A teenage boy at a children’s home reacts violently after hearing about plans for his sisters’ care. Our multi-disciplinary team – this week from Warrington – advises, following his placement in a secure unit
The names of service users and family members have been changed
Lee Mills, 15, has been in care for more than four years. His sisters Moira, 10, and Jodie, 9, were also taken into care – on grounds of neglect – at the same time. Their mother Cheryl had been the victim of domestic violence and their father Robert was serving a five-year prison sentence for her attempted murder. Cheryl physically assaulted Lee on several occasions because she said she thought he was turning into his father – whom he strongly resembles.
Lee was placed in a children’s home, while his younger sisters were placed together with foster carers (no available carer could accommodate three siblings). Lee’s behaviour became increasingly aggressive and violent – not least because he wanted to be with sisters, whom he felt it was his duty to protect. Lee wanted his sisters to move into the children’s home but this was refused: it was decided they needed a family structure. Although Lee could continue at his school, the girls had to move schools. The carers were also wary of Lee’s upsetting behaviour; Jodie became very challenging after having contact visits with Lee. Indeed, such is her behaviour that the carers who had been considering adoption have decided that they only want to adopt Moira, who is quiet and compliant. On hearing this, Lee smashed up the children’s home and assaulted staff. He is being charged with assault and criminal damage and has been placed in a secure unit.
Lee probably feels victimised and appears to be extremely isolated due to living apart from his siblings and because of his relationship with his mother, which he may perceive as negative because of his mother’s rejection of him. This could explain his current negative behaviour, which led to him being placed in secure accommodation.
A secure order appears to offer only a temporary solution and does not address the issues that have manifested into his increasingly difficult behaviour and therefore should only be used as a last resort.
A long-term plan needs to be established for Lee. I feel he would benefit from a one-to-one therapeutic foster placement as near as possible to his sisters’ current placement.
Furthermore, his long-term plans should address issues that are outstanding with him and his sisters. Lee needs to be enabled to accept his role within his family, understand that he is not there as a protector for his sisters, and he needs to be allowed to be a child first. Lee also needs to understand the impact of his behaviour on his sisters’ placement and their future.
There appears to be a strong attachment between Lee and his sisters and I feel this should be integral to any plan, including addressing the issue of contact.
A plan should be secured for contact with Lee upon his release from secure accommodation. The plan should allow contact to take place away from his siblings’ home (the foster placement) for a time-limited period, but would move towards more flexible arrangements after a successful period of monitoring.
Lee needs to be fully aware of his responsibility to himself and his sisters if this plan is to work.
Guidance needs to be given to Lee about his behaviour with his sisters and a greater understanding of the impact of violence and of “victim empathy” needs to be explored with Lee.
It appears that Lee would benefit from some therapeutic intervention to explore his relationship with his mother, by whom he no doubt feels rejected and also his father, who Lee may view as the reason for him and his siblings being placed into care.
I would want to establish through the care planning and review forum what work is being undertaken with Lee in the secure unit, and how his education is being addressed. I would also begin to consider long-term plans for when Lee is returned to the community. There should be multi-agency planning for his future to include all the relevant agencies as well as any specialist advice or support available.
Open and honest consultation needs to take place with Lee to look at what options are available and to consider his views about where he would like to be placed. Lee has found it difficult to relinquish the adult role and possibly is acting out what he feels is expected of him: namely to behave like his dad.
All placement options should be explored. Although it may be difficult to find a foster family, some specialist carers might be available. This would allow Lee the experience of living with a family rather than in a residential unit.
Given Lee’s poor experiences, a specialist foster family could be part of a team of people who work with Lee to look at anger management, support him with his contact, and begin to prepare him for independent living.
Although this plan may be difficult to achieve, it could provide Lee with the best chance of positive long-term outcomes.
Moira and Jodie’s future would also need to be considered and issues need to be explored with their carers. I would be keen to gain both the prospective carers’ and the children’s views in relation to the adoption of Moira as this could have a major impact on Lee and would raise significant issues around Jodie’s placement.
Contact arrangements for siblings with opposing needs are always complex and need to be planned carefully.
I would call a meeting to look at how contact can be arranged to meet the needs of all the children.
I would wish to consider the views of Moira’s and Jodie’s carers, as well as their birth mother’s wishes and feelings. I would also explore a range of contact arrangement including indirect contact through an exchange of video or letter.
The user view
Under these very difficult circumstances, it is understandable that Lee feels angry and frustrated. Being accommodated separately from his sisters seems to have made him feel isolated and upset.
Furthermore, his mother’s attitude and behaviour towards him has almost certainly lowered his self-esteem and made him feel at fault for the family breakdown.
It is unfortunate that the three siblings could not be fostered together. It is important to note that Lee’s extreme aggression and violence began after being taken into care, which indicates that it is a direct result of being separated from his family – not vice versa.
It is also unfortunate that Moira and Jodie had to move schools. This seems to be having a particularly adverse effect on Jodie.
Nevertheless, we have to make the best of a far-from-perfect situation and, providing the right decisions are made, I am optimistic that the situation can be improved.
Continuity is paramount, so whatever happens in terms of their care placement, efforts should be made to enable them to continue at their current school and support them to maintain friendships.
The social worker should consult Lee, Moira and Jodie and take their views into full consideration. At all stages, the reasoning behind the decisions made should be explained to them. It would still be appropriate to accommodate Jodie and Moira in a family structure, but the plan to split Moira and Jodie through only Moira being adopted is a concern. While I understand and appreciate why the foster carers feel the way they do, the adoption plan is not in the children’s best interests.
The way forward needs to be to tackle the root of Jodie’s and Lee’s challenging behaviour and work to resolve some of the fundamental problems.
In particular, Lee needs support to manage his anger and aggression, which he does not appear to be getting.
While Jodie does need to be protected from Lee’s challenging behaviour, it is important to promote and encourage contact between the three siblings, although under appropriate supervision.
Taking legal action against Lee will not serve any purpose. He needs specialist support within the secure unit, preparing him for moving on, supporting him to integrate back into the community where possible. He should also follow the curriculum.
We must remember that Cheryl has been through huge emotional trauma too and is in need of much help.
The psychological damage that her being abused has caused may have skewed her interpretation of the situation. She therefore needs help to show love and affection towards her children.
Robert has his own set of problems and so Cheryl or the children should not have contact with him in the near future.
Mark Houston is a care leaver
This article appeared in the 3 May issue under the headline “A teenager’s rage at his family’s split”