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.


Nelly said...

That brat won't always be a 'child' and will at sometime in the future have to face some consequences for her behaviour.

Boy on a bike said...

Can't you get a van - the sort that you cart pigs around in - and just dump them in the back of it?

Roue le Jour said...

The only complaint I have against your blog, Winston, is that it doesn't update nearly often enough. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Why does your management put up with workers being spat at, threatened and verbally abused on a regular basis? I imagine some workers are physically assaulted as well.
Isn't there anything you can do? It's so frustrating to read about this. I can't imagine what it's like to be on the receiving end of the abuse and to have management tell you via buzzwords that you're absolutely disposable.

Lilyofthefield said...

I work in a National Challenge bottom-of-the-league comp and can verify that the behaviour of many of Our Young People is exactly that which you get to mop up after later on. They bully their parents and teachers in exactly the same way they treat you and their other care workers, and in the case of the school, they avoid consequences because of Ofsted and LA fines.

I do actually despair. I have only one criterion for quasi-medical conditions: would the behaviour change if the cane were applied? The ratio of real psychiatric conditions (previously confined to Special Schools) to voluntary bad behaviour falls to 1:75645. As long as there are no real consequences that mean something to the child (and its pointless parents - yes, I would support compulsory sterilisation for anyone whose neglect or cruelty results in damage to an existing child), it cannot be rectified.

All we've got is appeasement.

MarkUK said...

You have my sympathies.

I work in a "mainstream" school in a non-teaching capacity. 40% of our latest intake had "exceptional needs", which may give you some idea of the chaos.

Last month, my boss was infuriated that a known troublemaker (age 13-14) had accused one of the cleaners of assaulting him. My boss is also over all cleaning services.

CCTV bore out the cleaner's statement. One of the SLT had made matters worse by calling the kid's parents before investigating the isssue, so she only had the lad's tale.

The following Monday, my boss saw the little toerag in the corridor, and told him what he thought of liars who try to get other people into trouble. The kid had also been making racist comments to the cleaner (kid = white, cleaner = black).

Next thing, the kid's in his face F-ing and blinding. My boss does not take kindly to that kind of thing and shoved the lad against the wall then proceeded to tell the lad his fortune!

The lad's mother came in the following day, to be presented with the litany of evil the kid had committed.

The child has ADHD, but plays on it like a violin.

Strangely enough, the confrontation with my boss and the information to his mother appeared to cure the worst of his ADHD for over a fortnight.

Unfortunately, my boss has now resigned (not forced). He was just sick of the BS talked about unruly kids.

The school has lost a good man.

benno said...

words fail me. exceptional blog winston, keep it up, I hope more and more people read it as, to me it offers an insight into the multitude of reasons why society is going down the plug hole. You have the patience of a saint, I couldn't put up with that behavior.

Anonymous said...

Could you not refuse take this inmate in the car due to the obvious risk to other road users? I hate to have to remind you that in continuing your journey under the circumstances the driver was in breach of their duty of care to other road users. As any first year law student can tell you, if someone had been killed as a result of a loss of control they could have faced manslaughter charges (as could the inmate) There was a case not long ago where a prisoner in a police car was convicted of gross negligent manslaughter after causing a crash by applying the handbrake at speed. I fail to see any legal difference in this situation, apart from the driver was aware of the risk, while continuing the journey.
I realise that you where caught between a rock and a hard place re the sleep, but surely there is ample excuse for banning her from the car in future.

Anonymous said...

Please keep writing Winstone.
It's much appreciated here too. I check back a lot to this blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Winston.

Once again I have found myself gasping in horror as I read the words in your blog with utter disbelief.

I am gearing myself up to teach a
5 year old child next term who is entering our school with various difficulties (one of which is a severe lack of language). This child likes to bite other children and hit members of staff with objects such as spades. A lot of his issues are down to appalling parenting (mum is far too young and there is no dad to speak of). I just know that in around 10 years time he will be heading the way of someone just like you and will be treating them with utter contempt.

It is so sad that I can already see this happening and I haven't even met him yet.

Winston, I hope you have a beer or two over christmas (you certainly deserve it!)

And please keep updating your wonderful (if sad) blog. It is always an excellent read.

And lastly a question for you. How much longer do you think you can stand doing your job? I've got one foot out the door already in mine; and the children are much smaller and easier to deal with!


ted said...

I was in the police for many years and frequently transported violent people in a car (when a van wasn't available). Our system was that the non driving member of staff sat in the back seat behind the driver. The prisoner sat in the other back seat. This puts the prisoner as far away from the driver as possible and means if the prisoner kicks off the back seat cop is in a position to restrain them.

As already stated by carrying a violent person in the back seat of a car when you can't control them you are actually risking your life.

No doubt you are very limited in what you are allowed to do as far as restraining them but at the very least you should be able to intervene by getting your body between the "client" and the driver.

On the same subject allowing another "client to come along for the ride reduced your options and to my mind is beyond belief. Even the social workers I met never had to do that.

von Spreuth. said...

Nothing shows you care more than a strong swift elbow into the bastards nose. PURELY by accident, of course.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog because of its familiarity and because I share the dismay-and anger. I work in 'supported' accomodation as a senior staff member and was subject to a reasonably serious workplace assault recently. As a well-built guy, this well-fed girl did no actual damage. She was asked to leave but, as 23, with asperger's, Social Services have fought equally furiously to override her marching orders.They did not ask after my welfare. I am refusing to let my management back down. Oh, I refused to hold, and then call her a taxi at 3 15am, if you're wondering..

Louise said...

ADHD is a very profitable business for certain pharmaceutical companies.

Anonymous said...

Just come accross your blog for the first time its good stuff.

I'm a "youth worker", don't have to many kids who have "little shit syndrome" thankfully (hmm may get a Phd out of that syndrom all the psrinks seem to).

Although I rarely transport like this I once did have a problem with two customers, an emergency stop shut them up for a while :)

Keep fighting the good fight!

I wonder if a new government would start to reverse the tide of PCness

Anonymous said...

Winston - if you are using that job for a cheap adrenaline rush, you will inflame every situation you deal with! It IS possible to meet your duty of care without being spineless and instill a sense of responsibility without being a despot...and that's by being NORMAL and above all else DECENT. I am truly horrified that you liken the job to extreme sports!!!! There is absolutely no EXCUSE for their bad behaviour - but there is a REASON - more often than not it's having parents that don't give a sh*t about them - which lets face it, very few of us can truly know what that must feel like. I absolutely agree with your point that firm steps need to be taken to address bad behaviour, but I pity the poor client who has boundaries imposed by someone who is doing it for the adrenaline rush!!!

WinstonSmith33 said...

Anonymous above, I was being sarcastic and facetious in relation to working with teenagers in care for the adrenaline rush. My writing is partly revelatory and partly cathartic. I employ sarcasm and irreverancy to express the latter. How could you not have picked that up in the tone of the writing?

These kids are feral because of their parents I agree. However, the care system makes it all a lot lot worse by tippy toing around and placing their rights before their welfare. In the past there were crap parents and dysfunctional families but teenagers never or at least very rarely attacked adults or were as verbally agressive as they are today. Why? Because even if your parents failed to socialise you to an accepted standard the wider society did. We have lost site of this and now live in a society where apologists such as yourself have allowed children and teenagers to usurp authority away from adults.

Whilst Im in the workplace you couldnt meet anyone more 'normal' and 'decent' as you put it. I do things by the book as that is what the job requires but I do openly question the policies and ethos under which they work because at the end of the day I care very much for the children I see being allowed to develop entrenched bad behaviour that will set them up for dysfunctional adult lives.

BigBlueRob said...


As always, I applaud you and respect you.

I know where you are at. I worked for 10 years with people with Autism and Challenging Behaviour and for fun I also used to work agency with, how were they termed? EBD kids, what a stupid acronym that is. I have been driving a Ford Escort whilst a client/resident/service user/ insert todays relevant pc term here punched me in the back of the head repeatedly on the A34 just outside Oxford.

I stopped the car, I got out I took said young man out and we walked the 5 or so miles back to his home.

Now he had learning difficulties and was still technically under section 3 and I got the biggest b*llocking you have ever seen, despite me pointing out that it was an excellent consequence for his behaviour as he disliked walking, it also stopped them from being sued as I had already stated in writing in his pdp that this client should only be transported with at least one row of seats between him and the driver and thirdly because the agency worker that I had been fortunate enough to be working on shift with was about to just leave me there with two clients by myself and at least this way she completed her shift not to mention that his anger and my adrenaline were both much cooler by the time we had route marched 5 miles (some in restraint, what a sight that must have been!!)

I was apparently out of line because he had the 'right' to be driven to and from activities! and also not to be restrained in public ( I had also been before this manager before for restraining a client in public and was in big trouble until the policeman who i had persuaded not to arrest our client had come to door and told my manager that i had handled the incident with 'professionalism under extreme duress')

BigBlueRob said...

On a further note, once I had left carework, I married a lovely woman who became disabled leving me to look after her and bring up her child who was 13 and extremely damaged from the way her father had used her as a weapon against her mum (normal stuff back and forth,drugs, strange women, not turning up abandoning her in various cities to make life difficult, taking her on holiday to the same caravan park as her mum and beating the living wotsits out of her mums bloke at the time etc etc). Were it not for my determination to 'do the right thing' and because i had spent so much time working in the system she would have been in one of your lovely establishments.

She stole, she lied, she got into trouble with the police in every way you know, she stole her mums morphine to sell to a drug dealer, she tried to swap my bike for a puppy, school in the far away in the country place we had moved to to get away from her father had no idea how to deal with this sort of thing. When she was 16 and 3 days she decided she was moving and she went to the county town a few miles away, we heard about her over the next year as she spiralled out of control from home to a sofa to a supported living to a homeless shelter. On Christmas Eve the year after she phoned me up and wanted a place to stay as she had been refused a place at the homeless shelter (or had p1ssed someone off so much she didn't dare stay there) I told her she had to deal with the consequence of her actions and there was no chance she could stay with us. I then went and got myself so bladdered i passed out in tears.

She now (4 years later) has a house a job a partner and is planning (yes planning) a baby. She is back as part of our family. She understands why i did what I did and more than that she reckons it made her sit up and think a lot quicker than if i had let her come and stay but god it was hard. There was no way that between the ages of 13 and 16 she could be made to face the consequences of her actions no way at all, she had already picked up the impression that it was all to be given to her that she wasn't responsible and that she could do what she wanted. As a previous commenter said it took the wider society as well as me and her mum to make her realise how she needed to behave and take care of herself. That was the bit to take care of herself was what I told her that Christmas Eve, not in a be careful and look out for bad things but in a you must do what you need to to get the things that you want cos I am not giving them to you kind of way

I don't half go on when I get going!!! Perhaps I had bette do some work now!

Keep up the good work my friend and take strength from me cos I'll be there giving to you at those bad times


Ostendaise said...

I don't know how you keep your cool... If I were in your situation, I think I'd already have been arrested for GBH...