In search of stability

Case study   

Situation: Steven Warnock is a 14-year-old white British male. He is the youngest boy of four siblings and is subject to a care order. Steven has a history of physical assault by his father and sexual assault by other males. He has been in the care of the council for eight years. Although the social worker has tried to maintain contact between Steven and his siblings, Steven chooses not to have any contact with any members of his birth family. He has had five different placements with approved foster carers. Three of the placements broke down because the carers were unable to manage his behaviour; one ended because of a change in the foster carer’s circumstances; and the final placement ended because the carers were unable to meet Steven’s complex needs. 

Problem: Following his last placement breakdown, Steven had an emergency placement in a voluntary residential unit. But after only a few weeks, staff at the unit expressed concerns about their ability to maintain Steven’s placement. They feel that his behaviour is putting himself and others at risk.   Steven’s behaviour includes going missing from the unit, being sent home regularly from school and impulsive, aggressive and sexualised behaviour towards other young males in the residential unit. At a planning meeting the unit decided to terminate his placement within two weeks. The alternative accommodation identified is a local authority children’s home.

Panel responses

Jill thorburn
With a local authority children’s home identified it would be worth taking part in a consultation meeting with the manager and any specialist staff to discuss Steven’s needs.

Given Steven’s difficulties, it may be beneficial for him to have a planned introduction period rather than him being simply placed in response to his previous placement breaking down.

For the safety of Steven, the other young people and staff a risk assessment should be completed and a full set of “Looked After Children’s” documents updated to ensure the new residential unit has all the necessary information to meet his needs.

At this stage I would include discussions around Steven’s hobbies and interests as well as his educational needs. If Steven already had an identified Connexions personal adviser I would attempt to keep this same person involved for the sake of continuity of care.

Moves due to placement breakdown clearly require working within a tight timescale. If the move is to be carried out in a planned way a short-term foster carer placement could be considered with the task to care for Steven and prepare him for his move.

If Steven proves reluctant to attend any introductory visits, perhaps the unit’s manager could take the initiative and write to Steven, and follow this up with phone calls. Perhaps offering him the chance to personalise or decorate his room in some way might break down barriers.

The staff in the residential unit would work towards addressing Steven’s attachment difficulties, to help him deal with his past abuse and for him to be given the opportunity to find ways to manage his unacceptable and impulsive behaviour patterns.

I would discuss strategies for managing Steven’s impulsive outbursts with the residential staff. These may include the employment of therapeutic crisis intervention techniques as a positive way of de-escalating situations. However, it seems from what we know that, while the unit might meet his immediate needs, if Steven is going to be given every opportunity to reach his potential, therapeutic intervention may need to be considered.

Carolyn Connor
I would be concerned about the impact of placing Steven and the effects that he may have on what might be an ordinarily settled unit.

I would ensure that the staff team conduct a risk assessment. This should be undertaken as part of a set course of action, but it should not just explore the young person involved in the referral but everyone who is placed within the unit. Risk management is not an exact science; it is, however, a fundamental part of good child care practice and should be the basis surrounding all plans within a residential unit.

The risk assessment should summarise all risks posed in the placement of Steven within the unit and explore risks associated with each child and the possibilities of them placing Steven at risk with their behaviour, and the possible effects on the group’s dynamics.

I would speak to the young people and explore with them the issues that they may have about Steven’s placement. This is an important part of placement planning but draws a fine line between client confidentiality and meeting their needs.

I would similarly speak to Steven at his current placement and discuss with him any issues he had surrounding his future placement. I would try to establish what Steven’s hobbies and interests were and explain what the unit could offer in terms of activities, and discuss his educational needs.

I would be looking to identify a team member who could be a key worker for Steven. In this case it would be necessary to conduct weekly key working sessions and encourage activities to start to address his attachment difficulties. An important part of a care plan for Steven would be to allow for stage-by-stage relationship-building and social integration.

It may be advisable to limit other contacts in the short-term (for example, Connexions personal adviser) in preference for a settling-in period to enable Steven to become accustomed with his new surroundings before “crowding” him with new people with whom he would have to establish working relationships.

Steven’s history of sexualised behaviour would need to be discussed urgently. This could be done with the help of the nurse for looked-after children during a health interview and also discussed as a matter of course.

User view

Steven needs stability, writes Chantelle Gordon. Has he seen a counsellor to deal with past events that have happened in his life? He was physically assaulted by his father and was sexually assaulted by other males. These were people whom he should have been able to trust, especially his father. His father was supposed to be a role model and set an example. Instead all he has learned from these people who abused him is the same aggressive sexualised behaviour. When he’s ready, someone should be there to help him with these intense emotions he’s probably feeling and other things that have happened to him in his past.  

Maybe Steven is not ready to see his family. If he’s going to see them it needs to be on neutral ground; somewhere where he feels comfortable.  Steven needs stability which he’s not getting if he’s being moved regularly from foster placement to residential care homes. He needs somewhere he can feel safe and secure. If he’s going to be put in a local authority children’s home they need to make sure they have the right support systems in place to be able to deal with his behaviour. 

They need to keep him busy doing things he’s interested in, maybe football, dance, DJ classes, regular supervised trips out for good behaviour. For bad behaviour take way some of his privileges. He needs someone to show him values and morals, such as giving respect to get respect; someone to go to school with him or have him tutored at the children’s home. Has anyone asked him what he wants do to with his life? Has he been given advice by a careers adviser on how to get there? 

If he goes back into a foster care placement they need to be trained to handle his behaviour and set boundaries with him. He needs someone who’s not going to give up on him. 

A lot of young people just like Steven go through the care system every year. Just being in care is a stigma, because society sees it as the child has done something to be put there, when it’s the adults who have wronged this young man.  

All the moving around has given him a lot of insecurities; he might feel his family don’t love him, that he is unworthy of love. Does he know what real love is? He needs more than corporate parenting; someone needs to show this young man a little love. 

Chantelle Gordon is 20 years old, a care leaver, a Hearsex peer educator, and a teenage pregnancy prevention worker in the West Midlands.

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