THE UNTOUCHABLES; Violence and Drugs Go Unpunished. Discipline Is a Dirty Word. and All That Matters Are the Rights of the Children, Who Treat Staff like Slaves. One Youth Worker's Devastating Account of Life in Britain's Care Homes
WHEN Winston Smith became a youth worker after leaving university, he was an idealistic liberal. But after ten depressing years of seeing disruptive children in care being indulged rather than disciplined, he's written a devastating book exposing the truth about the anarchy in this country's care homes.
WELL past midnight, a thuggish teenager called Liam is playing music in his bedroom at full volume. Three adults have spent 20 minutes cajoling him to 'make the right choice': in other words, to turn it down and let everyone get some sleep.
As they've been trained to do, they've praised him for those few hours in the past week when he wasn't causing mayhem. But none of this works. It rarely does.
Liam has an angry, vacant look in his eye. Even threats don't work. When I tell him he risks not going to Alton Towers this weekend, as planned, he roars: 'B******s! I'll be f***ing going. I'd like to see you try and stop me.'
If I dare to come into his room, he adds, 'I'll f***ing smash you right up!'
Everyone in the care home is awake now. Suddenly, a semi-feral 15-year-old appears at Liam's door and hurls a 4kg dumb-bell at him, narrowly missing.
Provoking Liam -- who, at just 15, is 6ft 2in and weighs 15st -- can be unwise. In the past, he's assaulted staff and gone on a wrecking spree simply for being asked politely to go to school.
What follows now is a hellish chase down a corridor. Fortunately, the dumb-bell thrower manages to barricade himself in a bedroom, along with two care-home workers and a pregnant teenager.
Liam starts furiously kicking the door down with his steel-toed boots. He's also grabbed a frying pan from somewhere and is clearly intending to clobber the people cowering inside.
The door's splintering and nearly off its hinges, but there's nothing I can do except call the police. If I try to intervene physically, one of us will probably end up unconscious -- and if it's Liam, I know I'll never work in social services again, regardless of the mitigating circumstances.
Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of care homes, where boys like Liam regularly get away with everything short of murder. During the many shifts I've worked at Charrington Place care home, he's spat on me, threatened me with a home-made flame-thrower, thrown a clock at me and pelted me with eggs. He's done variations of the same to pretty much everyone else.
On this particular night, the police arrive just in time to prevent a bloodbath, but conclude that there aren't sufficient grounds for arrest.
The next day, Liam refuses to go to school. Instead, he's taken for a walk in the countryside and then a row round a lake in the grounds of a stately home.
You might think this a highly inappropriate reward for attempted murder, and you'd be right. But the care system prefers always to look on the positive side. In the paperwork we have to fill out, Liam's relaxing day is magically transformed into an 'educational outing'.
On his return, he announces that he wants to go into town. 'I don't want to f***ing walk,' he tells the care home manager. 'Get me a car.' The car isn't available, so Liam begins rampaging around the house. He tears several paintings off the wall, throws a plate at me, slaps the manager, spits in my face, grabs me by the throat and spends a good hour trying to kick the office door down.
Later, he threatens to 'mash' me up while I'm asleep.
At the end of all this, he's solemnly informed that he's lost his [pounds sterling]1 good behaviour incentive money for that day. Beyond that, though, he escapes censure; indeed, he's told that if he behaves until Saturday, he'll be taken to a nearby leisure centre.
Madness? Of course it is. Right across the country, the residential care system has been infected with an institutional and ideological form of insanity. As many as 90,000 children and young people pass through the care system in England every year, and 28 per cent are looked after in dedicated children's homes. …