Beyond boundaries

shan

As humans we all have boundaries. Some of these boundaries can be pushed, bent, or removed all together. When you are a practitioner or a professional it’s the same thing. You have professional boundaries, but these can be moved. There are certain boundaries that can’t ever be moved even the slightest, and with good reason.

Then we have to also include our own morals in both areas of home life and work.

So, for me a firm, will never be moved boundary is that I do not work with adults that harm children. I don’t care what anyone else thinks of that or even what the implications are for me as a professional, I will never support or work with any adult who harms children.

And until recently I thought that was my only firm boundary. I have worked with children, young people, and adults from all walks of life and who have been involved with many different things, and even when I have struggled to understand why they have done things or how they have become involved, I have always been able to get on with it.

Until now.

There was this girl. I had worked with her for a long time and I would say I thought I knew her very well. No, I take that back, I DO know her very well. I know what she is capable of. I just never thought I would ever see her be involved in anything that would actually make me stop in my tracks.

Now this girl, her past is both shocking and sad. Neglect, suspected abuse, been in care, risk taking behaviour, gangs, CSE…..the list goes on and on. Her life is and has been pretty shit. Throw in her SEN needs and as you could have the protentional for a disaster.

This girl, she is striking to look at. She stands out from the crowd, not just because of her appearance, but also because she is loud (and rude). She has no boundaries, not really. None at home. Of all the young people I have worked with over the years, she reminds me the most of who I could have been if life had been slightly different. I could never put my finger on what the difference was between me and her was, but my son enlightened me of this today…but we will come back to that.

So, this girl, we can call her Sarah, she has been a thorn in my side for so long that its almost hard to imagine what life would be like without her. She is rude to everyone…very rarely me…and if she is rude to me it is dealt with quickly. I worked out early on with Sarah that this attitude she has, this swagger…it’s all a defence. She is one scared little girl that can’t tell anyone she is scared because when she is that big bad world, no one is there to save her. So, she goes around being rude, doing what she wants, saying what she wants.

She has always struggled academically. She is never in school long enough that she gets the SEN support she needs. She struggles with every subject and if you ask her what she is good at she will say “Drinking”. She knows that she is struggling at school and will just not bother for days/weeks at a time. So, when she does go to school, she is so far behind she feels even more stupid than she did before. And so, she bunks.

She is suffering from undiagnosed trauma. This is something that can’t be diagnosed because her home life is so dysfunctional, and her family are surrounded with so many lies and untruths that finding the underlying cause of what really has happed to her is almost impossible. And when you do try and talk about what has happed, look at what is causing this anxiety and spiral of low self-esteem, she can’t cope and then bang…. You won’t see her for days.

I have tried so many things to support this girl. Once, she was out of order and I said that’s it…our work is done…you will be supported by someone else. She stormed off and the next day her mum called and said that Sarah had cried most of the night because she was upset that I had been angry with her. That’s how good our relationship was. Mine and Sarah.

Then, one day, there was talk of a fight that happened. Everyone was talking about how bad it was. No one was named. I never watch the videos that are circulated of fights and always get others to delete them. This fight…well…everyone around me was talking about it. How bad it was. I was walking along, and a couple of kids had a phone out playing a video. I just walked past and then realised what they were watching this fight. I stopped and told then to give me the phone so I could delete it. The boy handed his phone over, video still playing, and as he did, I heard a voice. A voice instigating the fight. Laughing. I knew that voice anywhere. I looked at the phone and wished I didn’t.

I wish that I never looked.

Sarah was never seen, just her voice. The “Fight” if you want to call it that, was animal like. It made me feel physically sick. But most importantly it made me want to go and lock my own daughter away and never let her out again. Never let her near people who could attack someone in such a way. My daughter, who has ASD, would never recover from such an attack. And that’s all I could think of.

Luckily, I didn’t see Sarah for a long time. If I am honest, I had hoped I would never see her again. I didn’t want to see her again.

But I had too.

She can’t look at me. Her eyes look everywhere but at me. But I am looking at her, hard, in the hope that I can shake off this feeling that I can’t work with her anymore. Because she needs me, and I know that.

So, we sit across from each other, in silence. She starts t talk with an attitude, and I remind her that them days are long gone. That we are in new territory now and I no longer want to hear that attitude come from her. She sits back, deflated. She tells me that she never touched the girl, that it was the others. I say nothing. She says that she wasn’t even there. I remind her that I know that she was. She looks down at her hands. And we are silent again.

She looks at me now. Her striking eyes staring into mine. She says that she needs my help. That her life is a mess and her mums says that I am the only one that can help her. I feel …..cold. I go to speak and then notice the picture of my daughter. That could have been her. I answer Sarah, with what she can do to get her self back on track.

She suddenly bursts into tears. She does no often cry. She says why are you talking like you don’t know me? Why are you not being normal? What do I have to do to stop all this?

And I have nothing. A new boundary has been created. One that I didn’t even know existed. A cut off point. She leaves and I just carry on my day, slightly numb. Later, I read her life case notes again. To remind myself what she has been through and work out how she got to this point in her life.

I spoke to my son about my feelings. No names or info, but an over view of what I was feeling. My son (Who is wise beyond his years in many ways) thought about all this. He said that although what she did was shocking and not OK, she still needs my help. I said that I can’t. I can’t shake off what she did. He nodded and then he asked me what my mission statement was for my role in life, why I work mad hours, why I study hard. Why.

This took me by surprise, and I had to think. Really think. I said that my mission statement on life is that no child will go unsupported or not be heard in life. That all children and young people feel loved, supported, and safe and that they know that they are good enough. I want all children and young people to have the best chance at a future they deserve.

My son nodded and said …then there is your answer. You have to help her, even if you don’t want to. You have to. You have the tools that can save her, so you have no choice. You can’t start picking who you do and don’t help. It does not work like that. If you were at war (most of his advice will be reflective of war…lots of war films as a kid) if you were at war and you were a doctor and you found an enemy solider dying and you had the means to save his life, would you? If the answer is no, then you can’t really call yourself a doctor because you would have taken an oath to preserve life…. all life. And you have made a choice to protect and support children. All children.

Don’t you hate it when the pupil becomes the teacher?

So, this will be a time of growth for me and Sarah. I know she needs me. I also know I can choose not to support her, and that is what my angry, scared heart is saying. Don’t help her. But my sole knows that I have too. Because I know that in that confused and angry head of hers is remorse. I know that of she had the capability to sort her emotions out then she would truly take on board what has happed. I know that I can help her do that.

There once was a girl, long before Sarah, who did something much worse than what Sarah has done. Much worse. She was labelled an animal. Professional after professional sat with her and tried to understand how a young girl could hurt people in the way she did. But not to help her, more to criminalise her. To get evidence. To lay blame anywhere but with themselves. And that girl was so scared. She was scared of how she felt. She feared what she had done. She was also confused. Confused why only her mum was trying to understand why. Why it had gotten to this point. Why she had no remorse. Why she resorted to extreme violence. I don’t want that for Sarah. I don’t want that for any young person ever again.

I asked my son what he thought the difference was for Sarah and the girl mentioned above. Why Sarah seems to be acting like she still doesn’t care and why the other girl changed her ways.

He said “Because you had me mum, you had a reason change” ……

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Philip Mathew-a sell by date youth worker in London! says:

    that is why after 40 years of youth work, young people have all the energy, intelligence, and positive attitudes etc-if only they were given a level playing field-with huge financial and human resources investment. as well be treated with respect-i hold my head in despair

    Liked by 1 person

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