard up, otherwise why would they:

(a) turn their nose up at a free freshly cooked meal
(b) not want to learn to cook good quality food on a shoestring budget

One of the two regulars is Patrick. He’s twenty-four and on the face of it is pleasant enough. Unlike many of the others, he has realised it’s much easier to keep sponging off people if you are nice to them. However, when he doesn’t get exactly what he thinks he is entitled to he can get a bit obstreperous, but overall he’s an affable enough chap.

I ask him a few things about himself.

“Where are you living Patrick?”

“One of the council’s supported housing projects in the city centre”

“Do you like it there?”

“I mean I would rather my own flat, but I’ve got a nice big room there. I’ve got my TV, stereo, dvd collection. It’s clean and warm. So it will do for now”

It actually sounds a lot better than a few of the flat shares I’ve been in down through the years.

In time he will get his own flat, courtesy of the state. He will have to wait a few years for it due to the long queues for social housing. However, his alcohol and drug induced health problems could well see him given priority over more deserving decent working class people who pay into the system. Many addicts and alcoholics are given social housing as a priority above other groups of people. The council may deem him as a priority status due to his self inflicted illnesses or he may get a flat or more long term secure accommodation with a government funded housing association.

“How do you pay for it?”

“Housing benefit.”

I refrain from pointing out to Patrick that that’s not how he pays his rent, but rather it’s how working people pay his rent in the form of taxes. I want to get as much information out of him about how he funds his drug and alcohol dependent lifestyle. If I was to start moralizing him now on the immorality of funding his idle, drug fuelled existence at the expense of the working population he might become reticent or what’s more likely is that he would tell me to f**k off.

I am aware that addicts and alcoholics can avail of benefits, but at this point in time I have no idea of just how much they can receive. I am about to learn that it depends on the individual’s circumstances.

“Are you on jobseekers allowance as well?”

“No I’m on income support and disability living allowance. I’m on the highest rate of the income support due to my disability. I basically damaged my pancreas and liver whilst I was drinking quite heavily and taking heroin a few years ago.”

“So how much do you get a week between the two payments?”

“About £200.”

“That’s not bad for doing nothing is it?”

“No you’re right there. I don’t even have to pay any bills because the housing benefit paid to the hostel covers council tax, electricity, heating the lot. I mean if I worked in an average job I wouldn’t even come out with that a week. And then I eat here or the other centre so I don’t really have to spend any money on food.”

It doesn’t take a mathematician or accountant to work out that Patrick’s £200 a week is basically disposable income. How many hard working people have anything like that to spend on their leisure each week?

“So between housing benefit, income support and disability living allowance you are receiving just shy of £300 a week. God you are better of than me and I’m employed.”

“Do you drink a lot of that money?”

“ No I can’t really drink the way I used to due to the damage that I’ve done myself, but I have a few cans most days as well as the methadone I take, but I am on the lowest dose of methadone one can take so it doesn’t really affect me.”

The taxpayer also funds his methadone treatment.

Anyway, whilst I’m cooking him his dinner, we have a chat about drugs and addiction in general. He is convinced that he no longer has a problem with alcohol or drugs. Despite being on methadone and drinking every day. He only has a few cans most days. A few being at least three but as many as seven, indeed for Patrick it’s an improvement he used to put away bottles of spirits most days a few years ago.
Generally, three to seven cans a day would make someone a heavy drinker as opposed to an alcoholic, although they could well develop a serious problem if they continue with this level of consumption.

However, Patrick mixes his alcohol with methadone thus magnifying the effect of each drug. Plus, he’s a bit partial to the benzodiazepine family of drugs, particularly valium, so he tells me.

“I suffer badly from anxiety and where as I used to get really drunk or take heroin now I just order valium from the internet. It’s so cheap as well. I can get hundreds for next to nothing. If you need any I will show you where to get them.”

“I’m fine Patrick, thanks anyway.”

I think if I wasn’t leaving this job I’d be tempted to put in an order.

Now, Patrick is only one of hundreds of thousands of addicts being funded by the taxpayer. What’s more is that Patrick is far from immobile and is more than capable of doing a variety of jobs. The state needs to find ways to force Patrick in to some kind of productive activity instead of subsidising his addictive habits at the expense of the rest of society. Not only is the taxpayer being fleeced but also Patrick is being robbed of opportunities for self-improvement.

Are you one of the people in Britain that scrapes by, on or below the average salary? Are you one of the millions paying off a recently acquired mortgage at seven times your salary for an overpriced property or perhaps you can’t even afford to do this? Are you one of the working class families that find it hard to make ends meet each week? Are you a member of the middle class that worked so hard to get where you are today and who pay a significant portion of your salary to the state?

The next time you are stuck in horrific traffic as you commute to or from work, or are watching the clock as you trudge through your tedious working day, just think of Patrick and the hundred or so thousand like him sitting around drinking lager and popping pills at your expense.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Excuses, Excuses

In the past couple of years there have been numerous publicised cases of feral teenagers murdering adults. Last week there was the murder of a big issue seller, a few weeks earlier we read of this, and there was Gary Newlove. There have been other horrific murders that ddn't get as much media coverage. These are not isolated incidents but part of a trend of increased brutality and savagery amongst a minority of our young people. Primarily, this violence is directed at other young people but if any adult dares stand ground against the feral underclass then they too may become the next victim.

In the work I do I deal with violence regularly, but usually on a lesser scale. Thankfully, I've only had direct experience of one killing so far. One young lad I worked with, a loveable rogue, was brutally slain by a friend of his at a party. He was stabbed in the head as he slept. A colleague of mine worked at a project in the south where several residents were involved in what is called "tramp bashing", the youths took crowbars and repeatedly beat a homeless man asleep in a bus shelter. He was left for dead. They filmed the incident on their phones.

Now, perhaps like many of my colleagues in Supported Housing and Residential Children's Care you find yourself musing over the possible reasons for this disturbing trend of muderous violence amongst a minority of our young. However, unlike most of the people working in the aforementioned sectors you will have postulated common sense theories such as a lack of discipline, the complete abdication of adult authority, an emasculated police force, poor parenting, an intrusive welfare state, i.e the actual reasons.

In my industry, my colleagues tend to make excuses on behalf of young people's anti-social behaviour. This doesn't help the young person as it removes personal responsibility and choice. Here are a few of my favourites I've heard over the years from various men with beards in loose-fitting wooley jumpers and middle class tofu munching dread-locked ladies in sandals:

·“They are from a rough background/ rough estate and this has led them in to crime”

i.e. it’s not their fault they robbed your house they were brought up that way.

If their parents and family circle failed to instil in them the difference between right and wrong it is then up to the wider society to do so, this was traditionally done by punishing young criminals. Punitive measures are eschewed nowadays in favour of “prevention”. Preventative measures include things like DJ courses, excursions, and counsellors. Another way of putting it is the young criminal is rewarded for crime in the hope he wont re-offend. Some people call this bribery, I am one of those people. These reward schemes for young criminals are adminstered by local youth offending teams. This approach doesn't work. Look at the re-offending rates amongst young offenders. More about this at a later stage. This particular excuse is extremely prejudicial of people from working class estates and fails to expalin why the majority of people from these neighbourhoods do not get involved in crime. This theory is really a middle class socialist's patronising prejudice of the working class, the majority of whom are decent law abiding citizens. The people who promulgate this theory don't recognise this prejudice. In their minds they are being altruistic and compassionate. They air their views weekly in the Guardian's Society section.

· “They have no where to go. There aren’t enough youth clubs and services for young people in the area so they end up in trouble as a result of boredom.”

This is an excuse you will hear all the time in the social sector as well as in the media. I even heard someone being interviewed on TV lately stating that the teenage stabbings and shootings currently blighting the country are partially as a result of young people having nowhere to go and no services available to them. Now, maybe I was just imagining it the other evening but I could have sworn I passed by a skateboard park, a football pitch, a swimming pool and a Youth club on the train, all in the same neighbourhood, and an under deprived neighbourhood for that matter.

Besides, when has boredom become an excuse to stab other teenagers to death or beat homeless people with crowbars? I remember being bored as an integral part of adolescence. In the many evenings I spent stupified with boredom on street corners neither my friends nor I ever pondered stabbing each other or hitting passers by with bricks to pass the time.

·“They are poor but live in a materialistic and consumer driven society and they are unable to achieve the same levels of wealth as others due to inequality and a poor education so they turn to crime in order to prescribe to the norms of the materialistic culture in which they live.”

I’ve heard this nonsense off several colleagues down through the years. I also vaguely remember reading a theory formulated by a Sociologist during my degree that blamed the rest of society for criminal behaviour. I don’t buy in to this theory at all for several reasons. The first one is that the “poor” with whom I work are not poor at all. They may be relatively poor compared to someone earning the average salary in the UK, but our residents that don’t work have free spacious bedsits with central heating and all their bills paid for by the state as well as other benefits.

The majority of them have TVs, microwaves, toasters, DVD players, video game boxes of one sort or another and enough cheap processed food to live on. Somehow, many of them also have money to spend on illegal substances and cheap beer. Now, compare this kind of “poverty” to that described by George Orwell in “The Road to Wigan Pier.” In this book Orwell vividly describes the abject poverty experienced by people in Wigan and the north of England during the nineteen thirties. The poor of this era regularly went without sufficient food, shared one outdoor toilet with several other houses, had no access to a health service, no welfare state and even worse there wasn’t a playstation, cheap lager or bag of skunkweed in sight. How would so many of today’s ‘poor’ have coped in those days I wonder?

Friday 1 May 2009

Profligate Waste and Resident Involvement Nonsense

The country is now indebted to the tune of well over a trillion pound, an unprecedented level of debt, and an enormous burden on children yet to be born. Now, with all this borrowing one would like to think that the money is going to be used wisely and on services that most reasonable people would agree are worthy and essential to the functioning of society. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether the following scenario is worthy of having a penny of public money spent on it.

A few months back I had a placement for a few weeks at a large supported housing unit with about forty residents. Quite a few agency staff had been drafted in, mostly to update files and get paperwork in order as most of the previous staff team, who had almost all been sacked, were too busy drinking with the residents to bother with the paperwork.

Writing 'support' plans that explain to members of the underclass how to go about signing on and how not to knock up your on-off girlfriend and her best friend is a thankless and soul destroying task and would lead the most virtuous to seek solace in the bottle. Socialising with residents is a massive no-no (why would anyone want to?) and having sex with them is most definitely out of the question but that didn't stop the security guard or a particular female member of staff, both now sacked. That's a whole other story.

Anyway, for the couple of weeks that I was working there, myself and my colleagues were meeting with the residents and updating their 'support' plans, as there was an imminent inspection from Supporting People (a regulatory branch of the Department of Communities and Local Government that allocate grants that keep these projects functioning).

Besides the team of six agency support workers, there was another team of three administrative staff and also three managers, all overseeing that the signatures were in the right place and that the sheets were dated and numbered correctly and that the proper cover sheets were in place in any given resident's 'support' plan. In terms of salary expenditure for all these staff, you would be looking in the region of £200-300,000 for the year. Money that could be better spent elsewhere. Pick your cause.

Meanwhile, whilst we were in the office ticking boxes and managers checked that we had ticked the right boxes so that external state bureaucrats would be happy that the right boxes were ticked, the residents were in their state sponsored bedsits getting high, drinking, missing appointments at the jobcentre, fighting and impregnating each other. It is like this in most large supported housing projects for 16-25 year olds, despite all the wonderful, expensive and well documented 'support' they get.

Now, the criteria by which the Department of Communities and Local Government evaluate supported housing projects is known as the Quality Assessment Framework or QAF as we call it in the industry. The QAF consists of many ridiculous 'performance indicators', the most ludicrous being an insistence that residents be involved in the running of the service. This can be evidenced by allowing residents to interview new staff, sit in on staff reviews, make suggestions on rules, organise events and so on. This all sounds great but you have to remember that the majority of people we deal with are dissolute and feckless individuals and giving them the impression that they have power is a recipe for disaster(Later posts will show why).

In order to evidence that the residents are involved in the running of the service I've been asked to help facilitate a meeting with them to listen to their ideas. At this meeting one of the things the residents are asked by a Senior Manager is what activities could the project provide for them to make their lives more fun. Is being drunk at noon, having multiple sexual partners and smoking joints first thing in the morning not enough fun for them?

By the end of the meeting the manager has committed to a Karaoke night and the purchasing of a communal Nintendo Wii video game. This meeting took place during the day when these young adults should have been working or training and not being interviewed by an agent of the nanny state which is now so over reaching it is even involved in helping people organise their recreational activities.

Many large supported housing projects employ what is called a Resident or Client Involvement Officer whose job is solely to bribe and coerce residents in to being involved in running the service so as to comply with the QAF. This post usually commands a salary of between £25-30k. And in the words of one Resident Involvment Officer I spoke to last year, "Any in house activity that the residents help organise is evidence of compliance with the QAF in relation to resident involvement. Last week in my project I helped the residents organise a DVD night and it was a great success. Mind you I had to put on some free soft drinks and Pizza to get a fair few residents to attend."

Of course he had to entice them out of their pot filled dens with free food. They all have TVs and DVDs in their rooms but by getting a few residents to stick up a few posters advertising a prosaic activity like watching a film he is able to tick a box entitled 'resident involvement'. It all helps to keep the funds flowing in to the project and keep the Resident Involvment Officer in a job. Nice work if you can get it and nice to know that some of the exorbitant public debt is being spent on such laudable and worthwhile initiatives.

I now await the usual comments from the Guardianista brigade telling me how worthwhile all this 'support' is.

Friday 24 April 2009

Supported Housing and A Plan to Sign On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 18 April 2009

Hiding in the Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You ok? He has calmed down now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 11 April 2009

The Right to be Morbidly Obese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 3 April 2009

The Deadly Case of Assault with a Can of Deodorant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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