Sarah’s family has a long history of involvement with Children Social Care, the result of which has seen all six of the children’s names being added to the child protection register on three separate occasions in 1994, 1995 and 2000, under the category of neglect. This last period began in October 2007 when Sarah and her siblings were removed from the family home due to their mother’s drug and alcohol abuse, sexual exploitation, absences from home and neglect.
A full Care Order was granted in November 2008, which led to two of the children being adopted in July 2009. Sarah had a very strong emotional reaction to the adoption of her brother and sister, stating that the Children’s Social Worker who had dealt with their case said that she would continue to see them when in reality this was not what happened. This had a detrimental impact on Sarah where she believed she could not trust anything that she was told by professionals.
Sarah at the time was in a long term matched placement with her brother where she was doing very well. She was attending school and despite her background was a high achiever. However, the placement broke down after she went missing for nearly a month, found only after a police appeal.
Sarah was finally located with her half sister at their mother’s home. And concerns by this point were incredibly high, made worse by the fact that Sarah mother had a history of involvement in sexual exploitation and information would suggest that Sarah’s older sister had been involved also.
It was at this point that I became involved with Sarah, placing her in a children’s residential unit. Sadly during her time here, Sarah tried to commit suicide by taking a drug overdose of Tramadol and Emelthyn. Sarah stated her reason for this was because she was not allowed to be with her sister. Sarah was admitted to hospital and while she was there, she made a suicide pact with her sister, agreeing that if they could not live together, they would both commit suicide. Due to this, her sister was put on a section 20 order and placed at the same children’s home with Sarah.
Unfortunately Sarah’s behaviour worsened, refusing to engage with any of the support services offered to her. She would be verbally abusive when challenged or faced with any difficult questions about her life. Sarah’s attendance at school was sporadic at best and her behaviour in school became unacceptable with her verbally abusing teachers.
Sarah always seemed to be with three Asian men who were constantly ringing her to go to a takeaway to work. On many occasions I witnessed Sarah with marks on her body, including a black eye, burn marks on her hands and legs, bruises and scrapes on her elbows and knees – indicating some form of physical abuse. On every occasion Sarah would say that the marks were accidents and always gave an explanation of how she got them. Sarah also admitted to having a boyfriend who gave her gifts of chocolate, perfume and flowers. When I tried to contact him on a number Sarah had given, he never answered his phone.
Sarah also freely admitted to smoking Cannabis regularly, saying she doesn’t take any other drugs. However, there were reports from other professionals that Sarah had admitted to smoking crack and using amphetamine.
I explored with Sarah the idea of moving to an out of authority foster placement to keep her safe; however Sarah was outraged at this idea and became verbally abusive. Sarah stated that she would not move out of authority and would run away again if this was to happen. I discussed with her how concerned I was about her safety and the people she was mixing with. I told her I believed she was being sexually exploited, with which Sarah got very angry. She claimed that the people she spent time with were her friends. I worked with Sarah trying to explain to her that the men who sexually exploit are very clever and that they work on first befriending young people, before abusing them. Sarah would not believe this and thought she was too clever for this to happen to her.
I helped Sarah get an advocate and provided her with lots of support. I constantly liaised between residential staff and with her sister’s Social Worker. There was also lots of information sharing happening between the police. However it was still an ongoing battle to get Sarah to come back to the unit by 10.30pm and stay in school.
After a series of lengthy meetings we decided that the only way we could protect Sarah would be to place her in secure accommodation. But not wanting to restrict her liberties, I gave Sarah the choice of either being placed in secure accommodation or moving to an out of authority placement.
Sarah was persuaded to go to an out of authority placement where I could help her understand the dangers and risks she was placing herself in. This was not quick or easy, but gradually she began to understand and believe I was there to help her. As Sarah had always vehemently denied being abused, I tried to find a technique that helped her view the situation from a different perspective. I asked her to put herself in my position, as if I was her child. Sarah responded well to this as she could take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
Sarah began to focus and settle down and with some distance from her abusers, in a small 2 bedded out of authority placement with in house education she gained 7 GCSE’s.
Sarah now says she would like to become a Children’s Social Worker as she feels she could offer the young people she works with the benefit of her life experience. She even told me that at the time she hated me for what I was doing, but now realises that it was for her own safety and has thanked me for my help.
As a Children’s Social Worker there is nothing like the rewards you get knowing you have helped a young person change their learned behaviour and get out of the cycle of abuse.
All names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and children involved.