Wednesday 29 September 2010

A Parent's Perspective of Our Shambolic Care System

Recently I received an email from a committed and responsible parent who through circumstances beyond their control and despite their best efforts had to put their teenage stepson in to care. They have kindly allowed me to publish the email here which I have edited only very slightly. Here is their story and their assessment of the care system:


I've just found your Blog and I wanted to express my congratulations on firstly writing about your experiences and secondly for winning the award earlier in the year. My 17 year old step son M was placed in care when he was 13. He was a regular cannabis user and extremely violent to other family members when not having access to it. We always had problems with him and faced numerous challenges in keeping him out of trouble at school and at home. It was hard, my God was it hard but we did our best for him. It would have been so easy to take the soft option like many other parents and give in to him, but we took our responsibilities seriously. We took the grief, we took the smashed bedrooms and the thumps and we attended the parenting classes because we wanted to be good parents. We kept him busy: scouts, football clubs, rugby, boxing, you name it we did it. He never missed school and was about to start the run-up to his GCSE's.

Despite our best efforts and commitment to M the situation deteriorated and his violent behaviour was affecting his siblings. We were faced with Social Services recommending that he be removed and we thought it would do some good. Perhaps it would mean he could address his drug problem and get some anger management counseling. How naive we were.

We dropped him off at a care placement which consisted of three other teenagers on a Wednesday evening and he looked so scared .We hugged him and arranged to drop over on the Saturday to bring over some of his belongings. When we returned on that Saturday he was unrecognisable. He had been "adopted" by a 15 year old youth in the placement who had clearly advised him that he could do anything he wanted as there was nothing the staff could do to stop them. They were literally out of their heads on the exhilaration of being "in control".

Within a month he was using all sorts of drugs and solvents and was missing from the care home at least three or four times a week and ALL his belongings had been sold for drugs. Thirteen years of parenting had in effect disappeared in three days. For the next twelve months M never attended school along with the other resident in the home because the care home didn’t have the power to force him. We even attended a meeting where M was told that it wasn't so bad missing school at fourteen as it was his GCSE years that were really important (as if he'd magically start attending again next year). At every subsequent meeting we went to (which M was also present), when we raised concerns about his skipping school and suggested consequences, we (and he) were told that "we can't stop his weekly allowance" or "we can't stop him leaving for late night parties" - it was music to his ears.........madness ....sheer bloody madness.

After months and months of pestering and meetings with Social Services we finally managed to find a placement well away from home where he was away from the influence of these other youths. By and large it worked. He started school again, sure he had blips but he was happy and we could see him improving physically and mentally. However, things were far from perfect in that everything was done for him and he had to take no responsibility for his actions or suffer any consequences. He would abscond and then ring the home in the early hours for lifts home. If he wanted something then he knew that he'd get it and if he didn’t he'd trash the house. He was getting older but not growing up. He was a ten year old in a sixteen year old's body.

When he reached 16, Social Services decided that the expensive placement was no longer justified so he was shifted back to his home town despite our protestations on account of the friends he had made here in his first care placement.

As I write this M is a crack addict with a conviction for burglary and living at his grandfather's home - even though he's not wanted there. He steals his savings and has even sold his Granddad’s TV and yet Social Services say they can't do anything unless Granddad is physically going to remove him. The last time M was arrested it took 4 policemen and leg shackles !!

M is the product of a care system which instils NO discipline, where everything they want they get, and where they are treated with kid-gloves by the police and by the courts. This cannot be the right way to raise children in care, to use the term "care" is an insult to those people who actually do care.

Please please keep up the good work. We must keep highlighting what is going on in such care placements.Sorry, I've ranted on long enough but it's such a relief to actually be able to talk to someone about this issue.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Language Barriers: When Rules Are Not Rules

The Supported Housing Project that I have been placed with for the last few weeks is undergoing a lot of late night disturbances from drunken young people. To make matters even more disruptive for their fellow residents, who don't drink themselves stupid at every available opportunity, the drunken contingent bring back late night revellers and strays they have picked up whilst out on the town. Only a few nights ago whilst on a sleep in shift I was awoken several times throughout the night by anti-social revelry from several residents’ rooms. When I asked them to go to bed and for their unauthorised guests to leave the building they refused to co-operate and there was nothing I could do about it. The police wouldn’t be interested and could do nothing about it anyway. In the morning those young people not involved in the disturbances from the night before came to complain about being kept awake until the early hours and demanding that something be done about it. I assured them I would talk to the manager and that sanctions would follow. However, when I talked to the manager about the situation there appeared to be a language barrier with regards to the manner in which we could describe the solutions we wished to put in place.

"So Dave I was looking around for a copy of the house rules and was going to photocopy them and give them out to the residents to remind them of their responsibilities and that they can be evicted for persistently breaking the rules and disturbing their fellow residents. However, I can’t seem to find a copy of the house rules anywhere."

"Well Winston you can’t find a copy of the hose rules because we don’t have any. The senior management of the Housing Association feel that as most people don't have to live by rules in their own homes then neither should our residents. It's a load of nonsense really because of course we have rules but we just don’t call them that. Instead, there is a clause in the licence agreement (similar to a tenancy but with less rights) that the resident signs that states they must refrain from anti-social behaviour that is disruptive or acts as a nuisance to others. There are also rules with regards to the number of guests allowed on the project and the times they have to be gone but we don’t call them rules we call them a policy."

"So this clause tells them not to act in a certain way and the guest policy outlines certain requirements also?" I remarked.

"Yes they do."

"Then the clause and the policy are rules," I pointed out.

"I agree Winston they are but we can't call them that that as senior management view that as oppressive."

"As senior management have worded these licence agreements and also enacted the policies can they not see that clauses and policies that tell people how to behave are rules? At the end of the day we should be able to put up a list of rules around the building that informs the residents that breaking them means they are contravening the clause in their licence agreement pertaining to anti-social behaviour and that repeatedly doing so will lead to their eviction. They will then know exactly where the boundaries are and the other residents who are not disruptive will feel reassured that there is a clear and effective policy to tackle anti-social beahviour."

"Look Winston, you are getting too bogged down in semantics. At the end of the day when there is anti-social behaviour we are able to issue warnings due to contravention of the clause of the licence agreement and that is open to how we interpret it as well so it gives us leeway.”

“Well, I think failing to give young people clear and consistent boundaries in the form of written rules fails them. These youngsters don’t use terms like ‘clause’ and ‘licence agreement’ but they do understand the words ‘rules’ and ‘consequences.’ And as we have pointed out we have rules we just don’t call them that because some idiot in policy has decided that using the word ‘rule’ is a violation of a person’s human rights.”

“Well there is one way that we can have a printed list of house rules put up on the noticeboard.”

“How?” I asked.

“If at one of our consultation meetings with the residents they agree to having certain rules then we can print them and put them up.”

“But half of our residents are potheads who fail to sign on, cant successfully apply for housing benefit, are always in rent arrears and are in and out of court for petty offences. They can’t apply order to their own lives and seem to flout most social norms as well as the law so surely they are the last people that we should be consulting on how to run this project? Besides they only ever turn up to these resident involvement meetings if bribed with fast food. Part of the problem is that they lack any semblance of structure in their lives and we are failing them by not giving it to them because some Marxist with an antipathy to power and authority working in policy has decided that the word rule is anathema. Anyway, what are we going to do about these late night parties that are affecting those residents who get up early to go to work or college?”

“Well, I’ll give a few guest bans to the culprits involved for a week or two but you know the way it is they will either flout it straight away or when it expires be back to their anti-social ways,” stated Dave.

Anyway, I had to go and tick some boxes and chase up some residents for their signatures on forms stating I had supported them by handing them a telephone to ring the jobcentre. I was flirting with the idea of not completing the paperwork and when challenged by senior management I would inform them that it wasn't a rule that I complete the paperwork merely a policy, and that I should have been consulted on whether I agreed with it or not before I was asked to comply with it.