Alone with older carers

Case study

Situation: Ricky Neville is 13. He is placed alone in a long-term foster home after unconfirmed allegations that he sexually abused his nine-year-old  twin sisters. Previously, he had been subject to a care order because his parents proved unable to care for him after the twins – one of whom is disabled – were born. At school he presents behavioural problems that are frequently violent. Ricky has been in trouble at school for using inappropriate sexual talk to female classmates. He also regularly truants. 

Problem: Ricky’s truanting has increased significantly. He has taken to hanging around with older boys at the school and on his new estate. His foster carers, both in their sixties, have caught him sniffing glue and experimenting with drugs. They have also found gay pornography in his room and are concerned about what he might be downloading from the internet, but are not sufficiently computer-literate to monitor this. Ricky has taken to regularly staying out late, refusing to say where he has been and with whom. The foster carers’ relationship with their lifelong next-door neighbours has also deteriorated since complaints about Ricky harassing their two older children – using sexually inappropriate language and gestures. The carers feel they cannot cope any more, and are starting to give strong signals that they will retire. Meanwhile, Ricky’s parents are saying he is not welcome back home.

Panel responses

Mark Houston
Ricky clearly has complex and severe psychiatric difficulties. Although we are not given any information about his life before the care order, I believe that it is likely that he was physically and emotionally abused himself.

However, we cannot undo the damage that has been done to him. All we can do is help him to overcome his problems.

In my opinion, Ricky’s current foster carers are too old to deal with these problems. Their age is also detrimental to his progress, as he probably feels very different having such old carers than he would with younger ones.

I believe Ricky needs psychiatric help from professionals with a greater understanding of his thinking than that of his current foster carers. It will take time, but the sooner the correct support is put in place, the more likely we will see a successful outcome.

I am concerned that Ricky has been having disturbing thoughts, and worrying that he may act on these, causing further problems. Hence I feel he should be placed in a unit where he is cared for by trained staff.

However, I would strongly recommend that Ricky is still given opportunities to mix with other young people. But his social life does need to be monitored because he seems to make friends easily with people who have a bad influence on him. Although I understand that he is placed alone because it is felt that he requires substantial time and effort, I believe that this type of placement contributes to his lack of social skills. He probably feels unwanted and needs to be shown that he can be accepted by other people.

It is also essential that people talk to Ricky to explain what they intend to do in order to help him. Simply dictating things would almost certainly result in his wanting to further rebel against what he sees as authority. He would also benefit from people spending time with him because, again, this is showing him that he is wanted and people do care about him.

This process may take time, and will involve lots of tolerance and patience, but I believe that it is possible for Ricky to overcome his difficulties and to succeed in leading a good adult life.

Emily Joslin
Ricky’s behaviour is worrying. He should be referred to a therapist who can explore with him his problems and his inappropriate sexual and violent behaviour. If Ricky is gay, he needs to be supported in accepting and coming to terms with this, and should be given a chance to discuss it with a counsellor.

Also, it should be considered whether he has been a victim of abuse, possibly by a male relative, which could explain some of his problems.

Sexual inappropriateness and violence is often about control, or lack of it, in people’s lives and hatred rather than about sex itself. It sounds as though Ricky is angry and feels out of control with his life.

This needs to be dealt with now. He should be given all the help that is available because otherwise – and I hate to say this – he will end up hurting someone badly, and it could be sexually.

He needs a placement where the foster carers have more energy and time to devote to him. He needs a place where he can feel secure. His carers are too old to manage him so he needs younger ones with greater ability to control him. He knows that, as a teenager, you need to feel as though the people looking after you can maintain and enforce the boundaries put in place – otherwise it can be scary.

If it is decided that moving him to a new placement is the best option, make sure that he is fully involved in this decision so that he feels that he has a say in that decision and some control over it. Also, in the meantime, an IT-literate social worker should install controls on the home computer to prevent his downloading or visiting pornographic sites.

Ricky could benefit from involvement in a youth service outdoor activities programme, which would challenge him mentally and physically. It would also give him more confidence and a sense of achievement and take up his time so he has less time to mix with the older boys on the estate where he lives.

He could also benefit from anger-management classes to help him cope. These could also look at raising his self-esteem, which I suspect is very low.

Don’t let Ricky slip through the net.

User view

This young man needs help, writes Chantelle Gordon. He is crying out for it and no one realises. The main issue seems to be Ricky’s confusion and frustration over his sexuality, which is shown in his gay pornography and his sexually inappropriate behaviour towards females.  

I think he is using drugs to escape from his problems. There’s also peer pressure, because of the people he hangs around with. My suggestion would be that he sees a counsellor to come to terms with his sexuality.  

His foster carers are in their sixties and Ricky is 13. This is a big age gap. If they are considering retirement perhaps Ricky should be placed with carers more suited to his needs. 

As for the computer and internet problems, Ricky’s foster carers could ask social services to install programmes that have blocks for inappropriate sites. Also, there are courses that the carers could go on to learn about computers and the internet. This might bridge a gap because the carers would be seen as taking an interest in something Ricky likes.  

I wonder whether his carers have set ground rules with Ricky. These could include a time he needs to be in by and listing chores he should do. If he does not do these things, he could be refused pocket money or be grounded. The carers need to sit down with him and try to reach an agreement.  

Ricky is truanting. Have his carers and social workers spoken to his teachers to find out what he is good at and which subjects is he having problems with? They could come to some agreement about how they could help him.  

With regard to the situation with the neighbours, has Ricky’s social worker been told? His carers should talk to the neighbours and find out whether they want to get their relationship back on track. If they do, they need to remember that their relationship will not be the same as before, especially as there are children involved. Perhaps sitting down as a group or going for counselling might help. Perhaps the twins could join them in the counselling group or have separate sessions.  

This young man needs support, as he has been through a lot. He has been moved away from his family, has problems with his sexuality, and is having to go through being a teenager. That is a lot to deal with and come to terms with. In this world today, growing up isn’t easy.    

Chantelle Gordon is a care leaver.

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