I have read much about the failings of Police on a national scale where youngsters at risk of harm have not been adequately protected. There is, no doubt, some truth to these stories in a small number of cases. But there are also those that find themselves being a headline despite the repeated efforts of Police, Social Services and other agencies on a large number of occasions.
I am sure that anyone in the job that is reading this can reel off at least three or four 11 to 18 year old kids, living in non-secure accommodation in our towns and cities that disappear on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The homes have no powers to keep them, and in many instances the Police have no power to return them.
We all know that these youngsters are particularly vulnerable to harm – from alcohol, drugs and sexual exploitation – but what can be done to remove those risks. With some there is a chance to stop the cycle, but with many there is simply no will to change. You could offer these kids any incentive on earth, but they will still disappear out the door (or window) at half ten at night and meet up with their mates down the precinct for a game of cat and mouse with the local response team.
Its tragic to have to acknowledge it, but the values that existed when those who are banging the drums in parliament are gone. The opinion of many is that we are just not trying to engage with these lost souls. If the media is to be believed they have just been abandoned to an inevitable fate.
That is simply not true
I have, in the last two months, taken the same report – about the same child from a children’s home – off the printer at least five times. And that’s just me. Granted, I am the one on my team that has been given the responsibility for this particular premises so others have not had such a regular pleasure. I am only about some of the time though and there are others that have taken similar reports off that same printer just as many times as me!
Without fail we will find our quarry in the same place with the same people week after week. We will return them to their home – mainly as we are seen as the cheapest taxi service in the city – and will ask those same ‘risk identifier’ questions.
Yes, he has probably had a drink
Yes, he is probably with people that have taken a variety of drugs
Yes, he is definitely under 16
Yes, he has been found in the company of adults that may well have a damaging influence on him
We have the same conversation again, about how he should avoid the risks he is currently exposed to and consider staying put where its safe and warm. We try to get others involved; to make a difference; to protect him.
The issue is that he simply DOES NOT CARE what we think and cares less about what we are saying. We cant stop him going out, the home can’t stop him going out, and that’s what he is going to do. If not later tonight, then tomorrow, and most nights after that.
We have no power to stop him
The home have no power to stop him
The court have no power to stop him
The stories of death and injury in the media are certainly not going to stop him (even if he saw them)
What then can be done to protect the unprotectable?
A new Protection from Harm Act empowering Police to remove a child from a public place to a place of safety just in case the worst should happen?
New powers enabling residential homes to forcibly restrict the freedoms of those considered at risk of harm?
A new offence of being out after bedtime?
I don’t know what the answer is, but I am pretty sure that being ‘educated’ by a Police Officer or reasoned with by a Social Worker is going to have next to no chance of changing the behaviour of a vast majority of those who would be considered in need of such a change.