Criminal Care? · 5 Jul 2018
We were supposed to be safe now
My relationship with the police (or “Feds” – a term learnt from other young people I have lived with) has often been one of huge contradiction with feelings towards the police ranging from reliance to defiance and, dare I say it, sometimes even admiration.
Growing up, like many young children I was taught that if you were in trouble you should always run towards a police station as they were there to protect you from whatever danger caused you to run.
So, when I sat in the back of a police car on a cold January evening being taken from my mother’s house to my first foster placement with a smile larger than a man’s who’s won the lottery, I could not help but feel a huge sense of warmth and comfort as after all this time, I was safe now. It was the police that had saved me.
Fast forward three years, countless placements and several moves from one side of the country to another, I found myself in a completely new sense of danger.
Curled up tight in a ball on the middle step of emergency exit stairs being so still as to not activate the sensor-operated lights, I sat for what seemed like days waiting for the police riot van I could just see a glimpse of around the corner to drive off so that I could come out of hiding and not be arrested.
I’m sure you’re wondering what had led up to this incident with the police turning up on sirens and searching the surroundings for me.
Believe it or not, I had stolen a packet of £1 pens from the staff room as I had my first day of sixth form the next day and having had all pocket money taken away for the preceding six months, I could not afford to pay for a single pen. This was the sort of absurdity that went on every single day.
I had been moved to this residential home having made the three-hour trip away from friends I loved, a school I loved and a foster family who I was devastated to leave behind.
Arriving at a care home late at night, I was told that there weren’t bed sheets, towels or even curtains as they were destroyed by the last resident and new ones “weren’t in the budget”
My first taste of what it was like to live in a profit making, “I’m only here to get paid” environment was as terrible as you could imagine. Looking back, it is something I would not have wished on my worst enemy.
Arriving late at night, I was told that there weren’t bed sheets, towels or even curtains as they were destroyed by the last resident and new ones “weren’t in the budget”.
I don’t think I would have found much comfort knowing at the time that this same company was being paid £2,500 a week per child of taxpayers’ money as I dried myself after a shower with a small knitted comfort blanket given to me the day I was born.
Later that night, as I went to sleep on the stained carpet floor using my winter coat as a duvet, I thought it could only get better. I was so wrong.
As time went on, I became even more oppositional to my surroundings. I didn’t want to be there; the staff didn’t want me there and yet social services refused to move me.
I was stuck in a house of hatred. With hatred came the police calls. It was every little thing: accidentally dropping a mug whilst doing the washing up (the mug didn’t even break, chip or crack); throwing a book out of the window; having a girly sleepover with a friend who lived in an upstairs bedroom of the same home; arriving one minute after curfew; and, on one memorable occasion, jokingly moving a staff room desk into the hallway. The list is really endless.
But with these silly things a normal parent can only expect from a normal teenager, came the hammering bang of police at the front door followed by my intense pleading for them to just refrain from arresting me this one time, begging with everything I had as I knew that anything on my record would wreck any chance I had of becoming a barrister. I couldn’t have my life ruined by these staff whose every word the police believed.
Children need to be believed
To me this wasn’t just the risk of a night in cells, this was a whole future ended, something I had worked so hard to achieve. This scenario was repeated every day without fail, police sometimes turning up several times a day. This was when I felt most unsafe.
So, what needs to change?
In my opinion, staff members and managers need to be held accountable for wasting police time with accusations of the most trivial nature.
Social services need to be more involved in what goes on in the homes, so they are not just left to govern themselves and hide away money.
Lastly and most importantly, children need to be believed.
I cannot tell you how many complaints I made, how many professionals I begged for help, only to be met with a culture of “it’s the child that’s lying” and “the care home can do no wrong”.
This is the culture that lets children slip through the cracks and be unnecessarily and unfairly criminalised. It needs to end to stop promising lives being shattered.
Maia (not her real name) had to repeat her first year of sixth form because of what happened to her in this home. She is now in a stable semi-independent, home-based placement and she has just repeated Year 12, taking AS levels in Chemistry, Law and French. She has a summer placement at a leading law firm and is applying to university this autumn to read Law.