Tuesday 17 February 2009

Children in Care

Well, I’ve spent the weekend working in two different care homes for teenagers being accommodated and cared for by the state. To be honest, as far as I could see, they weren’t really being cared for but rather catered to. Here’s what I observed.

The first place I went to was a large five bedroom house where three young girls lived. Two of them were fourteen and one of them was fifteen. The two younger girls were extremely wild and are in the habit of constantly absconding from the home for days on end and getting in all kinds of trouble. The older one was clinically obese, which probably thwarted her efforts to abscond with the other two. She sat in front of a TV the entire day, hopping the several hundred channels at her disposal and gorging on junk food and intermittently telling me I was a 'c**t'. To allow her to live and behave in this way is neglect.

Both the younger girls were tagged and monitored by the youth justice system for various offences. They may well end up in a juvenile detention centre should they abscond from the home again, but then again seeing as the youth justice system fails to deal effectively with more serious youth crime, I’d say the tag is as bad as it will get for these two girls. That is a shame, as they need protecting from themselves. They openly talk about taking drugs and one of them has already had an abortion.

What really baffled me was the ease and regularity of their absconding. After all there are always three members of staff and sometimes four in the house twenty four seven, so I wondered why they didn’t put a stop to this. I asked Sarah, the senior support worker, how was it they could run away from the home with no one stopping them.

“Sarah, I’m just curious, do the staff fail to notice that these young girls are leaving the home?"

“Well, sometimes they just run off without telling us but often they tell us they are going out and don’t know when they will be back” answered Sarah.

“Why don’t you stop them? After all they are supposedly in care and they are only fourteen and very vulnerable. God knows what could happen to either of them and what they could get up to. It’s simply not right to allow them to wander around for days on end with no clue as to where they are.”

“Look I agree the whole system is mad but the simple fact is that we are not allowed to touch them so we cannot grab them and pull them into the house. That could be construed as assault and we could get in trouble. We do try to encourage them not to abscond.”

“Does that ever work” I ask?

“Sometimes, but rarely. If they want to go there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

What kind of a care system is this that believes it is better to allow fourteen year old girls wander about for days on end without supervision rather than grab them by the scruff of the neck and command them back in their home where they are properly supervised?

“Do they usually stay away for long?” I asked.

“Sometimes just overnight but often for a couple of nights at a time sometimes longer though. Once they were away for four nights. What happens is that they get fed up and run out of money or places to stay and will telephone us and ask for a lift back to the home. This can often be at three or four in the morning and we have to get up out of bed and drive and collect them as we have a duty of care towards them.”

Is this care or rather a government funded taxi service for juvenile delinquents?

Another Support Worker, Steve, who was working with us that day, usually works at another home nearby owned by the same organisation. He revealed that absconding in his home was even worse.

“At least these girls are only gone for a few days and then come back. There are three lads all aged fifteen in our home who all absconded a month ago and we have no idea where they are or what they are up to. The other Support Workers and myself still have to go to work and the home has to be monitored twenty four seven in case one of them or all of them return, as technically they are all still in care and the care has to be there for them should they come back” disclosed Steve.

If this is care I would hate to see what negligence looks like.

“God, you must be really bored sitting there all day with no residents and nothing to do” I commented.

“No, not really, the Support Workers have a laugh with each other. We spend an awful lot of time playing on the residents’ xbox so that passes the time.”

The following day I was sent to a completely different care home that housed only two residents and had two members of staff on at all times. There was only one resident present as the other one had absconded and no one knew where she had gone.

The sole resident was a fifteen year old hideous yobette devoid of manners or respect for others. What’s worse is she was indulged in this behaviour by the care system.

She was tagged and on a curfew set by the youth justice system, as she had taken a knife to a foreign student, a few years older than herself, and mugged her for a mobile phone and money. She did this whilst having absconded from the home. I wasn’t made aware if she had indeed inflicted any injury on the foreign student in question. At least the foreign student can go home knowing that she experienced a genuine slice, pun intended, of modern British culture.

Anyway, as the shift progressed, I watched as the other staff member smoked cigarettes and gossiped with this young girl who was allowed to smoke. I was given the charge of cooking a roast dinner for the young madam. She wasn’t expected to lift a hand to help, not even wash the dishes.

Later on, after I had finished acting as her butler, waiter and chef for her evening meal I sat and had an interesting conversation with her. That is after she finished insulting me. She shared with me her future ambitions and aspirations. Although completely ignorant in almost every sphere of life, there was one area where she displayed a degree of knowledge and that was how to traverse the benefit system.

“Did you know you are going bald? You wear funny clothes” she said this pointing and laughing at my chinos and hush puppy shoes. Obviously any clothing on a male that isn’t a tracksuit is seen as hilarious. I ignored her comments. She was looking for a reaction but she was’t going to get one. A few minutes later she gave up trying to taunt me. I enquired after her plans for the future.

“I am going to get a flat when I am eighteen and do whatever I want. They have to give me one as I’ve been in care, it’s the law.”

She is right, it is the law. The Homelessness Order 2002 will give her a priority status in obtaining social housing above that of other individuals due to her having been in care. Granted, as there is a shortage of social housing she will not be guaranteed a place immediately, but she will be given a flat long before decent hardworking people on low incomes. If she coupled her care leaver status with being an expectant single mother, she would have double priority status. No doubt she is probably aware of this.

At sixteen she is becoming fluent in her ‘entitlements’ and what she is owed by society. I can picture her in a few years with several unruly urchins demanding her ‘right’ to an even bigger flat. By providing this young girl with these type of entitlements, we are guaranteeing the perpetuation of the underclass for at least another generation.


crowlord said...

You forgot to mention the need for the homes to report the kids missing and the massive waste of police time and money that ensues.

Nice blog, i will read with interest

dpax said...

i am reading your blogs and cannot believe what i am reading!! why are you even in this kind of work? do you actually want to help these people or just judge them and slate them? it is not as black and white as you seem to think! everyone has different backgrounds not everyone has the privelage of growing up with parents that work or bring thier children up properly, these are the people that need help. calling every homless person a waynetta is discusting! and not every heroin addict would rob their granny believe me i know a few who work full time jobs and are clean people,pay thier taxes and wouldnt rob thier granny!! you should learn not to tar everyone with the same brush.i do agree with some of the the things you belive in i.e social services but thats about it. god help some of the people you are assigned to help because they are going to need it. i wouldnt like to think you were helping me and then coming on here and slating me and my circumstances, is that really fair? have you heard the expression do not kick a dog when it is down!!

Josh said...

If kicking a dog is the only way to help it get up and start walking its way into a happier life then yes, its okay to kick a dog when its down. For the most part it is not these people's fault that they are the way they are, but they canot be helped (i.e. changed) without first deciding that the way they are now is wrong, and the way they could be is better. Otherwise 'caring' for people is just helping them to stay down, forever.

halojones-fan said...

It's funny, isn't it, how these people who can't add seven to five and get the same number twice running can nonetheless quote the dole regs chapter and verse, including the nuances relevant to their situation and the exact dates when thus-and-so benefit will kick in.

Anonymous said...

I actually cannot believe that it is even legal for you to have this site or be working with vulnerable children if these are your views, and some of the comments you have recieved are just as bad what kind of person are you, to go into the place these young people call their home and then tell the world about it afterwards, did you ever try putting yourself in their shoes, if you had had to depend on the state to look after you then maybe you would be keen to know what you were entitled too as well, Be careful not to slip up and breach any confidentiality policies by posting identifiable information.

Anonymous said...

You are right - if this is care, god knows what neglect would look like.

But people are products of their circumstances and your attitudes to your clients - who are children are as you point out, very vunerable - is not good or helpful.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the Orwell Nomination, thought I'd have a look.

Care Homes failing their 'clients'? Or are we obliged to refer to them as 'customer' now?

Whatever the language, the failure is real enough. I'd guessed that this was happening, after nothing effective was done about the teenagers in 'Care' in Birmingham, who were working 'On the game' and bringing paying customers back to the care home.

Care workers and social services have no coercive - let alone discipliniary! - powers whatsoever. None. They are trained to use positive methods and persuasion, and rightly so, but socialising teenagers needs at least the threat of punishment, and sometimes it demands an ability to impose physical restraint.

Even, I might add, with the very best of 'well brought-up' not-quite-adults in privileged suburban households with confident and capable parents. Teenagers in care are by definition very far from that ideal.

So what is to be done? Labour will pantomime handwaving 'concern' while doing nothing or, worse still, granting ever-more ridiculous and counterproductive 'rights' to children while further eroding care-workers' ability to care effectively.

An incoming Conservative Government will play to the gallery of flog-'em, hang-'em and birch-'em Daily Mail and Express readers... While doing what they've always done, talking tough and administering an astonishing liberality in the Home Office that passes far beyond 'woolly' and 'wishy-washy' and ends up being just as ineffectual and counterproductive as Labour.

Take your pick, as if your opinion - or anyone's - appear to matter in the formulation and administration of Law and Order policy.

The one opinion I will take issue on is this: housing care-home leavers.

The reason teenagers leaving care get priority housing is simple: they face the handicap of having no parental home to fall back on. Few of us reading your blog - a pursuit that suggests that we are educated and politically-literate, and probably confident and economically-secure - would've been at ease if we'd been put out on the street at age 18 to find our own way. Or fail to do so, and sink into homelessness and destitution, as far too many care-home 'graduates' had done.

Failing in our duty of care to inculcate a proper standard of self-dicipline and behaviour is one thing: tipping teenagers out onto the street and a life of sleeping rough is another. Amending the latter failure is, at least for now, within the remaining competences of our Social Services and local government.

michelle c said...

I was in care from 14 yrs old, had a very basic education (at the level and speed of the slowest person in the class),and spent my time with future criminals as there was no divide between types of case which sadly led to many taking a wrong turn. I have lived in 3 different homes but in each it was like the staff were being paid to sit around, drink coffee and chat amongst themselves.When I was 17 I was given the option to leave ,which I took but I had no idea of how the adult world worked and looking back feel that social services had just washed their hands of me at 17 - this still shows in my inabilities in to deal with situations now.At a time when I needed guidance and care they left me to my own devices, I was still a child they should have looked after me.