This is going to be a rant.
My 15 year old niece, who is in foster care, ran away from school on Wednesday and was missing for 36 hours. She’s a vulnerable damaged child who wrongly believes she’s streetsmart. She has unprotected sex. She takes legal highs. She’s previously ended up in A and E. Repeated lectures from well meaning police officers about the dangers of the street go over her head. She’s run before – many times – but has always been found a few hours later. She’s never been missing overnight before.
She was caught stealing. She cannot deal with consequences. So she ran. And there began – or to be accurate continued – a series of failings by the services. A teacher who saw her trying to hitch a lift but didn’t challenge her. A school who didn’t report her missing till hours later. A foster carer who didn’t tell the police the last name of a boy to whom she may have run. A school head who was chasing up a possibility of where she may be but never phoned my sister back. Social services who had recently ignored my sister’s warnings that her daughter was in contact with her birth mother. A foster carer who didn’t appear to be monitoring her internet use. Etc. Etc.
My sister & I spent hours driving around looking for her, searching social media sites, calling the services with updates of what we’d found.
It took 36 hours for the police to find her. She ran. When they caught her she was handcuffed for fuck’s sake. She was returned to foster care. The ‘boy’ was arrested.
The next day she ran again. She was found after a couple of hours. She will keep running. She just hasn’t got the ability to deal with challenges.
She’s been let down by people and systems all her life. Not taken early enough from a birth family who inflicted abuse. In foster care for years and moved about. No therapy for 3 years when she was finally placed with my sister as the 2 local authorities could not agree on funding. Services’ lame interventions in response to my sister’s pleas for help with her daughter. Last year the result was a breakdown of the adoption. Not a ‘disruption’. Let’s be clear: a breakdown.
We live in a society which has chosen to label abused children as ‘problems’. In which children may be placed with adopters, and left for a hapy-ever-after ending. Adopters who are then left struggling, and patronised with glib pronouncements : ‘she’s lucky to have you’, ‘you’re doing your best’, ‘have you tried taking her for a walk?’
I’m left wondering how best to use my anger. I have been a social worker for a long time now. Not in children’s services thankfully, but the same system failings are apparent in adult services. I fight for the rights of the people I work with. I am labelled because of it. Im too old to care about that, and I’ve always thought I can do more good trying to effect change from within. Now I’m not so sure.