Criminal Care? · 12 Apr 2018
“Lauren the attention seeker” and “Ryan the difficult”
I write this blog for some of the children I met while living in children’s homes, many of whom are unable to articulate or write about their experiences for themselves.
Firstly, Lauren, who, if she were able write about what happened to her, would, I think, talk about the pain and emptiness she felt when piercing her skin with a partially blunt razor blade. Her – our – “carers” would respond to this self-harming by saying “she just wants attention”.
Lauren was the epitome of innocence, a child in mind and intentions trapped in the body of a teenager. This innocence manifested itself in her love for Disney movies, princess outfits and nursery rhymes. I found myself consistently in awe of her courage to play myriads of songs from Beauty and the Beast at full volume, drowning out the monotonous “hard-core rap” about death, drugs and everything in-between being played by other young people in the children’s home.
My admiration for her courage was further reinforced when seeing her reaction to other young people calling her “retarded” and an “attention seeking bitch” for playing her songs – she would simply smile, say “it okay” and turn down her music.
Ryan lived in the same care home as me and Lauren. He loved to be on his feet and would constantly be doing something. One day I noticed him offering tea and biscuits to families visiting other children in the home and it was in this moment that I could see his smile glowing. “Sorry about this” said a carer to one of the visiting parents. “Ryan, go away, these families need privacy.” Ryan pulled over his hood and his face returned to its usual, melancholy state. He went upstairs and to his room.
After around five hours, the night loomed, and I had prepared dinner for myself and the other young people in the home. Lauren, around three other young people and a carer called John sat around the table. After handing plates to the other young people I began to ask John, “Would you like – “my sentence was interrupted “No, I had chips from the fish shop” he said with a look of disdain towards the food already on the table. I then looked around and noticed that Ryan was absent. “Should I go and get Ryan?” I asked John. “He can get food if he wants it, he is just being difficult” he replied.
After dinner, I decided to seize the initiative, as it seemed no one else had, and visited Ryan in his room. I knocked a few times and the door opened to reveal Ryan, his eyes red and blackened from crying. “It’s okay, I know it’s hard for us, but things will get better” I said to him. “Thanks bro” he replied. It was hard for me to say the words “things will get better” because I felt disempowered – I couldn’t bring adults who love him into his life. An hour or so went by before I heard the all too familiar “hardcore gangster rap” being played from Ryan’s room. Maybe the harsh beats and aggressive demeanour of the song drowned out his intense sorrow.
I received a call from Lauren one day. “I am in a mental health hospital, I don’t think they will let me go”.
Not long after this all happened, I received a call from Lauren one day, her words stumbling into each other. “Lauren, calm down, everything is okay. I am listening – what happened?” “I am in a mental health hospital, I don’t think they will let me go.”
It turned out that the care home staff had taken away Lauren’s gateway into a more peaceful land – her stereo. As a reaction she’d cut herself with glass and the care home staff phoned the police who took her to a secure psychiatric hospital. Her parents had given up on her – and now the “care” home staff had as well.
Later that day, Ryan came home, with the familiar red and blackened eyes. “What’s wrong Ryan – what happened?” I asked. “I’ve been at the police station for hours. They took away Lauren’s stereo and I flipped out” he replied. It transpired that Ryan had broken an old and already decrepit bench outside the staff office and that the care home staff called the police. He ended up going to court for it and receiving a suspended sentence.
If you treat a person as an animal, they will eventually start acting like one.
In the end, we were treated as animals, living things to be fed and watered with no emotional needs. Our keepers, alternating shifts so that they do not get too exhausted with the damaged lives of children from abusive homes. If you treat a person as an animal, they will eventually start acting like one.
“Lauren the attention seeker”, as she was affectionately known by staff, did not leave hospital for several years. Her time for being a teenager and experiencing Disney without the concern for housing, bills and other adult burdens has been stolen and will never return to her. All she could ask for was someone who would not give up on her and who saw the wonder in her innocence.
“Ryan the difficult” was moved between various children’s homes and I do not know what has happened to him now. He was a talented mathematician, much more talented than me. All he could ask for was the love and attention any child should receive and someone who had confidence in him to achieve.
All I can say now is that I’m sorry I couldn’t do more then, but I am trying now.
Solomon is now 24 years old. He lived in children’s homes between the ages of 13 and 18 years. He will be writing further blogs about what happened to him and his views on what needs to be done to help support children living in residential care. www.solomonalexandera.com
All children deserve to be given the same rights regardless of their circumstances. Our society has a duty of care to children in care homes and need to have all their needs met as if they were any other child. It is so important that, if we want children to grow into fully functioning adults, they have to be listened to and given every possible opportunity for a fulfilling life and not have negative and counterproductive labels attached to them just because they were born into difficult circumstances.
All these children and teenagers want is somewhere safe to live and soneone to listen to them.
I was a voluntary project worker a few years ago and I worked with 16-25year olds. I loved it. I usualky ended up sitting on the stairs with them sitting around me.
They talked, I listened. I talked, they listened.
I thought I’d ‘won the lottery’ the day I managed to get a residential school placement for my adopted son who had struggled with the closeness of a parent and had been permanently excluded from school aged eight. It was the worst thing that could have happened. I innocently led him to one of these places. Initially it did what it said. But eventually making money won out and it deteriorated badly. He was criminalised from the aged of nine when they first called the police for a fight in the playground. He then ran away, something he was prone to do because of his developmental delay, so he was full of fight and flight. He hit out at a staff member who was trying to get him off a roof. Another court appearance. I pushed for them to prepare him to return home as that hadn’t occurred to them as most of the kids there didn’t have parents who were fighting alongside their children. I had to remove him after he revealed a ‘carer’ had threatened him and hit him on several occasions. He came home with a criminal record, no school, still unable to read at a cost to the council of around £750,000. (Six years previously they’d turned down an offer of three years therapy with the best in the UK because £73,000 was too expensive). Eight years on and he is serving a very long sentence after being bullied by drug dealers who took over his flat. The court considered his record going back to aged nine when coming up with the sentence. Remember the man who hit him, he took delight in telling him the boy he shared the house with had killed himself. A year later my son woke up with his friend hanging dead over him as he’d killed himself. He was arrested on suspicion of murder instead of getting support. Released into the community who thought there was no smoke without fire he went on a drugs and drinks binge and ended up in prison. He is still waiting to start the therapy I was asking for him when he was four. He is now 21.
Your insight into what was driving Lauren and Ryan’s “behaviours” is both powerful and heartbreaking. Your writing presents these young people as the human beings in need of love and help and understanding from adults and the need for a greater degree of training and support for those caring for children in homes.
As a magistrate I see, all too often, broken children brought to court from care homes. The main reason, staff aren’t trained, don’t care, are are confrontational. The reasons these poor children are in care, often abusive parent, a parent who won’t cope, neglect etc, are all to often ignored. Staff are ignorant of any mental health issues. How some of these children go on to make something of themselves amazes me.
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I was very moved by this. The link between “Care homes” and offending is blatent but so little seems to be done. Staff need much better training, more pay. Judges and magistrates also need training on the traumatic effects of being in care. Mental health staff need more education and training on supporting and empowering these young people. Social services needs more investment to work with struggling families. These young people are seen as difficult, a pain to staff, instead of being unhappy, in need of help individuals and that’s by supposedly trained staff!
There is so much more could be done, but it requires investment and joint shared planning and implementation by the many services involved.