Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Fighting Their Corner

Has anyone else observed that those who are in the most need of support struggle to get it because they need support to access the support?

Young adults for example, they frequently need assistance to navigate the grown-up world of which they have just become a part, usually from an older adult who has already been there. Who among us, when a teenager, has not called Dad when the boiler breaks down at our student digs or asked mum to come with us to a medical appointment? Higher education open days, moving house, seeking employment, buying our first car: it is reassuring to know someone is there for moral support.

A care leaver doesn't usually have their parents on speed dial and may not have the advice and support of somebody who has walked the same path, which is unfortunate because their grown-up world is more complicated than most. They may have multiple benefits appointments to attend; a variety of health and social care professionals to juggle; meetings with a list of individuals and agencies. Additionally there will be consequences which they may not fully grasp if such dates are skipped or forgotten. In some cases early trauma, attachment issues, learning needs and mental health difficulties may mean they are not well equipped to handle these situations. This can add to their feelings of being overwhelmed, lonely and isolated. Of course they are entitled to support from their local authority but this is still inadequate compared to that received by the average teenager from their family. Furthermore the support brings with it yet more appointments, people to update and dates to remember. If the young care leaver becomes involved in the criminal justice system the situation is even tougher to negotiate; appointments with solicitors, police and probation are added to the list and the consequences of non-compliance are severe. Then more than ever a young person needs a caring adult around to steer them through the process and advocate for them when things do not go as they should; and frequently things do not go as they should.

Here is an example from a couple of years ago, when a care leaver lodging with me was arrested. It began with a call from the local custody unit informing me of his arrest; so far so good, at least he remembered my number and had a call put through. After thanking the officer for notifying me I told him I was available at any time that afternoon to act as an Appropriate Adult (AA.)
"The young gentleman is 18," he replied politely.
I explained that their detainee was a care leaver with a diagnosed mental health disorder and should be seen by a member of the mental health team and provided with an AA for interviews regardless of his age.
"We asked the young man if he required assistance but he declined."
I'm not sure how I didn't yell at this point: "Well he would do wouldn't he? He is embarrassed you absolute idiot. If the diagnosis is on his file you get him seen by a professional and you arrange a bloody AA whether he likes it or not!"
I worded my response a little more diplomatically of course and both of my requests were carried out. I discovered afterwards that, before my interference, the Criminal Justice Mental Health Worker had been advised by the Custody Sergeant that her help was not required. This often happens when a detainee does not identify themselves as either suicidal or at risk of self-harming, any other difficulties are not a priority. Vulnerable young people seldom question the decisions made for and about them. They assume they have no choices and they don't want to be perceived as difficult in an environment where someone else has full control. They just play the waiting game.

Two years later we are both waiting again. The same young person was recently recalled to custody and we are waiting for the outcome of a police investigation which could have a dramatic impact on the length of his stay. The frustrating part is that the decision was made 5 days ago. We are waiting for a probation officer to call the police station, discover the outcome and pass this on to me so that I can inform the young person. Chinese Whispers was never so life-changing. I can't call myself, the young person is an adult so they won't tell me anything. The young person can't call because he is in prison. We need an advocate to do it for us and sadly he is not an especially efficient one. I will probably spend most of the next few days chasing him by email and telephone.

I joke sometimes that I should answer my land-line with the greeting "OT's Personal Assistant, how may I help?" and certainly more of my role as a Supported Living Carer has been administrative than I would have expected. I make phone calls on the young person's behalf or often help him write a script and stand over him while he does it himself. I have written numerous letters of support to magistrates, often putting into words the traumatic past which my young people won't admit out loud. I deal with appointments, good grief the
appointments! I write them on the calendar; check the young person has read the calendar; text just beforehand in case the meeting was forgotten between the reading of the calendar and the appointment itself. Then later that evening I ask questions to ascertain how much information, if any, the young person remembers from the appointment; call the person he met to find out what was ACTUALLY said and then explain the key points from the meeting I did not attend to the young person who attended it. I am not kidding, this is my life.

The support, the mentoring, the chasing of professionals, the advocacy: at times this role is frustrating but essential. All of this ensures the young person's needs are understood and met. Fighting his corner is probably one of the most important things I do.


  1. I really love your insights into your end of the system - great post.

    1. Thank you! We deal with opposite ends don't we, so to speak...