Tuesday 31 March 2009

Couldn't Care Less

I got away from the Refuge for a few shifts in various children's care homes and supported housing units for 16-25 year olds over the last few days. At one care home I had to accompany a 13 year old boy to a special school for behavioural problems where just himself and one other boy attend. They have been deemed not ready to attend your average comprehensive. Personally, they would fit right in at the comprehensive I used to work at and many others that I know of. They swore at the teacher and the teaching assistant and made sexually suggestive remarks to them and invaded their body space. They threw things across the class. They fought, surfed the internet, played music on their phones and worked only if it suited them and for short periods of time.

However, what amazed me the most is that all of their negative behaviour was ignored by the teaching staff. I on the other hand didn't ignore it. I challenged it. I informed Benson, the young lad I was supporting, that it was wholly inappropriate to ask certain questions and swear and be rude to the staff. He just ignored me. More worryingly was the reaction of the staff. When I admonished the young lad for calling the teacher a "fucking bitch", the teacher responded by defending him stating "Oh he doesnt mean it." I told her that's not the point he shouldn't be speaking to adults like that. The teacher looked at me like I was from another planet. I was later told that they don't focus on the negative behaviour of the students as this just feeds in to it. This is called 'disengagement', I call it a euphemism for ignoring a problem. The reason it's ignored is because adults no longer have any real authority.

The classroom had a sign informing the students that they would never be put down which included a crude cartoon of a stern, cold, emotionless, authoritative teacher waving his finger at a vulnerable puppy eyed adolescent.

At lunch time myself and another support worker accompanied the two boys in to the town centre for lunch. Whilst walking around the town the fruits of the trendy educational style they are being subjected to was on display. They intimidated old ladies by being overly familiar with them as they walked past. They purposely spat on shop windows and cars and called people names as they passed by. The other worker more senior than myself ignored most of this. I take it she was successfully "disengaging" so as not to "feed in" to their behaviour.

Now, I know these two young lads sound detestable, their behaviour certainly was, but I have seen and worked with a lot lot worse. They had some redeemable qualities. Benson can be generous and is actually quite intelligent, he is a good reader, well above average ability for his age. However, the school and the care home are failing to give him consistent boundaries by not punishing him with consequences for his negative behaviour. He needs to learn right from wrong. Why have these concepts become unfashionable? Is it the legacy of post-modernism and cultural relativism? Whatever the reason, it is failing the likes of Benson. If this lad were disciplined and taught right from wrong he could go far despite his awful background.

How would I start to discipline him? Well, for a start I would take away the playstation and TV in his room and not just before he goes to bed. I would then inform him that the usual scenario where staff drive and finance him and his hooded partners in care to the cinema, bowling alley, games arcades and fast food outlets will depend on a very high compliance rate with acceptable standards of good behaviour. I would completly ban "incentives", a fancy word for what is commonly known as a bribe where the young person gets a monetary reward for things like getting up, showering, brushing one's teeth, going to school on time etc. etc. Instead, I would inform them of what they will lose when they swear at their teachers and call old ladies names and committ petty crimes.

The reason I would be strict is to help Benson develop a sense of right and wrong. Surely this is a laudable aim and should be one of the components of caring for a child and sending him or her out in to the world a responsible and relatively well developed young person? In some homes this does happen, not all the care homes are failing their children, but unfortunately from what I've seen many are. More will be revealed.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Crisis Funds

Each service user at the Refuge has access to the “crisis fund”. It’s up to the discretion of the project worker and the manager to define if the service user is facing a crisis.

One of the few astute and sensible project workers, Alice, has informed me that Arthur, one of the few heroin addicts that use our service, was recently taken out and bought a microwave for his newly acquired social housing flat he had obtained from the state. He asked to be able to keep the receipt in case there was anything wrong with it and he had to return it. I reckon that Arthur returned that microwave and the only thing that would have been wrong with it would be that it didn’t come with a free bag of smack. How did the nice Christian ladies not see through this very obvious manipulation?

Now, I would hate to be judgmental and stereotype those in the smack community as conniving, shrewd and manipulative when it comes to feeding their addiction, but I am going to do so, because to put it plainly, it’s the truth.

In fact, the junkie that would simply manipulate you or con you is a cut above those that would physically separate you from your worldly possessions with a dagger or blunt instrument. I’d rather be duped than struck about the head with a crowbar or any other class of weapon.

After hearing of Arthur’s acquiring of a microwave, I couldn’t help but put myself in the mind of a heroin addict. I mused upon the possible crises that could compose the daily life of an urban junkie. Now, put yourself in the mind of a smack- head. Which of these two scenarios is more likely to be a crisis in your daily existence? Choose (a) or (b):

(a) “Bugger, I don’t have a microwave to heat up that Marks and Spencer gourmet vegetarian moussaka I got at the refuge today.”

(b) “Oh my God, the withdrawals have kicked in and I am sitting here alone in my flat, craving, sweating, shaking, shivering and shitting in my pants. God forgive me, but I would mug my own granny for a hit right now. If only there was some other way I could get the money…A ha! I could always apply to the crisis fund.”

Anyone who knows anything about heroin addiction should know that it is very unlikely that (a) would ever be a crisis for an opiate addict of limited income.
Mealtime for the opiate classes is a rather haphazard and at times infrequent occurrence, so issues such as food temperature and the means by which you heat your meal tend not to be on your list of priorities.

When most people hear the word crisis it evokes images of a dramatic nature. Perhaps a stock market crash, a run on a bank, a harvest failing in an impoverished country leaving millions facing crisis, but never in a million years would any reasonable person judge a heroin addict’s lack of a microwave oven a crisis. Then again reasonable people rarely tend to work at the Refuge.

After this incident, Alice informed me that lots of other service users started to apply to the crisis fund for microwaves. Tony, our resident pot dealer and not shy of a few quid, got one on the grounds that he didn’t know how to cook or use a conventional cooker despite having one in his council flat. As Alice put it, “Well why didn’t we teach him how to use his cooker and to cook a few basic things instead of buying him a bloody microwave, I thought we were supposed to be empowering them?”

Is it any wonder so many people feel they are owed a living when you have charities and the government dishing out luxuries. Why work when you can blag it or claim it?

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Quality Advice

Meanwhile, back at the Refuge Day Centre for layabouts, things are not looking hopeful, in terms of me staying here for long, or in relation to any of the sloths that use here doing anything constructive.

The Refuge has a very nice brochure that outlines our service to potential clients. They usually pick it up in some of the other advice or layabout centres around the city for young people. All the different agencies and advice centres distribute each other’s brochures and recycle each other’s clients. Our service users are well versed in the different services they can avail of throughout the city.

After we close our doors at 17.00, should they need an evening meal after a full day of gorging on luxury donations, our clients can get one in another day centre that gives them a hot meal at 50p. And from what the clients tell me its top-notch grub.

Anyway, if you read one of our brochures you would think that we are offering a very valuable service to the youth of the town. In fact our aims are quite laudable:

“we aim to empower socially excluded and disadvantaged young people aged 16-25…we are committed to doing this in accordance with our equal opportunities policy…we believe in empowering young people to take responsibility for themselves and believe we can achieve this through offering them support to live fulfilled productive lives”

Who could argue with that? It all sounds very reasonable to me. However, to the more discerning eye the brochure reveals another aspect of our service. Whilst there may be clear and laudable aims the brochure fails to highlight how exactly these aims are to be achieved. We are big on ends, but short on means.

The brochure makes some reference to advice and signposting, a fancy word for telling someone the location of state agencies from which they can receive benefits or accommodation. However, there already exists several services doing just this throughout the city, most of them funded by the taxpayer (more on this later) so we are not offering anything innovative.

In order to assess if we are achieving our aims one needs to assess the quality of advice and who is delivering it.

The advice itself must be sought, we are strongly discouraged from stating our opinions of what we feel they should be doing. If we were to do that we would be accused of having an agenda and trying to impose our values on the clients i.e being "judgemental", the cardinal sin in the various social services in the UK. Under no circumstances are we to say things like:

“Jesus, are you bloody well stoned again at 11 in the morning? You should be out seeking work! That’s why you get JOBSEEKER’S ALLOWANCE not stoned at the day centre allowance.” or “For feck’s sake, are you pregnant again? Do you realise it’s the rest of society that will have to pay and cater for this your third child, would you not think of going on the pill or perhaps sleeping with someone with a job?”

This type of advice, i.e good advice, the kind your Granny or Granddad would give isn’t valued at the Refuge. It is definitely not “client centred” as Agnes emphasises. If you were bold and brazen enough to adopt such a blunt and common sense based approach then you may well get to use some of the techniques you were taught on the course for defusing aggressive and potentially violent situations, either that or a Wayne or Waynetta would leave the imprint of a few sovereign rings in your forehead at the very least.

We are instructed to give advice solely pertaining to accommodation, benefits, substance misuse services, educational programmes and other young people’s services unless asked otherwise by the client. In other words, the only unsolicited advice we can give pertains to what else they can get for free and from where. This is an apt definition of the “client centred” ethos promulgated by Agnes and the nice old lady brigade. Basically, we only advise them on any other issues if and when they seek it. They rarely do and if they were to ask me I doubt they would value my counsel.

The advice dispensers, sages, volunteers, keyworkers call them what you will, may be broken down into several different categories:

1. The Unemployed and disillusioned.
These volunteers have been without work for some time mostly out of choice or because they have become completely disillusioned with the rat race i.e they cant handle the real world either. That’s why they have time to volunteer on a weekday when most people are at work. Some of them just look like older ex service users who were allowed back to visit for a day. Several of them also have drug or alcohol abuse problems, so they could probably give good advice on where to score or the cheapest types of strong lager available from particular off licences. But to be fair they don’t. The type of advice they could potentially offer is definitely “client centred” and would probably be the most sought after. They are also experts on “entitlements” as they themselves are living off the state. I will give them some credit, in that they initially volunteered to do something to try and help others and that is a noble motive. On the other hand before they can help anyone else they need to get their own lives together. They are hiding from reality in the same way as the residents. They are the blind leading the clueless, a recipe for disaster.

2. Nice old Christian ladies
A part of me feels very bad for having a laugh at the expense of this cohort. They are a well-intentioned lot, full of kindness and warmth and extreme naivety, which prevents them becoming the slightest bit cynical or critical of the service users. They live their lives according to the moral code of their faith and can be found most Sundays at their local churches. A few of them are on the committee that oversee the running of the project. Although they want to help people what invariably happens is that they do the exact opposite. They often mistake help with giving people what they want. As a result crafty drug addicts often manipulate them (see next week's blog post). They feel the young people should have a say in decision making despite the fact that the collective outcome of all past decisions by the clients has led to them sitting around stoned all day in a decrepit disused church. Decision-making isn’t their forte. (Involvement in decision-making is even more pronounced in the government-funded sector. All will be revealed later)

Anyway, I'm off on holidays for a week so I will fill you in on more lunacy when I get back. I'm going to be doing a few shifts at a Supported Housing unit for 16-25 year olds. As you the taxpayer are funding the waste in this sector, to the tune of hundreds of milllions annually, I am sure you will be interested in the multitude of ways your money is being flushed down the toilet on pandering to feckless and idle young people.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Social dis-services at it again

First, there was baby P, then this week we read of a foster family in Wales who had a teenager placed in their care who was a convicted sex offender. Social services failed to inform the foster parents of the boy's past and he then went on to sexually assault their daughter and sodomise their young son.

Now, most people are shocked that something like this has happened and there are alarmed headlines in the newspapers. After all, social services are supposed to protect children, not leave them in harm's way.
However, personally, I'm not at all shocked by this disclosure. Horrified and incensed yes, but surprised no. I come across incompetence and risk taking all the time in the social care sector.

Last week, I did a shift at another children's care home. One of my colleagues was transfered in from another home a few streets away. This was because one of the residents in her home, a 17 year old boy, had been threatening her all day whilst she was locked in the office waiting for the police to arrive. The experience had badly shaken her. Although used to threats and intimidation it was particularly severe that day and she feared the boy in question was likely to strike her.

Now, this boy, almost 18, had a history of sexually abusing young girls including pre-pubescent children. Social services were aware of this, but none the less they needed to find him somewhere to live. The care home they found for him was in a residential street with many families with young girls. My colleague informed me that after he had arrived, the private company that ran the care home warned the staff, that under no circumstances were they to inform any of the neighbours of the boy's history of sexual offending. To do so could lead to dismissal or a disciplinary hearing. Over the coming weeks, the staff watched him trying to lure young girls back to the house, powerless to do anything about it for fear of losing their jobs.

So, you see now why when I read of gross incompetence by social services or any other public sector body I'm not in the least bit surprised. I've been experiencing it for years.