Tuesday 15 June 2010

An Inflammable Situation

Some months back I ceased working in Children's care homes due to the stress and unsafe nature of the job (I still work in Supported Housing though). I also couldn't bear working in an environment where teenagers with no boundaries or ability to regulate their behaviour seemed to have more rights than the staff charged with caring for them. Its not that I believe adults are above reproach or that they should never have their authority questioned, but in these homes, effective authority, the kind troubled teenagers need, was largely absent and at the end of the day this leads to the youths becoming maladjusted and dysfunctional adults.

There were a myriad of incidents that pushed me to leave and I will document them here over the coming weeks and months. Below is one such incident.

It was a Tuesday evening and Liam came to the office and knocked on the door. He demanded to have all his incentive money paid to him there and then even though the money wasn't paid until the Saturday and he had yet only earned three pounds for the week. For those of you new to my ramblings cash incentives are paid to the young person for complying with certain standards and behaviours Monday to Friday. For instance, one pound each day can be earned for getting up when called in the morning, settling to bed on time, brushing your teeth, not smashing up the house or staff for the day, making an hour long appearance with your one to one private teacher in your private on site school. In the olden days they had a different word for these incentives, they used to call them bribes. They had a different incentive scheme as well. It involved behaving well so as to avoid a clip around the ear.

Anyway, Liam was informed by myself and the staff that we only paid the incentives on Saturday. Even though he already knew this he was having none of it and his behaviour started to escalate.

"I want that f**king money now, all of it. Its mine and I am going to get it and you lot are going to give it to me," he said with a menacing and threatening stare.

Although only fifteen, Liam stood about six foot one and came in at about fifteen stone. What he lacked in intelligence he made up for in brute force, ignorance and agression which many of us had been on the receiving end of at various times. He started to throw things around the office and pushed me and another member of staff. Three of us managed to restrain him with much effort and get him out of the office but he was only warming up.

Liam went to his room and proceeded to throw cups out of his window which could have injured an innocent person passing by. The manager on duty suggested we ignore Liam's feral behaviour, as oppossed to intervening to restrain him, and that in time he would calm down. That took about another hour which Liam spent trying to kick the office door down whilst physically threatening the staff therein.

When it was deemed safe to go and talk to him, Laura and I went to his room and where as his physical energy for mayhem had subsided he was still psychologically trying to intimidate us. He emerged from his den of delinquency with a lighter in one hand and a highly flamable deodorant can in the other. He kept igniting the lighter and threatening to spray the deodarant in to the naked flame and in our direction.

"I could burn you and there would be nothing you could do about it," he threatened. Like a hound who can sense fear Liam picked up on the look of worry on my face.

"Look at you, you are f**king shitting yourself." He bellowed with laughter at the obvious distress his behaviour was causing me. I didnt think he would do it, but then again I wasn't sure and he knew this and so played on it. Laura and I removed ourselves for the situation.

Was he punished for any of this behaviour you might be asking? What lessons did he learn? Well, he did lose his one pound incentive for good behaviour that day a payment he shouldnt receive in the first place.

A couple of hours later, in accordance with the policy of 'positive reinforcement', I listened to the manager praising Liam for 'choosing' (they love this word in social care) to have calmed down as he sat ignoring her whilst playing a video game on a giant TV screen in the lounge. How does praising him for playing video games and ignoring his dangerous behaviour help him in the long run?

Liam came in to care under section 20 of the Children's Act with his Mother requesting he be taken in to care. The reason being that she was unable to control Liam due to never having disciplined him or provided him with adequate boundaries. As a child Liam learned to get what he wanted by throwing temper tantrums which when he became a teenager became agressive and violent outbursts in which he asserted power over his Mother. It is not Liam's fault that he was allowed to become a bully and to believe that he could have what ever he wanted or that he was more powerful than effective and just adult authority. This was the mistake of his Mother and sadly and tragically for Liam the state is continuing in the same vein.

A few days later we took him to Butlins for the day with his peers. He verbally abused us on the way but to a lesser degree than he would have done if we had stayed at home with him on a Saturday (activity day). I was just relieved he didn't bring a lighter and a can of deodarant for the journey.