To say we didn’t like each other the first time I met him would not be a lie but also not quite the truth. I would say it was more that we were indifferent to each other.
I had been told about him for a long time. By other professionals, people in the local community and other young people. First…his name would pop up every now and then…. but eventually his name was mentioned daily in what ever circles I was moving in.
I had decided early on that I would not work with him. Lots of reasons why but mainly because I did not feel like I was the best person to work with him. I heard he came with an arrogance and coldness that no professional could penetrate. I was told that he had no respect for authority or professionals and with no good reason. Mum and Dad had good jobs. He didn’t want for nothing. And so, the professionals that were working with those around him felt that he was a disrupter. A troublemaker for no reason.
Just for the record, I didn’t listen to any of that. No child does what they were accusing this child of for “No reason”. I didn’t enter those conversations.
The truth was…. This boy conflicted with another group I was working with, and I knew that working with opposing groups was not going to work.
I had been working in his environment for a while and we just kind of existed in the same space but never at the same time. I must have worked with every young person around him for months, but we never interacted. It was not even like we actively avoided each other. I think we both just acknowledged that we would not be a good fit and that we both subconsciously made the choice not to enter directly into each other’s social field.
Until that could no longer happen….
He arrived to me like a baby delivery stork in cartoons. You know the scene…. The stalk comes blundering through the sky, carrying the baby in a blanket all wrapped up and they usually either crash land or glide down gracefully and present the parents with the baby and the parents are suddenly filled with love because the stalk chose them to deliver the baby too.
I was in my office minding my own business when my package arrived. Instead of a stalk gliding through the air… it was my then Headmaster. He came crashing into my office (Which was very unlike him, as he was usually a very clam man with a gentle voice…. but not today). My door flew open with a bang, and he fell through the door. His tie was crocked and his hair a mess and he was very red in the face. He just stood there…. absolutely fuming….and I just sat looking at him…wondering what he had caught me for this time…. I suspected it was buying me and all my kids Mc Donald’s breakfast that morning…which was absolutely not allowed. Apparently. So, I slowly pushed the bin next to me that had a bunch of Sausage and egg Mc muffin wrappers in under my desk with my foot, not breaking eye contact.
He was breathing deeply (He didn’t even look at what I was doing) and then he said…loudly and breathless
“You have to take him”
No name. No explanation. Nothing
I kissed my teeth and said “No” and returned to my work, leaving my head standing in my doorway.
I knew exactly who he was talking about and why. There had been an incident that morning and My kids had told me. I had spoken to the safeguarding lead and left them to deal with it.
His face got even more red… “Then…he will have to go to a PRU”.
My then Head teacher knew there were two things that would make me rage like the anger character from the Disney movie Inside Out…. I can’t pick up my daughter and we are putting a child in the PRU.
I felt that rage rush all over my body like hot fire. But I resisted it. And through gritted teeth I said “No” even louder still not looking up.
The Head muttered many swear words under his breath and left my room slamming my door so hard it made me jump.
I sat there, feeling the blood pumping in my ears. I was so angry. It was very rare I said no. But I could not work with this one. I had way too many on my case load and this one would be so much work. And there were other people that could deal with this situation. And then the guilt kicked in. Because I had known for a long time that no one else could in the area. We all knew it had to be me. But …he was in conflict with so many of my current children it could never work. They wouldn’t put him in the PRU…. would they?
And then BOOM
My door burst open and the Head teacher, head of behaviour and another member of staff all burst into my room at once. It was so noisy and messy I wouldn’t work out what the hell was going on. Because even though I say my office…it was a cupboard. I had no windows…. tiny room….no space for 3 men all making up noise …and then there he was….
The head looked me straight in the eye…no words exchanged…and they all left. Like a stork who had come tumbling in with the package…. expecting me to be like…. ohhh thank you for delivering this to me.
I was not thankful.
My stalk delivery was now sitting on one of my chairs. This is the first time we had ever shared space in actual person. He was taller than I expected. Thinner. He was pale as a ghost. Jet black hair, piercing eyes and pale as a bit of paper. He was lounged in the chair like this was night club and he was waiting for someone to bring him Champaign in the VIP room, big old smile on his face. He had school trousers on but that was it. Everything else was designer and expensive. None of the other kids dressed like that in school. But that was one of his “things” …refusing to wear uniform. He was wearing his signature man bag across his chest. That bag would become the source of many arguments in months to come….
“What’s good” he said to me with a little nod and then burst into laughter.
He was high as a kite.
I looked at him and without taking my eyes of him, laughing away to himself, I called my line manager, who had been part of the delivery service just now. He answered and didn’t speak, “You know he is buzzing off his tits don’t you” I asked calmly…. a pause…and then he replied and said “we need to search him, but he won’t let us”
And that was the start of us. Me and him…. the boy. A constant battle with everyone around me to see him as victim and not just a preparator.
When I raised to the powers that be that this child …because he was a child…. was in school on a Tuesday morning, off his head on whatever …. they ignored this…school just wanted evidence to get rid of him.
From that moment on we spent most of our time together. The first few weeks were horrid. This Kid was so arrogant at times. Not to me. I let him know what time it was from that day. But he still tested it at first. And learnt the hard way.
He was hard core. In with hard core people. It was like he had forgotten his age and now operated as an adult. I tried to get to know him, but it was not happening. He just wouldn’t let anyone in.
Until the first panic attack.
He came to my room around 5 weeks after our first meeting. He checked in with me each day and made it clear that he only sat with me so he could bunk lessons. So, I would send him away. Told him that he would not use my space to bunk lessons and to come back when he would actually engage with me.
I need to add the intelligence level of this child for context. I had read his file months ago. When I first realised, we had an issue……long before we actually interacted. He was extremely clever. Grammar school clever. Mad clever. Was predicted level 7 in maths when in year 7. Yes…. you read that right. He was mad crazy clever and…up until year 8…. A little teachers pet. I had spent hours reading what the previous schools had said about him. Not just about his academic ability but also his drive. His pattern of thinking. His problem solving.
Then, in year 8, things start to change. The school reports say there is a sudden change in behaviour. No longer engaging. They raised concerns with the new friendship group he seemed to be moving with. These school reports continue to show so many concerns…. drugs…. gangs…. police concerns…. exploitation…. county lines
And yet…no one did a thing with the info. Not really. Not until his behaviour really impacted with school.
So, when my guy is coming to me with his rude self …. stating that he would be sitting with me for the next hour so he could bunk lessons…. he got cussed and sent away.
Not because I cared about him missing lesson
Because of what I had observed over the months leading to use meeting and since he had been accessing me.
He had extreme anxiety, most likely from trauma. It was not noted in a single bit of paperwork. No adult had raised this, and it was not being addressed…. But I spotted it from day one. And he was using every tool he possessed to hide it from everyone and receiving zero support in terms of mental health.
I had been keeping a note of the days he had off school over the previous 7 months. Just a document on my laptop where I tracked kids, I was concerned about and there was clear pattern to his absence. His mum reported he was sick often and he would not come in. When he was in, he would often get sent home early saying he was sick. One time they said he couldn’t go home. I had still not interacted with him at this point but had read the log. He kicked off. Become very aggressive. Said the school could not keep him. He made a call…. a car came and got him…and it was not his mum.
I had observed the many phone calls he took through the day, before we worked together, he would often walk past me on the phone. He was talking in a language that only some would understand. A langue I had spoken for many years.
And so, 5 weeks after we had started our work, he came to me. He was clam but sweating. He walked in and just sat on the chair, looking at his hands, which were shaking. We didn’t speak for a bit and then he said, “I need to go home”. We both knew his mum was not home and would take a while to even get back to him. Usually, he could have just walked out . So, there was a reason he had come to me. I didn’t answer. He then looked at me. His eyes were red and if it was possible, he was even more pale and thin than before. He was sweating and you could almost see his heart racing through his chest. He was breathing fast and looked like he was about to be sick, and I said….
“Its time for us to talk on a deep one”
He nodded. He knew.
We spoke for hours. He was on part time timetable at the time so should have left at 1. He left my room at 3. He was with me for 5 hours.
He had entered my room many times over them weeks and we always parted company in the same manner. It was a practical thing. He had to come to me, and I had to interact with him. We both knew that. It was almost hostile on his part …and me…. I just didn’t want to get in deep with this one.
When he left my room at 3 pm on that hot summer’s day, it had all changed. For both of us.
The conversation that day was something I was not expecting. I knew stuff, But I didn’t realise just quite how much had gone on.
He said a phrase over and over
“I’m knee’s deep miss”
Knee’s deep in a world that destroys children and young people.
We spoke about everything that was impacting on his mental health. We spoke about his fears. His hopes. His reality.
He protected me, would not say names or information and at points said, “This is happening to my pal…not me” and then would continue.
When the school bell went at 3, he just looked at me. “What time is it” he asked. I told him. His eyes looked wild, and he went straight to his phone that I had made him put on silent ages ago. “Shit” he said “Shit…I gotta go” and he jumped up, scrolling through the dozens of missed calls and messages he now had. He rushed to the door and then stopped. He turned round and looked at me and said, “I’m not going to stop what I do…just so you know….im not one of the kids you’re going to save” and he left.
Them words have always stuck with me.
Things got worse for him. For all of them. The whole group. Every now and then I would bring him in and say, “They are all going to end up in prison and you most likely won’t, but you will be alone”. He would laugh and tell me to hush. But, over time, the laugh become hollower. And the hush stopped. He knew.
We also had another conversation often. The one where I told him what like was going to be like when he went to Uni.
He would shake his head and tell me no way. I would continue my conversation each time, talking about when he went Uni and how good it would be. Because that is where he was supposed to be. In university. He said never going to happen. That’s not who he was now.
Things hit a point. He done some stuff that took things out of my hands.
He has never known this…. but he may now…because he will read this….
But there was an incident. An incident where he may never know how lucky he was that day. I think deep down he does know…but just something else he adds to the trauma he witnessed as a child.
His mum emailed me late at night. Said something had happened. That he was not OK. Could I see him first thing? She said he needed me. And so, I was available first thing. For him and his mum. Of course, I was. Because that’s what we do for our kids.
His mum had emailed because she had known I was off the next day…which was unusual for me. I Still have the email….it says… “I know you are not in tomorrow, he has told me that that…but if you could we would appreciate it”.
I was off because it was the day of my graduation. I had gained my degree and was off to Brighton for my graduation. But I didn’t go. Instead, I went to him, and I tried my best to keep him away from a world that was destroying him not only physically but also mentally.
A few months later he was involved in situations that took things out of my hands.
You see the thing is….and people won’t like this…you can’t MAKE a child or young person leave the Trap life. They either have to want to leave or things have got so serious they are removed. But make them leave…. not going to happen.
And so, we had to part our ways. But we could not just part and just check in. No. Not this time. It had to be a complete break. For his own good. We didn’t even really say goodbye. Not really. I just told him how it was…he nodded…. got up….and said, “In a bit” and left.
And it killed me.
We all have them kids that touch us differently. The ones that make you cry at night when you think no one can hear. The one that when you see something in the news about a stabbing or death of a young person, you click and read and search social media to see if its them. Then one that you casually ask about in certain circle, just making sure all is well.
He is that kid. I have a few…and he is top of that list for sure.
Years went past and then we connected again. He was in trouble. Needed me to speak on his behalf. I sighed. Of course, I would…. but…I was sad that he was still knees deep.
Knees deep and sinking.
Then ….one day… I was writing about exploitation and was using his case as an example when my phone bleeped. I looked and I had a moment. It was him. Here I was writing about his case as a child, and he had messaged me at the same time.
I don’t know what I thought it would say…but I wasn’t expecting what it did.
He said he was in a bad way. He said he needed help. He said that he could not cope.
And so, I called, and we spoke. Just like we did in my office that day, we spoke and spoke. With lots of emotion. And I said of course I will help him…had I not told him way back when that I am always here. He said that I am the only one who can help him when “He gets like this”. I said that’s not true, he has people that can help him. But I guess with me there is no explaining. No questions. I know. He knows.
Yesterday I spent the day at Kent University. I kid you not, my legs ache so bad I am still in bed as I type this. Walking around the University of Kent campus in Canterbury is a workout!!!! Up and down…round and round…meetings…. talking…. I am exhausted.
Have you seen the University of Kent Business school building? it is epic. They have this amazing building with the most amazing staff. You can learn accountancy…. business management…. Marketing.
We met the Dean of the business school. Told us everything we need to know. He gave a laugh when we said we had not applied yet for this year and he said that school starts on the 18th so if we don’t get the application in this year then best to wait until next year. Either way…. they look forward to having him with them. I think they decided, the Dean and him, that accounting and finance is the best for him. Because he is very good with numbers when running a business. I mean…. he has been part of running things on a business level since he was a kid. As I kept reminding him the days leading up to the interview.
Yesterday I walked beside a man I know. We looked around the university I told him he would be attending one day. Was he anxious…? yes. Did he let it beat him…No.
Yesterday I walked beside a man I know as we looked around the university my own son graduated from. The one where I have just got my MA. We walked with other families, there to support their loved ones on maybe the most important journey of their lives, and we were no different. He asked questions …. …. Me and the other adult smiled at each other when we saw our young ones engaging.
Yesterday I walked beside a man I know…who has been through and seen things that no one should. Who has been let down by many people and has been dumbed down because of the perception people have had of him for a long time and tried to get him to fit into their stupid little tick boxes that he way too big for!!!!!
Yesterday I walked beside a man I know. As proud of him as I am of any of my kids. He may start next year. He may start this year…who knows…. He told me that they call it the Trap for a reason…. because you can’t get out…. but the fact is just because you are knees deep doesn’t mean that some don’t get out.
You can’t make a child or young person leave the streets. All you can do is give them the tools and information to keep safe, inform others of your concerns and pray.
But…. some will come back to you when they are ready to leave. Years later. So be sure you are still ready to do all you can to help them if they ask because they call it the Trap for a reason….and everyone needs help if they are truly ever going to escape.