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.


Boy on a bike said...

2,500 quid a week! Bloody hell. I went to one of the best boarding schools in the country, and it cost a fraction of that to house me, feed me and educate me. We ate what we were given - simple as that.

At least these two will not graduate to break and entry - can you imagine either one trying to get through a ground floor window, or running away with the loot?

Still, I guess they could shoplift by stuffing items into the folds between their rolls of fat - what security guard in their right mind is going to put a hand into the belly roll of a porker in search of a mars bar?

WinstonSmith33 said...

I laugh and take the piss behind theses kids fat backs, its a form of catharsis, but at the end of the day it is so sad it really is the way they are neglected in some of these care homes.

From what I see there is a lot of emaphasis in these home s ofamaking sure the kids are constanlty stimulated with video games, tv, excursions, internet time, swimming pools etc etc. A lot of care workers are scared of these kids and not just because they can be violent but also because the kids threaten to make allegations or complain to social workers. Staff are concerned about not having allegations or complaints made agains them.

The old manger at Rachel's care home once told her to change her tshirt before college as it was dirty and smelled and was covered in food stains. His words were "dont go to school looking like a street drunk." Rachel complained to his senior manager at head office and he was given a dressing down for diminsishing Rachel's "self-esteem."

What kind of logic is that? Let the kid smell and go out like the inside of a skip but whatever you do dont speak the truth. Its madness that these types of decisons are made time and time again within this sector.

Ranting Teacher said...

Isn't there a solution in what has been written above? Pack these kids off to the many boarding schools around the country - just one or two in each school - and watch their "self-esteem" plummet like their weight. Too much "self-esteem" can only be a bad thing in these cases.

Anonymous said...

How does it cost as much as 2500 quid a week - twice as much as Eton?
How does it get that expensive?- Is it because there is a high ratio of qualified adults to few (one or two) children? or is there another reason?

WinstonSmith33 said...

There is at least one staff member for each child in care at all times, two if the child is more of risk to themselves or others. There is one manager in the home. Then there is a head office with IT officers, HR Personnel, several other layers of management who are usually useless and think that giving children what they want is how you care for them. Not to forget the teachers that are stationed in the home as so many kids in care are so disruptive they cant even attend the atrocious comprehensives in their locality. That's some indictment of the care ystem if it is producing kids that cant even fit in in our appaling comps. Then there is the costs of renting or paying the mortgage on the house and feeding the child with turkey twizzlers and other junk and not to forget the cash 'incentives' they get for geting up, not abusing staff, washing, thinking about eating a vegetable, going to school and so on. So you see it all adds up.

mrfish said...

The issue is though, what do you do about it?

I've worked in my share of appalling comps, and I know from experience that trying to lay the law down with the most unruly kids often means they explode (not literally, but with some of the fatties it's surely just a matter of time). In the absence of proper discipline and meaningful consequences, kids usually just give you a volley of abuse and storm off.

I'd imagine kids in care can be even more volatile. From reading your posts it sounds like there isn't anything you can do to stop a kid walking off, and then what happens? They might come back, or they might end up dossing around "mates'" houses, getting wrecked and committing crimes. I can see the logic in trying to at least "contain" the children, even if I don't agree with it.

I'm not sure how exactly it happened, but we seem to have institutionally given every unruly child enough rope to hang themselves. And with the most vulnerable we've handed them a few yards extra for good measure.

Anonymous said...

We have allowed all these liberal do=gooders to tell us what is best for long enough, it's time to go back to the days when kids were seen but not heard. Bring back corpral punishment and national service. Say what you like but putting a little bit, I'll say this again, A LITTLE BIT of fear into kids minds is no bad thing. I'm not talking about turning kids into jibbering wrecks and being petrified of adults, but having them be afraid of the consequences of getting into trouble is what is missing these days.

Giving kids lines or putting them in detention is not tough enough. I know when I was a kid it was the fear of actual physical pain, from getting 10 of the best that kept the majority of us in check. Sure, there will always be the odd few who wont be scared of such things, but by God most of us were and we wouldn't have dared backchat our teachers. We've had over 20 years to show us that this empowering, softly, softly approach DOESN'T work. It's time to bring back dicipline that actually hurts. I'd bet any money that within 2 - 3 years the level of badly behaviour would soon go down.


Anonymous said...

5'5" and 16 stone at 14? Wow is that a girl or a baby hippo? My own daughter is 5'2" and 7 stone at 15 and her mother and I find ourselves telling her she's far too young to talk about dieting.
I have a question for you why is the older girl in a care home at 17? surely she's too old now. I appreciate you can't just chuck them out on the streets but what happens to these girls when they reach adulthood (using the word loosely of course) are they allowed to stay in the care home until they choose to leave?

WinstonSmith33 said...

They usually stay until their 18. And thenm they get given a free council house. Which is fair enough but their should be strings attached. Some kids leave at 16 and go to live in supported housing for 16-25 year olds, this is a flat or bedsit of your own in a block with a keyworker, that is an assistant that will help you with benefits and support you in to independent living. In most cases this job is superfluous. Saying that I once worked with a care leaver she was just 17 and living in supported housing. She was an absolute inspiration. She left care at 16 because her social worker, a good woman, saw that she was ready. This girl despite an appaling background was very mature and sensible. She was in fact more together in her life than most of the staff. That's why I dont buy in to the idea that your background will predetermine your behaviour.

peterg22 said...

Why the luxury of a council flat/house? What have they actually done to deserve one? Surely a bed in a large, purpose-built hostel with large, open dorms would suffice? If they didn't like it they'd have to get off their backsides and try and get a job that would then enable them to qualify for something a bit better.

ellen62 said...

To peterg22
You do know why children end up in care don't you? I agree that young people need firm boundaries,that adults should take control for safety and educational purposes and that we should emphasise responsibilities and competencies in young people's development. But we ought to acknowledge that care exists because these kids haven't had these; on the contrary they are there because of parental abuse or 'incapacity'. As someone working in child protection, I know that the vast majority of kids only go into care after huge and long standing family fuck-ups and enormous emotional and psychological damage. That's why I think kids in care - or any neglected or abused kid - need firm boundaries and direction: someone has to attempt to play the role of the authoritative caregiver: a parent figure with high expectations and high levels of affection and care. I agree that the care system, perhaps esp residential homes haven't caught up with this piece of theory [and it is in the theory - not just some knee-jerk 'birch 'em and draft 'em' reaction!]and it's a continual frustration to workers in the sector [I'm in education] who know it, work by it and - when allowed to - get results with it.
But to get back to the point - 'what did they do to deserve it?' Well, what did they do to deserve being born to parents who beat them, rape them, neglect them? What we should all be commited to doing is working to avoid the repetition of abusive parenting, bred from violent and neglectful early imprinting. One way might to model and insist on not only more self-motivation, self-discipline and persistency but also more compassion.

WinstonSmith33 said...

Hi Ellen 62 I agree with everything you say. Kids in care are messed up and display problematice behaviour (to very varying degrees) as a result of dysfunctional parenting. However, where many residential care homes fail is that they allow the child to continue to behave badly and make excuses for them. This lazy approach that I see so often perpetuates and exacerbates the childs problematic behaviour. In many care homes some children will only behave or abide by rules if paid to. We in care call this an "incentive". I call it a bribe and I dont agree with it.

There needs to be a bit more stick (not literally) and a little less carrot in the care sector. Saying that Im all for rewarding good behaviour and acknowledging it but it must not be viewed as a quid pro quo system and sadly it is by many children.