Amid the almost cartoon-like coverage of Neighbours from Hell and badge-of-honour Asbos, the grim reality of antisocial behaviour can quietly sneak by.
One everyday by-product is homelessness, as perpetrators face eviction and neighbours move out.
Set up five years ago in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, one of the main objectives of the community-based Shelter Inclusion Project is to prevent homelessness. Enter Sharon and her two children, Paul, 11, and Emily, six, who were facing eviction. They were allocated an adult support worker, Anne Taylor, and a children and young people’s worker, Michelle Monaghan.
Taylor helped Sharon understand her rights and responsibilities as a tenant. Project manager Sinéad O’Connor says: “One area people struggle with is the notion that they are responsible for the behaviour of guests in their home.
“It’s not uncommon for perpetrators of antisocial behaviour to also be targets of such behaviour. This client group can be among the most vulnerable people in society – people with mental health problems, long histories of alcohol and drug use, and others who are vulnerable to exploitation. So people can force their way into their house, hold parties there and so on. So we worked with Sharon about not only her behaviour but also about being safe.”
Sharon was convinced that all the problems were caused by Paul’s behaviour, rather than recognising that his behaviour was rooted in the family’s wider problems and that her own drinking led to her not providing a safe environment for her children.
“Our largest piece of work was about making that change happen in Sharon’s mind,” says O’Connor. “Previously, she would have a large number of adults in the house drinking. She would get drunk and not supervise those adults around her children. There were clear issues of neglect.
“She would also become emotionally abusive towards the children when she was drunk. Understandably, this led to the children feeling insecure, unsafe and worried. And, in Paul’s case, this led to risky behaviour, such as jumping into canals, playing on railway tracks and self-harming. In reality, he was crying out for help that we eventually brought to the family.”
The workers provided sessions on positive behaviour. “We worked with all the family and helped Paul and Emily to recognise the different emotions they had, and to know when they felt unsafe and what to do and whom to speak to if they did,” says O’Connor. “As part of that process, we helped Sharon to hear when her children were clearly communicating to her that they were anxious in particular situations.”
According to O’Connor, an example of this was when a family acquaintance offered to take Paul away on an unsupervised fishing trip. “Paul was clearly uncomfortable with the suggestion but said nothing. Sharon saw this and said ‘no, you can’t take him’. Later, Paul would say one of the best things that had changed in their lives was that ‘mum was looking after us now’.”
Demonstrating good parenting was a strong feature of the project’s work with Sharon and her children. Monaghan provided support with bedtime routines and demonstrated positive activities in the home: she showed Sharon the benefits for her children of cooking at home with their mother, and what it is like for a child to draw a picture and then have their mother stick it up on the wall for the first time to show her pride in them.
Paul, who despite his antisocial behaviour was a withdrawn child, had said he was interested in drama. “He’d never been to a club before,” says O’Connor. “We ran a 10-week club and because Paul knew Michelle would be there he came along and enjoyed himself.
“Michelle then got him to join his local drama club. The local council also set up a children’s participation consultation and made a DVD about the process and Paul got involved in producing that.”
The work proved successful. After two years of support there have been no further complaints of antisocial behaviour or nuisance. Sharon is a more confident parent, managing her alcohol and taking responsibility for her children’s safety and behaviour.
But perhaps the best illustration of how far the family has come is comparing the new year’s resolution Paul made when the project first started working with the family – not to have any police cars outside their house – with his aspiration today: the once withdrawn, isolated boy now wants to become an actor.
Find out more about homelessness from www.shelter.org.uk
If you have a case that you think would suit The Risk Factor please contact Graham Hopkins at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appeared in the 22 November issue under the headline “No more police cars outside the house”