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."