Is there a card left to play?

Care leavers and staff from Hampshire
Council’s children and family services.

This week’s panel considers a case of a young
person who has left care, is refusing help and has had his benefits

Panel responses

Rachel Reynolds
This case is perhaps not so untypical of many young
people who leave care. The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was
implemented to help improve the “life-chances” of care leavers such
as Robin, and I believe it has given us more cards to play.

Robin may, of course, not wish to be found,
and if that is the case, there may be little we can do. But we have
a duty to be proactive in finding him, to appoint a “personal
adviser” to keep in touch (if, of course, he is willing) and to
ensure that he receives the advice, support and assistance he

First, we need to establish his whereabouts.
This may mean registering him with the Missing Persons Bureau,
asking his adoptive mum for possible contacts, liaising with other
agencies, such as the youth offending team, or even placing an
advertisement in a local newspaper.

If found, careful consideration must be given
to who would be the right person to work alongside him and who
could engage and build up a strong rapport with him. This could
make all the difference concerning whether he now accepts help and
support. This may be a social services worker, or an independent
person might be a good idea. I know that many care leavers often do
not wish to have further contact with social services and an
independent person may be ideal in these circumstances.

The support worker would, most importantly,
need to find out what Robin himself wants and help empower him to
make informed choices about his future. Through discussion with
him, it would be important to identify his needs. Various
“aftercare” services could then be offered.

– If needed, a specialist resource could be
identified to offer him support and advice with his drug

– Support could be offered to Robin concerning
his offending – for example, the youth offending team.

– Seek his views concerning accommodation.
Although supportive lodgings could be an option, he may prefer a
local hostel, which may be less threatening.

– Support could be offered with employment or
with the costs of education and training. There is a range of new
educational initiatives, which we could help Robin access.

– I wonder what counselling has been offered
to Robin in the past. It would appear that Robin and Sue could
benefit from family counselling.

– I also wonder what counselling he has had
regarding his birth family and whether he would benefit from
support from the post adoption service or local branch of Adoption

It would be important to work across
departments and agencies to ensure that he gets the support and
advice that he needs.

Emily Joslin
The first task is to locate Robin. Then I would suggest a
no-blame, no-strings meeting. Robin is very vulnerable at the
moment and will probably be very reluctant to attend, so it needs
to be made clear to him that the meeting is to help him: no police,
no pressure and for him to okay all the people that attend.

Make the meeting informal: no suits, desks,
clipboards and so on. Also have some food. At this meeting start by
asking Robin what he wants, discuss the feasibility of his ideas or
suggestions and make sure that these are acted upon. Find out why
the help he had didn’t work.

Gently make suggestions of what help you could
offer – maybe rehabilitation (the police might agree to suspend
charges if rehabilitation were undertaken), maybe supported
lodgings and an apprenticeship (again this would go in his favour
with the courts). If nothing works, sometimes you have to let
people make their own mistakes to enable them to take
responsibility for their lives. People do get through it and grow.
There is a limit on what you can do, however hard it might be to
let go.

I have found this a really tough matter to
comment on as a young person who used social services. My views are
influenced by how things developed for me and I think it is
important that those involved with young people listen very
carefully to their views. Young people may not be in total control
of all that is going on in their lives but there are some things
that they can and do manage, and those seeking to help need to know
the difference between those things that they can change and those
they cannot. That is often the difference between providing help
and being a hindrance to young people.

Case study

Situation Robin Garrett is the 17-year-old
adopted but estranged son of Sue Garrett (not their real names). He
has been out of care for the past 10 months. Sue believes Robin is
addicted to crack cocaine and has been using cannabis daily for at
least two years.

problem In July 2001, following a two-month
prison sentence, social services provided Robin with a bedsit, food
staples and £40 per week, which he had to collect from their
offices. As it became evident that Robin wasn’t sleeping at the
bedsit and because he had not pursued help from the careers
service, these benefits have been withdrawn. Any further financial
support will only be forthcoming if Robin proves that he has made
an application for jobseekers allowance. This was explained to him
by his social worker on his final visit and is also outlined in a
letter to him (which he has not received as his whereabouts are
unknown). He is wanted by police for various petty offences and
this is probably why he never shows up at Sue’s house or any
official agencies. Sue feels that there have been so many recent
initiatives that relate to Robin’s situation – yet nothing has had
any impact on him. Sue has battled to get Robin appropriate help,
but since he refuses help and help cannot be forced upon him, there
seem to be no cards left to play.

Sue Garrett (not her
real name) is Robin’s adopted mother.

User view

Well first, Sue believes that Robin is
addicted to crack cocaine and has been using cannabis for the last
two years. Is this a certain fact? Has Robin been confronted with
the issue? Was the drug issue put across to his social worker two
years ago in order for this situation to be dealt with as soon as

Was Robin’s day-to-day life looked at hard
enough and was it given enough attention? There are certain signs
to look out for when a young person is using drugs – for example, a
change in attitude. And, as Robin’s mother, Sue should have been
trained to notice those signs, just as all parents should be when
taking on young people from care.

Second, was Robin ever given any professional
drug advice about the dangers of taking drugs? It seems that this
should have been and still should be an option given to him by Sue
Garrett and his social worker.

Robin is still only 17 and not yet ready to be
alone. It’s an uncertain feeling to think that the security you
once had is telling you that you now have to make it on your own.
This is often what makes young people walk out because they don’t
want to feel what it is like to be pushed out from the one and only
thing that has taken care of them for so long.

It is clear to me that, although Robin is 17,
he is still very much a child and very lost in himself and doesn’t
know what he wants or just doesn’t know how to get it, which is
frustrating for him and causing him to act in such a way.

I feel that Robin should not be left alone by
sticking him in a bedsit and being told to get on with it. He is at
a very delicate point in his life and needs to be treated with
great care and not just as another statistic. He was placed in the
care system and I feel it is the duty of the system and the people
that work in it to get to the bottom of this matter.

Robin may say that he doesn’t want help, but
he does. Social services took on a responsibility and it is their
job to make sure that Robin gets what he wants and what he needs.
They should not give up on him for a start, because young people
don’t like to feel that they have been given up on or that they are
just an object and don’t have the right to say what they want and
what’s best for them.

So before people try to make things right in
young people’s lives, maybe they should understand from the point
of view of the young person and not from their grounded

Justin Dickson is a care leaver

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