Abuse never far away

A 12-year-old boy in foster care has been showing inappropriate sexualised behaviour. Our panel looks at the options for him

Case study

The names of the service users have been changed
SITUATION: Kenny Sinclair is 12 and has been removed under a care order from his mother and stepfather because of emotional abuse, physical aggression and allegedly inappropriate sexualised behaviour towards his younger sister, Michelle, nine, although the evidence is far from clear. He was placed with long-term foster carers, who also cared for two other boys, Daniel and Matthew, both 14.

Problem: The placement worked well at first, but Kenny again exhibited inappropriate sexualised behaviour – at home towards Daniel and Matthew (playing “games” about what to do when you get girlfriends) and at school to younger girls – reinforcing the possibility of truth in previous suspected abuse. He became more disruptive at school, throwing objects, pulling up plants and twice smashing windows. When stressed he would swear at teachers and school staff and run around, often screaming. After the concerns expressed by Daniel and Matthew about Kenny’s “games”, the foster carers have told social services that they no longer wished to care for Kenny. With no specially trained foster carers to cope with Kenny’s complex behaviour and no suitable residential accommodation available locally, an out-of-area therapeutic and educational placement seems inevitable. However, of the two possibilities identified, one is more than 300 miles away and both are so expensive that only a short-term placement might be possible.

Practice Panel – Warrington social services

Panel responses
Carolyn Connor
The social workers of the children in placement and the current carers need to meet to see whether Kenny’s placement could be sustained if additional support were provided to the carer and to explore how to manage the risks. An extensive support package should be implemented if it were felt that Kenny’s needs and the safety of other young people could be ensured while continuing to keep Kenny in his current placement.

This support package could not be implemented before a risk assessment was conducted in relation to the other young people in the placement. I would suggest that “self-protection work” be undertaken with Kenny in light of historical and present allegations.

Discussions should also take place to address any concerns at school to investigate issues that teachers may be aware of (for example, bullying and so on) that may be causing Kenny to exhibit this behaviour.

It appears that there may be underlying issues that have yet to be addressed and, given that Kenny has established himself in this placement, a move could be detrimental to him.

Kenny needs a period of stability during which the potential risks he may pose should be assessed. Given that he was suspected of abuse I feel that it would be unfair to label him, before any conclusive assessment and evidence in relation to potential risks.

During this time I would ensure that another referral was made to the fostering team for alternative accommodation possibly in therapeutic foster care to ensure smooth transition to the new placement.

As a contingency I would explore a placement for Kenny that is nearest his current address. However, given the local authority can offer either placement for only a short time, the placement would have to focus on the assessment of Kenny’s needs and identification of therapeutic work. Any therapeutic work that would need to be addressed could not be undertaken in such a short timescale.

I would be reluctant to consider the placement that is 300 miles away, because of the distance and the isolation Kenny would feel while removed from familiar links and social networks.

Julia Donnelly
While we must be clear that there was no concrete evidence that Kenny had been engaging in inappropriate sexualised behaviour when he lived with his mother and stepfather, the current concerns raised by the foster parents suggest that Kenny may present a risk to the other young people and children in the placement. It is not unusual, however, for 12-year-olds to “play games about what to do when you get a girlfriend”; the context of these allegations would need to be assessed and a risk assessment would need to be completed.

Initially, when a placement for a looked-after child is about to breakdown, a review of the care plan would be necessary in order to explore the package of support in place and identify any further support that would enable Kenny to stay in this placement. However, in this case, while recognising the negative effect of placement changes have on children and young people, the element and management of risk is significant.

The foster carers have informed social services that they no longer wish to care for Kenny following the concerns expressed by the other two young people in the placement. Kenny’s alleged complex behaviour does suggest that he needs a therapeutic placement.

However, the concerns in this case are based on allegations and suggestions. While recognising the alleged risks involved, a clear therapeutic assessment needs to be completed before an accurate care plan is put into place in order to meet Kenny’s needs.

Limited resources locally would mean that Kenny would be sent out of area. Yet the proximity of placements is significant when placing children or young people and that this has an affect on their emotional wellbeing and development. However, Kenny’s need for a therapeutic assessment is significant and a major part within his future care planning.

A short term out-of-area placement in this case would enable a therapeutic assessment to be carried out. The assessment would assist in planning for Kenny’s long term needs and would enable us to look at the possibility of him returning to his original placement; work with these foster carers could be done alongside the therapeutic assessment. Failing this, an alternative placement would need to be identified.

User view
While Kenny’s welfare is of utmost importance, the welfare of other children is equally important, writes Mark Houston. His behaviour indicates that he is stressed and unhappy and more specialist support will be needed.

It is inevitable that Kenny will have to move to a different placement. I understand why his foster carers wish to discontinue the placement and their decision needs to be respected.

In fact, it seems that foster care will not be a viable option anyway. Kenny’s needs are such that he would require specially trained childless foster carers to reduce the risk of breakdown and more disruption. I recommend that his social worker explains the situation to him, asks what he would like and considers his ideas and views.

One needs to remember that Kenny has just experienced a placement breakdown. He probably feels rejected and has low self-esteem. His morale, therefore, needs boosting and some long-term continuity in his life is important. These issues should be a high priority when making decisions on his future placements.

It would be very beneficial for Kenny to access mental health services. His being abused must have had some deep psychological effects and so one must remember that he is probably genuinely unable to control some of his inappropriate behaviour. A therapist may be able to get to the bottom of these deep-rooted difficulties and subsequently support him to overcome his behavioural problems.

It is unfortunate that no provision is available locally but, under the circumstances, I would concur with the social services department that an out-of-authority placement is the best way forward.

Nevertheless, we know it will only be short-term. So, in partnership with the local education authority and other organisations, social services need to start planning now for supporting Kenny when he leaves the unit, otherwise he could go through a repeat of what he is experiencing now.

Given that he is only 12, I do feel that re-integration into mainstream secondary schooling would be easily achievable.

Although Kenny may be a long way from his home authority, efforts must be made for him to keep in contact with friends or relatives. Moreover, while at the therapeutic unit, efforts must be made to ensure that he still accesses mainstream activities, such as sport and leisure and mixes with his peer group.

Mark Houston is a care leaver

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