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?


Nelly said...

I'm not surprised you suffered stress after such an incident. And that only the beginning!

I too, have worked with these young people, once they are over sixteen. I lasted seven years - I will never return to the work. Never!

Anonymous said...

Glad to find a new post of yours, I'll be looking forward to part 2.

Nationalist said...

Being forced to address them in funny psychologist-speak can't help them have any respect for you! Regular parents wouldn't - they'd just ask nicely the first time, tell firmly the second, and apply a sanction the third.

It's difficult to know what you could do with someone willing and able to use extreme violence. I guess they should be prosecuted and jailed - at 15 a young person has been criminally liable for their actions for the previous five years. In jail they would learn that "lights out" is unavoidable.

cheeky chappy said...

Make no wonder you are suffering from stress Winston, you have my admiration, I work as a college lecturer (although unemployed at the moment) and we only have to put up with half of what you guys do and that is bad enough.

Can I just say your blog is a bloody revelation, it's high time far more people started telling the truth instead of sugar coating it and making excuses. You are one of my heros and I applaud you for having the balls to stand up and say enough is enough.

Only when people stop making excuses and start telling the truth will people get pissed off enough to do something about it, namely going back to the days when our young people are seen but not heard. Until they reach 18, whether they like it or not they do as their elders tell them.

Keep up the great work winston, and keep your chin up mate.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about the stress you've been under. Please don't forget that its good practice to have supervision when yo work with challenging behaviours. It is impossible for you to carry all this alone so please seek counselling if you think it will help?

I suggest contacting a psychotherapy school near you as they must offer supervision to their students at a reduced rate.

Please don't stop blogging as we miss you:)


Anonymous said...

Hello Winston
What a dilemma for you in that situation.
Did you reach for another heavy object?

Hibbo said...

How on earth is this allowed to happen?

If I behaved like that in a pub I would be (rightly) arrested.

Your blog is as excellent as it is depressing.

cheeky chappy said...

It's gotten to this state Hibbo, because we have allowed our young people far too many adult privleges at much too young an age.

Children need hard and harsh dicipline (when needed) so that they learn their place (which is below their elders). There are far too many parents wanting to be best friends with their kids. When you do this you remove your authority and let the kids see that you don't have power over them. Consequently, they feel they can do as they please. You can't have it both ways, you can't be a parent and a best friend, you have to do one or the other.

Until we stop putting children above adults this disasterous state will continue. Children and young people need to learn their place and learn that until they reach 18, whether they like it or not that is the way of things.

Anonymous said...

Hang on in there Winston. Blogs like yours are essential. Hope you manage to compartmentalise the trash you have to work with & appreciate that there are lots of people, like most readers of your blog, who respect what you are trying to do.

It did cross my mind . . . doesn't the institition have a cellar with a trap door? The ultimate naughty step.


Anonymous said...

There's a long game to this.

If you are unlucky, the Liam's of this world will accuse you of physically and/or sexually abusing him when he is older and wants some money. At *best* it will be 'your negligence' that 'made' Edwin throw the heavy object.

I agree with everything Winston writes, but to be honest, if you are working with these sort of children in this time you are absolutely f***ing insane.

adriansphotos said...

I love your blog, its the real thing. The bottom line is , some people just shouldnt have kids. Thats it. You know the parents / parent to be , and the familes and broken homes that they come from, its self perpetuating.
What if the worst of the feral kids were offered a £3K incentive to have the snip? after 6 months of consequence counselling ?
It would stop this cycle of misery for everyone.

North Northwester said...

This is the road to hell created by liberal good intentions, and it's all down to breaking the link between individual action and personal responsibility.

Why should Liam ever do what he's told - he's never been properly punished, by t e soud of it.

And pain is so cheap, so readily available, so quick to finish, so easy to remember and so useful to fear.

Ye gods! The verification word for my comment was dante

Fausty said...

It's sad that people who can make a positive contribution based on common sense tend to abandon such important work because the system is founded on illogical principles.

I'm glad you're sticking with it and hope you return to what is obviously your vocation, with a renewed sense of hope and purpose.

Great blog.

Anonymous said...

if you would really like to debate residential child care, why dont you check out.