Wednesday 31 March 2010

Evil Triumphs when Adults Abandon Their Responsibilities

The brutal murder last week of Sofyen Belamouadden, 15, by other teenagers, in front of hundreds of adults at a packed commuter station is an extreme, but not uncommon, example of the complete breakdown of effective forms of adult authority to thwart criminal and anti-social behaviour in our young.

Less extreme examples of the ineffectiveness of adults to guide and direct the young are on display in a variety of milieus from schools, care homes, the youth justice system and the supported housing sector. I have worked in three of these settings and have dealt with the other directly so I am speaking from personal experience as oppossed to prejudice.

In fact, there has been a gradual abandonment by adults of their responsibilities to guide, direct and discipline children and young people for trangressions of accepted social norms. Whilst working in a school I regularly met parents who were annoyed, frustrated and angry that the school had failed to straighten out their errant son or daughter. The school and the teaching staff in turn blamed the parents for the more egregiously badly behaved pupils. As far as I am concerned it was the fault of both the parents and the school and indeed the wider society. We are all responsible for the transmission of social norms to the young. I am referring here to a minimal adherence to generally held social norms such as not verbally abusing people or being violent or agressive, as well as an ability to take instructions from authority figures.

The same trend is on display in the care system and in supported housing. The system is powerless to effectively instil boundaries and discipline in the more challenging and disturbed residents i.e. those who need it most. In some cases, counselling in conjunction with firm and resilient adult authority would in my opinion help turn lots of kids around. However, instead of these measures being put in place you hear the usual nonsense where by the blame is shifted back on to the parents, despite the fact that they are now under the care of or receiving support from the state and in many cases have been from a young age.

In effect, what is happening is that all spheres of adult authority are abandoning their responsibilities towards children and young people. In the past, if one's parents failed to transmit social norms to you the wider society would step in and do so whether in the form of the extended family network, neighbours, at school or with a harsher youth justice system for the more extreme cases. I dont deny that there were problems in this model and that some of the authority of the past needed to be challenged, rethought and restructured. However, what seems to have happened is the jettisoning of all forms of effective adult authority in some parts of society and hence the inexorable rise in problems associated with young people over the past two decades.

In some sections of society the erosion of adult authority has exposed many young people to unprecedented levels of bullying, intimidation, aggression and extreme violence. Traditionally, strong male role models in the forms of teachers, the police and fathers were responsible for stamping out the incipient aggressive tendencies within young males and replacing these inherent dispositions with civilised norms. The fruits of abandoning this approach are all around us and the welfare state, as well as neo-liberal economics, are largely responsible for this development.

In fact, a while ago at a supported housing project I was commended and praised by a manager, for not physically intervening to stop one of our residents whilst he was on a drunken rampage throughout the project. He smashed up his room, kicked in a window and attacked several other residents who managed to get away from him in time. This young man, Sean, 18, was so intoxicated, in the middle of the day for that matter, that he had no idea what he was doing. The following day he remembered nothing of the incident.

Anyway, as we watched the CCTV footage of his debaucherous trek through the project, the manager repeatedly praised me for my non-aggressive body language and non-interventionist approach as well as my use of de-escalation skills, none of which were effective in any way. As a result of employing my useless politically correct armour in dealing with drunken louts, Sean was allowed to continue on his trail of destruction. After getting bored attacking his fellow residents, as well as the fixtures and fittings in the project, Sean decided to share his rage with the wider community. He proceeded on to the street in front of the project and attempted to pull an elderly man from a bike as he was cycling by. At this point I decided to abandon the non-interventionist, non aggressive approach. I managed to grab Sean by the scruff of the neck, place his arm behind his back and lower him to the ground until the police arrived.

In the face of such aggression what else was I to do but intervene? However, I can understand why so many people don't and it is because in our schools, care homes, supported housing units and even in the family home, if a child or young person accuses you of using excessive force the onus is on the adult to prove their innocence to senior management (in some instances this is an understandable stricture) that seem to be a lot more effective in dealing with alleged or minor transgressions of adults than the feral savagery of the young people in their charge. However, with such a sword dangling over one's head, is it any wonder so many adults in positions of authority have effectively abandoned trying to transmit morals and norms to the young?

It is therefore not at all surprising to me that some young people, including teenage girls as well as boys, were involved in the aforementioned murder at Victoria station in front of hundreds of adults. These young people have grown up in a society where adults have abandoned their duty to ensure that their young are civilised and adhering to a minimum standard of accepted social norms.

The underlying cause of the demise of effective adult authority is best articulated by the words of the 18th century Anglo-Irish Statesman and Philosopher Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”

Thursday 25 March 2010

'Funky' Worker Required and some good news

I've just had a call from the social care agency I work for trying to entice me in to doing a placement with some eighteen year old care leavers. The conversation deteriorated in to farce once the word 'funky' was used in trying to persuade me to undertake the placement. The conversation went something like this:

"Hi Winston, we've just had a call from the leaving care team at the local social services. They're looking for someone youthful and funky to work with care leavers. What they said the young people want is someone who dresses funky and likes the same music as the kids. Basically, they want someone like the kids that can relate to them."

This snippet of information leads me to believe that they would be happy with a stoned adult slacker that walks around with his trousers hanging off and who listens to Dizzy Rascal and Lady Sovereign in their spare time. I regularly encounter these kind of teenage adults in both care homes and the supported housing sector. If they are a particularly uncivilised group, as some care leavers are, do they wish me to mimic their behaviour in this area as well? Perhaps they want me to turn up for work with an insolent and aggressive attitude towards even the most minimal displays of authority?

It's a terrible shame that social services are not seeking a worker who has overcome problems in his own youth and whom the young people are trying to emulate as opposed to the other way around. I concede that establishing this relationship and attitude isn't always easy, but any sane society should be seeking for adults to lead and guide problematic youngsters as oppossed to the inverse. However, social services would seem to prefer for me to lower myself to the levels of dysfunctional youths. Can someone please tell me how this will help these young people? Contrary to what many of my detractors say I actually care for what happens to young people and our kids and just don't understand how nonsense like this serves the interests of misguided youngsters. These kids need guidance, boundaries and discipline not emulation. How can the fools in the local social services not see this?

I politely turned down the placement on the grounds that it was too far away as oppossed to the fact that it was an asinine initiative.

For once I'm ending a post on a positive note with the news that I've been longlisted for this year's Orwell Blog Prize. If I only get this far I feel very honoured to be recognised. Firstly because I think some of my earlier posts are slightly sloppy in style and secondly because George Orwell has been one of the greatest influences in my life.

You can read some of the blog posts by some of the other bloggers on the longlist here. Congratulations to all the other bloggers.

Monday 22 March 2010

Sleep Disorder

I am in the office alone updating all of my Support Plans. I’m making sure I’ve signed each page of each Support Plan in the correct place; after all efficient bureaucracy is obviously the key to ensuring progress in our resident’s lives.

All of a sudden, a slightly obese, uncouth twenty one year old female member of the underclass storms in to the office. It’s Kirsty, Kenny’s current girlfriend. She immediately starts shouting.

“This place is a f**king joke,” she growls.

I agree with her but for very different reasons.

“First of all, calm down Kirsty. Please don’t walk in to the office on the offensive. For a start, you should knock and wait to be invited. If I wanted to talk to you I would knock on your door and wait until you opened it.”

However, I never want to talk to Kirsty. Sometimes I have to but I can’t get away from that. She ignores my comments and continues her rant.

“Where is Brendan? I want to talk to him?” she asks.

“He is keyworking some one.”

“Well, I put in a request for a wake up call with the night worker and they wrote it in the book and then I only got called once and so I slept in. I had an important appointment and it’s this place's fault I missed it. I specifically asked to be called three times within half an hour,” she remarked.

“Well Kirsty, for a start we are not a hotel we shouldn’t be doing wake up calls and if you had asked me I would have told you to use the alarm on your mobile phone to get yourself up. We are supposed to be helping you to become independent. We are not servants. You should not have been told you could have one wake up call never mind three. However, you did have one and should have got up then. We have other things to do. If it had been me working you wouldn’t have even got one.”

“Look, I’ve got a disorder where I can’t get up easily in the morning. I’ve told the Doctor about it and all so you can ask him about it. I have to be woken several times or I just fall back to sleep.”

I didn’t know being lazy and stupid was a medical disorder but there you go, you learn something new every day in this place. I wonder is her inability to get and keep a job or stay on a course a disorder as well. The fact she is two stone overweight is also probably a disorder called Repetitive Shoving of Pies Down One’s Gullet Syndrome.

I somehow doubt that Kirsty’s Doctor would validate her insistence that her laziness is an illness. You never know though after all many in the medical fraternity believe addiction is an illness as opposed to the results of people’s choices.

“I think you may find that a large proportion of the country suffer the very same difficulty with getting up in the morning, but they have to make sure they get up as they don’t have keyworkers,” I comment.

“You lot are supposed to help us and you hassle us when we are not doing anything. I had to go and see about a job this morning and thanks to this place I’ve lost that chance,” she barks.

“Well you are going to have to learn to get yourself up. If you cant get up for an interview how the hell are you going to get up for work?” I ask.

Kirsty shrieks in frustration at such straight talking, partially because she isn’t exposed to too much of it around here.

“I’m putting in a complaint form about this, it’s not on,” she says as she wobbles in her tracksuit out of the office.

You do just that Kirsty. It’s your right after all and as our Complaints Charter states:

We treat all complaints about the qulaity of our services and the conduct of our staff with serious concern…We endeavour that all our service users are comfortable and confident in making complaints about our services. To do this we will provide as many different options to make complaints as possible, including text, telephone, in writing, email and in person.

Now, with policies like this is it any wonder we have people making complaints about not getting the sufficient number of wake up calls. What is worse is that Kirsty’s complaint will be dignified with a written response from management. Personally, I wouldn’t waste the paper. Then both her complaint and the manager's response will be placed in a file which will be scrutinised, as part of an audit, by bureaucrats from the Department of Communities and Local Government.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Keeping Up Appearances

Last week I was back at one of the several care homes for teenagers I regularly attend in order to receive my weekly ration of verbal abuse, threats and perhaps an assault or two. I was to do the afternoon shift through until noon the following day when the local social services were due to do an inspection. I arrived on shift prepared for the possibility of little sleep due to the high pitched screams, shrieks and wails of the she-lout class that often go on until the early hours in many of these care homes. For once, I was hoping that the young ladies would not live up to my cynical expectations, but I was no sooner in the door when the flickering spark of hope was extinguished by Sammie, 14, and her less than eloquent greeting.

“Oh no, it’s you. Don’t think you can tell me what to do you c**t. I don’t have to listen to you or do what you tell me.”

Sammie’s answer reflects that she has a pretty good understanding of the inefficacy of the care system to teach her self discipline and respect for others. Before the bleeding hearts remark that her behaviour is as a result of bad parenting just remember that the state has been her parent for several years now so they must share the responsibility for the character of young woman Sammie is becoming. From what I have seen they are failing abysmally. She would have more order in her life if she had been left to be raised by a pack of wolves.

Later on in the shift, Kylie, 15, returned to the home drunk, at around nine thirty in the evening. One of the senior staff, Emma, called me in to the kitchen where she and Kylie were having a chat. I presumed that Emma asked me to come and talk to Kylie about the fact that she was drunk and had walked a mile in the dark on an isolated road to get back to the home. However, Emma seemed more concerned with complying with the demands of an intoxicated teenager rather than providing her with the discipline and adult authority she so clearly needs.

“Winston, Kylie has asked me to drive her to the 24 hour Supermarket as she forgot to do her weekly shop earlier today with staff and doesn’t have the food she’d like in at the moment. As she is drunk, Im only willing to drive there with her if there is a second member of staff. What do you think?”

Emma was the shift leader and the most senior member of staff on duty and yet she was asking the agency worker for advice. She is supposed to have some idea of what to do but like so many people that I’ve met in these care homes and in supported housing they shouldn’t be given responsibility for looking after single cell organisms never mind human beings. However, I didn’t waste the opportunity to speak my mind and hopefully inject some common sense in to the evening’s proceedings.

“The way I see it is this. Kylie you are drunk and under eighteen and we will not be taking you to the supermarket tonight to go grocery shopping as it is inappropriate to be hammered in shops and I for one will not be seen assisting a teenager in a drunken state about the local late night food market.”

“But all I’ve got to eat is f**king toast and I want some chicken burgers before I go to bed.”

“Toast is more than adequate. Orphans in Calcutta wouldn’t turn their noses up at toast I can assure you. If you had come home when you were supposed to today we could have gone grocery shopping but instead you choose to get drunk, so now you have to deal with the consequences of that. Anyway, I’m more concerned about the fact that you are drunk on a school night and that you walked home in that state through a secluded area. You have put yourself at grave risk of being attacked. I am going to recommend to the manager that you receive a sanction for putting yourself at risk as well as being drunk.”

“Im fine I do this all the time and nothing ever happens to me no one has attacked me yet. Emma, please get Winston to agree to come to the supermarket I want my shopping now! This isn’t f**king fair!”

If I wasn’t here and it was one of the namby-pamby brigade Kylie would get her way. Instead of giving Kylie the discipline she needs Emma tries to undermine me.

“Winston, if the two of us go together with Kylie it will be ok,” pleaded Emma.

“I don’t agree. Kylie has come home drunk and placed herself in danger on the way here and now she is demanding to be taken shopping as the food she has doesn’t correspond with her intoxicated palate. She needs to be sent to bed and we need to discuss what sanctions we will suggest to the manager in the morning so as to deter her from acting like this in the future.”

“I suppose you’re right Winston,” capitulated Emma with all the backbone of an amoeba.

At this point Kylie stormed out of the kitchen swearing and banging doors on the way to her room. By eleven o’clock Emma, Jill and myself were still trying to convince Sammie and Rachel to go to bed but they were obstinately refusing. We turned off the TV and removed the remote control from the room whilst under a barrage of verbal abuse and threats. When I returned to the lounge to remind them that they had lost their cash bribe for settling on time, or ‘incentive’ as it’s called, the two gargantuan she louts were knocking the stuffing out of each other over an argument about which one consisted of more lard and turkey twizzlers than the other. There also seemed to be a disagreement over which one of them was putting it about the most with the local male track suit wearing populace.

A while later as the staff and myself were in the office finishing the day’s pointless paperwork Sammie, Rachel and Kylie started to try and smash the door of the office with a fire extinguisher. When they realised they couldn’t break the door down, we recently had it replaced after they broke in and tore up files and paperwork on another occassion, they let it off under the door causing a bit of a mess in the office. Powerless to do anything directly to stop this, we threatened to ring the police. At first we were ignored, but after several more thuds on the door they stopped and went to bed. The one advantage of working with pudgers in care is that they don’t have the same physical stamina for loutishness as their skinny counterparts. If I had my way I’d be force feeding them tubs of dripping just to ensure they had no energy to engage in aggressive anti-social behaviour. The staff eventually got to bed at two in the morning. Three hours past our bed time and we had to be up again at half past seven. The three Princesses of crassness would of course repeatedly ignore calls to get up and verbally abuse and possibly throw things at staff for attempting to wake them. This is to be expected.

After coming on shift in the morning, I was looking forward to the manager coming in and hopefully dealing in some way with the catalogue of dysfunction on display the night before. It was a hope not imbued with too much expectation, due to experience, and he too lived up to the low standard I expected of him. It is so nice on those rare occasions when I am proved wrong. This would not be one of those instances. He arrived on shift and whilst I tried to talk to him and explain all of the issues from the night before he frantically ran around the house polishing banisters and coffee tables, installing new lamps and putting out bowls of pot pourri. He even brought new plants with him which he placed throughout the house. Perhaps he was going for a jungle theme to make the wild animals feel more at home.

In fact, what he was doing was preparing for the inspection of social services that morning and so all traces of the chaos and dysfunction that would have been a true representation of the house had to be glossed over. However, no amount of foliage and ambient lighting could conceal the behaviour that would be on display for the inspection should the three princesses decide to kick off after emerging from their lairs. As the manager was often on the receiving end of a chubby fist from Sammie, the inspection could prove highly embarrassing, as well as impossible to complete, with the girls present. There was only one solution; he had to get shut of them for the day. So he gathered the girls together along with Emma and Jill, their personal assistants, and gave them money to go clothes shopping followed by a trip to the cinema. No mention was made of the previous night’s multifarious displays of anti-social behaviour. How are these girls to learn right from wrong and have self discipline instilled in them so as to lead functional lives when the manager fails to implement consequences for their negative actions? This was not an isolated incident in this care home. In fact, it is common practice for negative behaviour to be either overlooked or dealt with in a feeble manner, if at all in this and other homes I attend.

So off the girls went on their excursion, having had it further instilled within them that they can do what they like and get away with it and in fact appear to be rewarded. After they left, the manager’s manager from head office turned up and all the required files and paperwork were put on display for social services to peruse. No doubt everything was written down as it should be and all the boxes were ticked in the right place so as to comply with social services’ bureaucratic regulations. Social services would be greeted with exemplary form filling and efficient bureaucracy and on this they would make some of their judgment on the performance of this care home. Unsurprisingly, I was informed that this care home was given a glowing report on their last inspection by social services. OFSTED too have commended it’s good work on their last snoop about the place. I’ll leave it up to you the reader to decide what you think of the standard of care these young girls receive from the profit orientated private residential care home system funded and regulated by the state. As far as I am concerned this is another case of box ticking trumping the welfare of the people that the system purports to care for.