Criminal Care? · 17 Jan 2019
A parent would not treat their child like this
Happy new year and welcome back to the blog. We’re starting 2019 with a couple of posts that look in more depth at some of the experiences of the four children and young people featured in our latest briefing, This is our story: Children and young people on criminalisation in residential care.
The first piece has been written by Jodie (not her real name). It relates an evening in one of the children’s homes she lived in which led to her being criminalised for throwing a mug. Jodie describes in vivid detail her feelings that night and the lasting impact of that evening on her emotional and mental health.
“I was standing in the kitchen. I couldn’t control myself; I was sobbing, heaving sobbing, completely vulnerable, completely broken. The staff member standing with me who was refusing to talk to me because I was shouting walked away. I grabbed the mug on the side and I chucked it across the room as she walked out on me, after she left me standing in the kitchen sobbing.
“Within the last six months I’d had so much to deal with. I had moved placements two days after Christmas; I had been in the last placement over a year and suddenly all those people were no longer in my life. I had also been told that week that no further action was going to be taken against somebody who had lied, manipulated and hurt me.
“That evening I had been in the kitchen ready to go to bed. I left my last fag on the central counter. I was just getting a drink to take out with me and thinking I could go to the shop in the morning to get more cigarettes. Another young person took my fag when my back was turned. I couldn’t have my routine and I snapped. I wasn’t aggressive or violent I was simply broken in that moment. It broke the camel’s back.
“I was angry she was lying to my face. She told me I must have misplaced it, and then she left the site and was seen by a staff member smoking it. The staff refused to side with me though. They said they couldn’t accuse her and they couldn’t make her give it me back.
“I was in the kitchen sobbing. Not a reasonable response I know. I was letting it out. The staff member with me kept telling me she couldn’t talk to me unless I calmed down, unless I stopped shouting. I wasn’t shouting. I wasn’t violent or aggressive. I was loud probably but isn’t everybody when they are trying to talk through uncontrollable sobs?
The police basically lived at that home
“Then this other young person called the member of staff who was with me. The staff member didn’t say a word to me but she walked off, left to go and speak to the other young person. So yeah, I did throw a mug. No, it didn’t make feel better. No, it didn’t help the situation. Yes, I know I shouldn’t have done it but I was so upset. It didn’t hurt anyone.
“I don’t really remember how that night ended. I probably didn’t act the best. I was probably shouting and swearing. I am a vile bitch if I’m vulnerable and then someone hurts me.
“A couple of days later a police officer came to the house. I didn’t even know it was for me – the police basically lived at that home. It was a single officer. He asked me to come into the dinning room and made me sign some community resolution. I had to pay for the mug out of my weekly allowance.
“Would any parent walk away from their sobbing child? Would any parent call the police because a highly emotional child broke a mug?
“I will never lie to anybody and say I was a well-behaved child. I was rude, offensive and occasionally just a little shit. But I think about that moment a lot. No-one cared. I was in a house with three other young people and four members of staff and I was alone. Nobody wanted to talk to me and that still hurts.”
You might think that the visit from the police officer and the community resolution would be the lasting memory from that evening but for Jodie it was the lack of care and the loneliness that stuck in her mind. As she said, a parent would not have treated their child like this.
In good children’s homes staff are trained to understand how children might be feeling and the effect this can have on their behaviour and needs. As professional parents, good children’s home staff show concern and compassion, supporting children and young people to deal with their emotions and making them feel cared for and about. Jodie’s account shows how easy it is for children to be criminalised when staff do not have the skills, empathy or training to help children cope and how much this can hurt.
Our briefing Hearts and heads – good practice in children’s homes talks in more detail about some of the basic principles – including good recruitment practices and staff training – that children’s homes providers need to put in place in order to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of children.
Claire Sands and ‘Jodie’