Criminal Care? · 16 Mar 2018
Listening to children about what’s going wrong and what needs to be done to make things right
A number of children and young people who have heard about our programme have approached us to tell us their stories. Just before Christmas, I spoke to Sophie. She was 17 then although she has since turned 18.
I asked her what the worse thing was about being in care. She told me the staff and the police. She said that the police had been called over ‘every little thing’ when she had been living in one home, which was in a village about 100 miles from her home town, and she related a couple of incidents. This is what she told me:
“One day my mum hadn’t answered the phone and I felt pretty like alone. I was skiving from school at the time as well. I didn’t want to go in. And then when I didn’t go to school they didn’t take me out and they didn’t give me money. It was kind of like I was stuck in the house and couldn’t really do nothing. They came out and I just started smashing cups and plates and didn’t really know what else to do, because no-one was really listening to how angry I was. No-one was kind of taking me out or nothing like that. I smashed all the cups and they called the police.”
Sophie was arrested a couple of days later and given a Community Order for £22 worth of damage.
The behaviour of staff was also a concern. This story has something of a Dickensian flavour:
“I must have been cleaning the house one time. I was mopping it and [the manager] went out for a fag and came back in and obviously she had muddy feet and she walked her feet through the house and I said, I was like, ‘Are you joking? Come on now’. She was really, like she was really horrible. I don’t know how she could hold up her position and I don’t know how she even worked with kids. She just smiled and said, ‘You go over it.’”
There was a yoghurt to hand and Sophie chucked it over the manager. The manager called the police straightaway and about an hour later they arrived at the home and gave Sophie a caution.
Sophie had a number of suggestions for helping children in her position. Her main point was that children need someone to talk to them and spend time with them. She would have liked to have been able to contact a social worker, someone who she wasn’t having to deal with on a daily basis, but they were generally too busy:
“It’s communication. I think if you lack communication with people, like there are staff who won’t even talk to you if they are locked in the office, and then you are not allowed to talk to your friends, what else have you got?”
She also said more care needed to be put into where children were placed, children’s homes needed to be more homely and the police needed to be nicer to children who were having a rough time.
Children like Sophie are the experts on what’s happening in children’s homes, on what children are going through and feeling and on what needs to be done to make things better. We’re talking to as many as possible as part of this project.