At odds with authority

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

week’s panel considers the case of a young person with expe rience of domestic
violence, who has been excluded from school.


Paula McGrane (not her real name) is 15 years old and lives at home with her
mother, her 11-year-old sister and 13-year-old brother. Her father left home
after prolonged bouts of domestic violence. All three children attend the same
school – although Paula’s attendance is poor. Paula was reprimanded 18 months
ago for shoplifting and has recently been charged with assault.

Paula has a very strained relationship with her mother who is finding it
increasingly difficult to cope. Paula’s poor attendance at school has naturally
affected her work adversely. She has also been excluded because of her
"challenging attitude". She hangs around with older girls and
frequently stays out late. It was with a 17-year-old friend that Paula recently
has been charged for assault. The female victim was a 14-year-old who also
attends the same school as Paula. If convicted of assaulting a child, Paula
would become a schedule 1 offender – the law not taking into account her own
age. A student social worker on the youth offending team has been assigned
Paula’s case and is hoping the panel can give her some solid, practical advice.
She is wondering how she should approach this case, what her role might be and
what services could she offer both directly and through third parties to
address the issues raised?

Panel responses


I would start by assessing the situation, gaining whatever background
information was available, whether or not this family has had previous
involvement with any other agency, and in what capacity.

could explore with Paula the impact that growing up in a family where there was
violence has had on her, and what role she took in this, and how she feels. We
often ignore the emotional effect that domestic violence has on children, and
assume that, if there is no physical injury to the child, then they are all
right. Ascertain whether or not she was abused herself, either physically,
emotionally, sexually or as a result of neglect, as there is a direct
correlation between domestic violence and abuse of children. Was she assigned
the role of protector, either to a parent or the other children? Was she
scapegoated within the family? Does she have appropriate social skills to deal
with others?

would look at the value and belief systems she has developed around violence
and dealing with conflict and anger. Also her belief systems about herself, as
children who grow up with violence often suffer from very low self-esteem,
blaming themselves for the violence between parents and feeling unable to stop

assessment, cognitive behavioural intervention may be appropriate, getting her
to explore her responses to situations and her reactions to them, then looking
at alternative ways of dealing with various situations that she may find
difficult – working on social skills and taking responsibility for her own
actions. In addition, I would do work around self-esteem and get her to look at
the positives in herself, trying to get her to value herself as a person.

would also have to be done with her parents around their relationship with her
and possible mediation and family therapy to try to alter some of the family
dynamics. A family group conference may be beneficial to enable the family to
have involvement in dealing with Paula’s situation, and allowing her to be
heard within the family. Paula could evaluate her own situation throughout
this, getting her to talk about how she is feeling during the process, focusing
on the achievements she has made.

It is very important that Paula attends school so it is vital that a place
is found for her very quickly. It is more than possible that if she remains out
of school for too long she might reach a point where she simply gives up on her
education altogether and never goes back – and this would not be in her
long-term interest.

might be possible that a small school, where she can feel more like part of the
school, can offer her the support she needs with greater individual attention.
There does also seem every chance that she might benefit from getting together
with a mentor.

should be someone that she feels she can really trust. Her mentor would give
her someone who she would feel was neutral to talk to about school and home
issues. This might provide the thinking space she needs.

social worker’s role needs to be one that co-ordinates the help that Paula
receives – and Paula needs to see that this is what her social worker is doing;
she also needs to ensure that Paula is given every opportunity and every encouragement
(without being too pushy or strict) to continue her education as I believe
education is the key to getting out of the re-offending lifestyle.

would be helpful if Paula could be encouraged to divert her energy – which does
not appear to be in short supply – towards more worthwhile and rewarding

would raise her self-esteem and probably help her work in better collaboration
with other people – something she needs to be able to see can work.

also needs to be helped to understand the consequences of her behaviour. It’s
all very well making decisions and acting in a certain way but this will
normally affect other people and situations, and Paula really needs to be able
to understand this.

of Paula’s experience is consistent with what we know about children who are
exposed to domestic abuse and I suggest the student social worker makes sure,
if she has not already done so, that she has the help and support of all the
key agencies.

User view

is becoming apparent that Paula is heading down a self-destructive path, with
the problems she’s been causing herself.

violence in the home, be it towards Paula, her siblings, mother or indeed her
father is one of the main contributing factors that may have started the bad behaviour.
Either way, Paula’s dad has left or been forced to leave home due to this
problem. So not only has Paula had to deal with domestic violence but she may
have also lost her father as well. Seeing her family go through this and
feeling helpless can cause complete emotional overload in a young person with
feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and resentment. This could also be the
cause of Paula’s very strained relationship with her mother.

doesn’t see her mother as a source of comfort so instead she is keeping the
company of older people who may have had a bad influence on her. While this is
happening, Paula is becoming more distant from her home life which is unlikely
to help her mother cope with her disobedient and challenging daughter.

young people or children face disruption in the home, not only can it cause
physical damage but also and more so mental disruption. Paula’s school life has
been badly affected but she cannot see the harm she is causing herself because
she is far too busy being a teenager and doing teenage things like rebelling
against authority. Most young people go through this when they feel there is no
better alternative. To resolve this situation I feel first the gap between
Paula and her mother must be closed, thus making a more likeable situation at
home and giving Paula a sense of peace.

can be achieved in many ways, like family counselling or even just getting
Paula and her mother to spend more time together to help rebuild their
relationship and gain trust for each other. It would also help to find out what
Paula is feeling by getting her to talk and open up to her mother. By finding
out what she wants and making her feel important it may be possible to get her
to focus her energy and aggression into positive things.

more Paula’s mind is taken off recent and past events that have caused her to
act in such a way the better her mind and future will become. She needs to
think about and understand that the way to a good future is not on the road she
is heading down now.

Dickson is a care leaver.

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