Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Everybody Leaves

Supporting young care leavers who have become trapped in the revolving door of the criminal justice system has meant saying more than an average number of goodbyes. Occasionally they have been long, drawn-out, difficult goodbyes which the young person hasn't chosen to make, to a different placement that has been selected by a panel of people they don't know. Sometimes they have been dramatic, fast goodbyes made by the young person based on their feelings at that moment, to be regretted later. Frequently there isn't even time for a goodbye and the last moments of a placement are signalled by the knock of police officers at the door or a phone call from the custody suite. I am usually left with a nagging feeling of leaving the work I had started unfinished and never having the chance to help that young person close the door on a season of their life properly, before moving on to the next thing. I suddenly have an empty nest and a diary full of appointments arranged for someone who won't be needing them after all and the house feels very large and quiet. It is the nature of this job. Everybody leaves.

Of course it is much harder for the young people themselves, their lives are full of goodbyes. There are so many of them that they resist getting to know the new social worker, probation officer, teacher or neighbour - it's only a matter of time before they will move on. By the time they reach adulthood they have already seen countless family members, carers and professionals come and go so they resist trusting anyone; it seems easier that way. Consequently it is far more difficult to encourage them to engage with the support that they need. "Lad" who, between periods in prison, has been in and out of my life for the last three years is just like this. He trusts no one, he struggles to form a healthy relationship and he will not engage with any of the services which could help make his life better. Too many people have left, he has said too many goodbyes already, it is safer not to let anybody else in. Everybody leaves.

"Youngster", who I supported for a year but who has stayed in touch ever since, has been affected very differently by his experiences. He doesn't really ever do goodbyes because he is so sure he will manage to keep that person around somehow. He is confident that each person he is attached to loves him and he has somehow remained resilient despite the long line of people who have walked out of his life; myself included. Our goodbye happened suddenly and dramatically. The process of moving him on to a different placement had begun and he was very unhappy about the move; so unhappy that absconding from home became frequent and having a spectacular meltdown was an almost daily occurrence. In the midst of one of these, when he was angry, tired and upset, his social worker called him and he said a lot of things that he could not take back, things which he regretted just ten minutes later but which forced an early move and enforced lack of contact for some time. 

However he never lost that confidence that he was loved and wanted and as soon as he was allowed he re-entered my life; dropping in for a cuppa, staying for dinner, texting at all hours. Then yesterday, two years after he was rapidly moved out, I was approached and asked if I would house him again. His last couple of years have mostly been spent in custody or approved premises and accommodating him would be a challenge. I had taken a break from supporting young people; I was enjoying the rest and space and wasn't sure I was going to do it again but now that I have been asked I find myself thinking about it. Yes, everybody leaves; but sometimes they come back.