Communication from a care leaver: failing better.

Failing Better

Within the Context of a Child and Adolescent Social Care Environment

(You Failed Me, But Do You Really Care)

First a note, this paper is inspired by a paper written by Richard Rollinson, Executive Director of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, I concluded that the follow-on from his paper would need to be a perspective of how children and young people are failed, and how it feels as a child to be failed by the very people caring for you, and the greater affect these failures have on the child as they develop into adulthood,

I am now a young adult, but I was once one of these children that had been failed, and I will now share with you, the many failings I experienced during my nearly 17 years, in the care of these so-called professionals. I will also for the first time ever, allow people to know how much damage is still left behind, some of you reading this paper will know who I am, and I therefore ask that you do not allow this to alter your perspective of me as a person. We all have a past this is one small part of mine, yes it has altered who I am and has contributed to the person I am today, but I do not wish to be judged on my past, when I have tried so hard to become a much stronger and better person as an adult.

Where did it all start?

It is often the case that we can look back at a young person’s life in the care system and say well there were inevitably some minor failures along the way, but on the whole we did all we could to help this young person and provided the best support we could offer, we will often here about the success stories because those are the ones everybody talks about, what you hardly ever hear is professionals talking about their massive failings or young people they failed to adequately support, this document ends that.

Many young people live in fear of speaking out due to judgement, or the ramifications it may have on their remaining time in the system and I myself for many years felt the same way, but I have now reached that stage in life where I simply do not care anymore, I have held on to the stories and the damage and hurt for many, many years, and have decided that the time has come to break that silence, and I do so with the hope that it will help to educate the professionals caring for children and young people.

When I was just 12 Years old, I decided against the advice and better judgment of the professional’s caring for me that I was going to read the Victoria Climbié, Enquiry, By Lord Laming, the report of the official enquiry into her death. I was advised against this, as I read further and further into the report, and started to comprehend the, vast number of contributing factors and failures that lead to her death, I started to wonder if I had been told not to read this because it would make me scared and sceptical of the system designed to protect children like me. Never the less I continued to read such was my stubbornness once I had my mind set on something I would do it no matter what the cost, and there was a cost.

On my completion of the report, I sat there in total silence unable to move, speak, or think, and there I stayed for what seemed like hours probably more like a few minutes in reality. Then I realised, the real reason I had been advised not to read this, I had myself been at risk of becoming yet another child that died like Victoria did. It was not until some years later I finally became aware of just how close I had come to meeting the same fate. This leads us to the first failure which needs serious consideration.

 

Child Protection, Early Intervention and Admission to the Care System

This is the most crucial, fundamental and important stage, in the care and support that we offer to children and young people, it is of the upmost importance that we get this right and do not fail to identify and protect children and young people that are at significant risk of abuse and/or harm and children and young people that are already being abused sexually, emotionally, violently or otherwise.

Yet, surprisingly all too often this is where it all goes horribly wrong.

You would be forgiven for thinking that given the changes that were made as a result of the aforementioned inquiry, the necessary changes would have been made and/or would have been put in place to prevent failures of this nature and to ensure the safety of such vulnerable and defenceless children, I too thought this for a long time following my reading of the report and subsequent examination of the governmental and local changes that were made due to its findings.

Then one evening in 2007,  I came home from college and switched on the news as I always did at 5 o’clock, I could not believe my eyes I was watching a breaking news broadcast, that alleged Baby P  (Now Know As Baby Peter) had been abused by his mother and her boyfriend and had died , after having sustained more than 50 injuries in a period of around eight months, the one fact that jumped out to me immediately was that this happened in Haringey, and I noted the fact that Haringey Social Services had been notified of concerns for his safety and welfare by the London NHS Trust, at this point I made the link to the case of Victoria, and found it hard to comprehend that yet another child, had died in Haringey that could/should have been protected by the social care services.

This was the point at which I realised there was a serious failure in the processes designed to protect these most vulnerable, children that are living a life of abuse and neglect and need so desperately to be protected, loved, cared for and nurtured.

 

What Went Wrong

Many things contributed to the failures that lead to the deaths of both Victoria and Peter, many things between the two cases are distinctively similar, while others are not one fundamental thing is the same both children were failed by the same local authority, by the same social services department, in the same area.

It would be almost too easy to state that one authority went bad, and that this is only indicative of that authority’s ill effectiveness, but that would be a cheap cop out, this problem is far wider spread than it would appear at first glance, the general assumptions is If we are not hearing anything bad about an authority there is no concerns this is an antiquated and misleading perspective.

The problem is that we only hear about the babies that die, and when that happens social services feel the heat, along with all the investigations, dismissals and potentially criminal charges that come as a result of their failures. But we never hear about the near misses the children they only just got to in time, the child that was so malnourished that a day or two longer and it would have been too late, the child that was left in a situation of emotional abuse, so long that the suffering is so deeply embedded that their prospects of overcoming it are slim, or like me the child that was continually returned to their mother in spite of emotional abuse, more than 5 times over a year and a half and then finally removed forever.

The evidence of emotional abuse was clear, yet they continued to return me at my mother’s request. There should have been no return, the warning signs were there, the authorities choose to ignore them and by the time they did remove me for good it was already too late, the pain, suffering, torment and damage had been burned in.

I like to think of the human brain like a CD-ROM, once written it can only ever be read never erased, but what you can do is write a replacement version that supersedes the current version, removing a child that is at such a risk, at the earliest possible date significantly increases the probability of their being able to create new and safe memories that will help them to overcome this damaged state, but there is a finite timeframe where this is probably and beyond that, there chances decay rapidly over an extremely short period of time.

This pattern of acting to late is widespread and is a story mirrored by many damaged, broken and disturbed children, young people and adults across many different authorities that have had this kind of experience due to an ill effective early intervention.

 

The Long-Term Effect

The long-term effect is hard to comprehend, I cannot speak for others but I can certainly explain my experience of the long-term effects of these early failures. Although I have no doubt that my experiences will be remarkably similar to many others that have had similar early years experiences.

As I grew up the issues began very early on, after being removed from my mother’s care permanently I was placed with a long-term foster family, on reflection this is where the damage started to show, and I must credit the relevant authorities for their identification of the damage that had been caused and the effects it was having on my early childhood.

I was with this family from about 5 Years old, and my behaviour was extremely challenging from the very beginning I behaved continually in toddler esc, from the very beginning of the placement, I would constantly scream the house down, if I did not get my own way, I would scream non-stop for hours and hours on end. It did not matter where I was, town, home, family anywhere I would behave in the same way.

This went on for several years, until the local authority decided that the time had come to do something about it, I was referred to the psychiatrist, psychologist the outcome of which, was me referred to and then placed at The Mulberry Bush School. On reflection, this was probably the first, but also sadly the last time that the local authority made a decision with regards to my care that was suitable, constructive and in line with my needs.

I attended The Mulberry Bush for three years, from 8-11 Years of age, The Mulberry Bush School, is a specialist school with an emphasis on teaching children to live, and to learn they help children to overcome their traumatic past, by caring for them and teaching them with in a nurturing therapeutic environment, and by caring for each child in accordance with their own individual needs there is no single recipe that works for all children and The Mulberry Bush School, has understood the need for this induvial approach and it has formed a major part of their core practice.

It was the best intentions of the local authority that sent me to The Mulberry Bush, and this at face value would seem to have been a very appropriate choice, but that is not the whole story, attending the school for three years played a huge part in my life and should of lead to me leaving in a much better position that I started. This however was not the case for me and the reason for this is relatively simple but seemingly feel outside of the view of the professionals involved.

The first issue was to do with the school holidays, The Mulberry Bush does not offer a 52-week provision, so I was required to return to my foster family during the school holidays. I believe that this process of returning to my foster family, damaged progress because every time I went home, my behaviour would fall back to how it was prior to attending the school and even sometimes worse than it was before I attended.

my holidays were spent back home with my foster family lead to a regression of the progress I had made during term time. This seemingly went unnoticed to those supporting me.

On reflection, this behaviour and regression of progress was probably due to the fact that my relationship with my foster family had already been damaged beyond repair, and had become very sour and stagnated prior to my attending the school, so it was perhaps inevitable that being returned to them in the holidays would lead to a recurrence of my prior behaviours and a regression in the progress that I had made on an emotional and behavioural level during the preceding term time.

I am not entirely sure how this went unnoticed, or how this failed to enter the consideration of the professionals working with me, however that said they may have been aware of this and this may simply have been a case of this being the best option available to them at the time. I will let you be the judge of that.

The reason behind my continued placement with my foster family in spite of this is not overly important the most important thing to consider is the damage that it caused to an already damaged and fragile child, and this is the fundamental issue, every time I returned home I returned to an environment that was unstable, unhappy, sad angry and often futile.

The effect of this was to further deepen the hurt and trauma I had suffered, due to the severe lack of nurturing care and stability that I deeply desired and needed, it was almost impossible for my foster family to provide that due to how much hurt, stress, frustration and pain they were no doubt also feeling in spite of their best efforts to care for me.

By the time, I left The Mulberry Bus as an 11-Year-old I had not made as much progress as it was hoped, the local authority was advised by The Mulberry Bush, that I would need continued specialist support, both in education and at home to be able to progress following my time at the school. Unfortunately, this is where the care and support provided to me once again broke down.

The decision about my future education provision was left to the educational psychologist following their assessment and subsequent issuing of a statement of special education needs, and I was at this stage allocated to attend Stourminster School in Kidderminster (no longer in existence) this was a local authority ran day special school. I am not entirely sure how they reached the conclusion that this was a suitable placement for a young person with needs as complex as mine.

I tend to think that this was probably another case of making do and mend with what they had available. This is a serious failure in the support and provision provided, this highlights a serious issue in the way provisions are provided to young people and this is still a fundamental issue for many young people today. The education system has changed but I observe that it is tending to get worse, the emphasis is not placed on local authorities to support children that have special education needs in a mainstream setting, this is a setup which inadequately supports these children and young people and often leads to exclusions and prolonged periods of absence from education which is a futile situation and only contributes to making matters worse.

This is how it ended for me I was excluded from Stourminster permanently, and then remained out of education for over a year until I was placed at Riversides a specialist school for children with Emotional Behavioural and Social Disabilities, while I am not wholly convinced this was a suitable placement the will power of the teaching staff and the experience and skill of the head teach ultimately lead to this being a successful placement where I progressed with relative success and health progress.

I am now an adult at 25 years old, I have grown up but whether or not I have matured is a matter of certain debate. I would say that I am still a very broken and damaged person even now my I often behave in a toddler esc manor, especially when I am in a situation that is confrontational or emotionally hostile. I still have a total lack of ability to control upset and anger, and I still suffer from serious attachment difficulties, this often leads to me forming inappropriate relationships out of sheer need to be loved, nurtured and cared for, I am totally unable to be alone for any period of time and I suffer from feeling helpless, anxious, abandoned and totally alone when I am on my own.

 

Conclusion

So, the conclusion I have reached given all of the above. Is that I am a seriously challenged adult, with serious and complex emotional and behaviour issues, that are a direct result of the early failures I experienced in my life and the poor standards of support I was given later on in my childhood and into my adulthood. This highlights a significant falling in the very system that is designed to protect children, and help them to develop into mature adults. I continue to fight a challenging battle every single day of my life. I am sure I am not alone.

 

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