Practitioner: Sinéad O’Connor, manager, Shelter Inclusion Project.
Field: Antisocial behaviour.
Location: Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Client: Sharon Doyle, 34, and her children Paul, 11, and Emily, six, are a homeless family with a history of antisocial behaviour.
The landlord of the family’s property had served an eviction notice after receiving several complaints about Paul’s antisocial behaviour. The family has been homeless more than 30 times. They have moved from tenancy to tenancy for the past 10 years, largely as a result of Paul’s behaviour and Sharon feeling unable to cope with the situation. There have also been problems in the past with Sharon’s drinking when she would binge-drink and fail to provide a safe environment for her children during these periods. Facing homelessness again, the family was referred to the Shelter Inclusion Project by the council’s homelessness section.
Given their inability to manage a tenancy and repeated antisocial behaviour, many local authorities would find the family intentionally homeless and exclude them from the housing register. But not providing stable accommodation would make it impossible for this family to address their antisocial behaviour.
Re-housing the family could lead to neighbours being subjected to nuisance and antisocial behaviour.
After two years of support, there have been no further complaints of antisocial behaviour or nuisance.
WEIGHING UP THE RISKS
Arguments for risk:
● Shelter Inclusion Project recognised that the family’s situation would never change unless they had permanent accommodation to bring a level of stability that allowed time to work on the reasons for the antisocial behaviour.
● Taylor worked with Sharon on health issues, in particular mental health and alcohol dependency. This involved liaising with the community alcohol service and supporting Sharon with a home detox programme.
● Help included parenting support and sessions targeted at improving Sharon’s ability to provide a safe environment for her children.
● For O’Connor, it was important for Sharon to see that Paul did not behave in the way he did because he was inherently bad, but because his family was in a bad situation. “We needed to show Sharon that Paul’s risky behaviour was his only way of gaining her attention,” says O’Connor.
Arguments against risk:
● Many people believe that the action taken to challenge anti social behaviour – most notably the issuing of Asbos – is too draconian. But these people tend not to be the ones who are putting up day after day or night after night with yobbish, drunken, aggressive or noisy neighbours. Victims of antisocial behaviour favour perpetrators being moved on repeatedly until they get the message.
● Some 66,000 reports of antisocial behaviour are reported to the authorities in the UK every day. Tenants have a responsibility for their property and for the behaviour of anybody living there or visiting. In this case, the family’s history showed that the mother was incapable of controlling herself or her children.
Even the most cursory scrutiny of the recent output of the print and broadcast media suggests that the problem of “feral youth” represents one of the most pressing preoccupations of 21st century British society, writes Patrick Ayre.
As we ponder how to respond, the New Labour catchphrase “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” often pops into our heads. It is hard not to reflect that, in the 15 years since it entered our stock of clichés, one half of the message has flourished, while the other shows all the symptoms of “failure to thrive”.
Being tough on crime is always popular with the voters, and Asbos, however ineffective they may be, at least give the appearance of being a positive response to crime or bad behaviour. But genuine attempts to tackle the underlying causes of crime tend to be less visible and fail to deliver either instant fixes or favourable headlines. After all, as every editor knows, “good news is no news”.
Against such a background, initiatives such as the Shelter Inclusion Project shine out. It recognises that the problems faced by families like Sharon’s are complex that simplistic solutions such as punitive sanctions are at best ineffective and at worst seriously damaging. It was only by patiently unpicking the tangled mess into which Sharon’s family life had descended that O’Connor and her team could begin to work out what needed to change to allow Sharon and her children to live in peace with themselves and their neighbours.
Patrick Ayre is senior social work lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire and an independent child care consultant