A while back, we published a book called Generation F by a supported housing worker calling himself Winston Smith.
Not the most original pseudonym, but it reflected his view that working in this environment was like living an Orwellian (or perhaps Kafkan) nightmare, where truth was lies, and lies was truth, and children’s lives were ruined by afterthought, or no thought.
Winston wrote a blog which won the Orwell Prize, and we turned it into a book. It’s a fascinating if chilling read which helps to explain the various and ongoing scandals about the sexual abuse of girls in care, which at least in part seem to happen because the children are allowed to come and go on a whim.
The politicians and lawyers and top police officers and senior council bosses who have conspired to allow this situation would surely never tolerate it for their own children; why is it okay for the children of poor and uneducated people?
I do urge you to read the book. Here’s an extract:
The first place I find myself at is Tom Parsons House – a large, five-bedroomed place which is home to three young girls, aged fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. I flick through their files as part of the preparation for my first day.
Of the three, one has already had an abortion, all have criminal records and two are currently tagged and are supposedly being monitored by the youth justice system for various offences. Chelsey – an extremely wild fourteen-year-old – is constantly running away from the home for days on end, and I hardly ever see her. Sammie, fifteen, is nearly as bad; sixteen-year-old Rachel, although not averse to a night on the tiles, seems to spend most of her life sitting down, channel-hopping on the TV and gorging on junk food.
Both she and Sammie are grotesquely fat; this is a tragedy for them, with life-altering consequences. But what really baffles me is the ease and regularity of the absconding. After all, there are always three members of staff – and sometimes four – in the house, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I wonder why they don’t just put a stop to this, and say as much to Jenny, the senior support worker…
‘Jenny, I’m just curious,’ I say. ‘Do the staff not notice when these young girls are leaving the premises?’
‘Well, sometimes they just run off without telling us,’ she says, ‘but often they tell us they are going out and don’t know when they’ll be back.’
‘But why don’t we stop them?’ I say. ‘I mean, why don’t we lock the doors, or something? After all, they’re supposedly in care. They’re only fourteen and fifteen, and very vulnerable. God knows what could happen to them and what they could get up to.’
‘Look, I agree the whole system is mad,’ says Jenny. ‘But as you know we’re not allowed to touch them, physically. We can’t grab them and pull them in to the house. That could be construed as assault and we could get in trouble.’
It seems to me that it’s an odd kind of system that believes it’s better to allow fourteen-year-old girls to roam free about the area for days on end without supervision, rather than grab them by the arms and scruff of the neck and bring them back into a home where they can be properly supervised.
‘Do they usually stay away for long?’ I say.
‘Usually it’s only a couple of nights at a time,’ she says. ‘Sometimes it’s longer, though. Once they were away together for four nights. What happens is the cops find them, or they get fed up and run out of money or places to stay and then they telephone us and ask us for a lift back to the home. It’s a bit of a pain, because it can often be at three or four in the morning, and we have to get up out of bed and drive and collect them.’
‘Really?’ I say. ‘That does sound like a pain.’
‘We have a duty of care towards them, you see.’
They may well end up in a secure juvenile unit, should they continue to abscond and be involved in low-level crime. However, seeing as the youth justice system fails to deal effectively with more serious youth crime, I’d say a tag is as bad as it will get for these two girls, which is a shame because to my mind they need protecting from themselves.
Rachel tears herself away from the telly for a moment. ‘Stop flirting with Winston, you fat fucking slag Jenny,’ she says. ‘He’d never fuck a dog like you.’
I am still in custody, waiting for Will to find me, when the radio pipes up once more.
‘Could you attend the Benucci Foundation. Colin Roach has gone missing again.’
The Benucci Foundation is a Care Home, providing twenty-four hour supervision of troubled under-sixteens, and the name of Colin Roach is more familiar to me than my own. He goes for a jaunt two or three times a week, and the staff at the home do little to prevent it.
One of the rules of the twenty–four hour supervision is that it is the police’s responsibility to keep track of the youngsters who live under it. Thus, when a Missing Person is reported, a police officer will be dispatched to the relevant home, where a five-page description and Risk Assessment will be completed. This is actually the most crucial part of the whole process, as without knowing whether the Person is classified as High, Medium or Low Risk we are unable to determine which rank of officer will be fired if they are found dead.
Luckily, we are proficient at finding them alive. Not only do we have the ability to telephone their family members and ask if they’ve seen them, but we’re also good at driving to their favourite haunts or texting them on their mobiles to ask them where they are. These skills take many years to master and should not be attempted by civilians.
Most Missing Persons are regulars. They are usually in care or foster homes, and have poor criminal or behavioural records. They are between thirteen and sixteen, they drink, smoke and do drugs, and they ain’t scared of no Feds.
All of these factors mean that their carer is under a legal responsibility to inform the police when the Person goes Missing, even if Missing just happens to be going down the shop for a Mars bar. No matter: the police delight in spending hours on pointless tasks, so we are more than happy to cruise the streets of Blandmore searching for these youngsters, and, when we find them, it’s always a joy to spend half an hour trying to persuade them to go home without any actual power to make them do so.
Colin is thirteen, and I have located him three times already this year. On each occasion I found him in the same place: back at the Foundation sitting in front of the television.
This time, we are shown in by Carlita, one of the live-in carers. She makes me a cup of tea and apologises for having to call us out.
‘So,’ I say. ‘Why did he go this time?’
‘He went for some fags. We usually let him have one after doing his homework, but he wanted one now. So he just left.’
I look at the front door, a sturdy-looking PVC thing with two bolts. ‘How did he get out?’
‘He opened the door.’
‘Did anyone try to stop him?’
‘We aren’t allowed to do that!’ She looks horrified at the suggestion. ‘If they become violent, we retreat.’
‘But couldn’t you just lock the door?’
‘We don’t lock them in,’ she says. ‘That might make them violent.’
Perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of the Foundation. I ask for a recap. ‘Why are kids here again?’
‘High risk offenders. Most of them have committed rapes or sexual assaults on younger kids. Colin raped a younger boy last year.’
‘And they aren’t in prison because… ?’
‘Well, most of them were also abused as kids,’ Carlita explains. ‘They’re not even sixteen, so it wouldn’t be fair to just chuck them in jail and throw away the key. They’re mixed-up kids.’
‘So let me get this straight: you have a house full of boys who have been victims of sexual assault, living in a house with boys who have committed sexual assaults?’
‘Well, they aren’t allowed in each others’ rooms.’
Colin is under a Supervision Order from the court and Carlita shows me the Order. It lays down in no uncertain terms that Colin is to stay indoors at the Benucci Foundation all day, except when escorted to school and back by staff or taken on outings authorised by staff. He is to abide by the rules of the house and is not allowed to be rude or threatening or to assault anyone.
‘So he breaks this Order every time he goes storming out?’ I ask.
She nods. ‘If he does it again he’ll be put in a high security home.’
Will takes out the paperwork. ‘He’s done it… let’s see… thirty times in the last three months.’
Sadly, this is no exaggeration. Colin and others like him really exist, as do their records of going ‘missing’.
She shrugs. ‘Well, like I say. One of these days he’ll be put in high security.’
I shake my head, and go to look for the little ragamuffin. First stop, the park. As we drive into the park our car is surrounded by a gaggle of ten-year-old boys in school uniform and we chat to them for five minutes. On leaving, I look in my mirror and see some parents pull up to collect the kids. I wonder what those parents would say if they knew that a thirteen-year-old child rapist wanders through that park two or three times a week, untroubled by the court order designed to protect their children from him.
After searching for a while, Bloggs has to return to the station to deal with some paperwork concerning a domestic incident call she attended, and a call to the greatest comic character of the 21st century, Blandshire Constabulary ‘Scrutineer’ Enid Pimento.
I discover another message from the Scrutineer and remember that I am due to phone her back about the mystery domestic in my virtual docket.
Will enters in time to hear me say, ‘Hi Enid, it’s PC Bloggs here.’
He tries to hide a grin, puts down my sandwiches and leaves the room again.
‘Ah, PC Bloggs.’ Her tone is that of a woman pulling up a chair for a long chat.
‘I got your message about this Ratchet Path job. You’ll have to jog my memory.’
Enid taps at her keyboard for a minute. ‘Domestic… caller reporting drunken fight between her neighbours. It says here that you attended and classified it as assault.’
I scour my memory. ‘I don’t think I went to that one.’
Enid logs into another few systems as I wait patiently. While I sit there, Will comes back in with Lloyd and Becks in tow.
‘Bloggsy’s on the phone to the Scrutineer.’ He says. ‘Always good for a laugh.’
I glower as they all sit down around me to listen.
‘Here we are,’ says Enid, after a minute or two. ‘You went with PC Mitchum.’
‘Guy…?’ A distant image of a brass dog, a stained glass porch and a pair of torn trousers begins to surface. ‘Ah… yes.’
‘Oh, good,’ says Enid, clearly expecting an admission of guilt.
‘But it wasn’t a domestic,’ I say. ‘I updated the crime report to say that the occupants of the address had no knowledge of any incident.’
‘Then why did it go down as assault?’
‘I have no idea. I certainly didn’t put it down as assault.’
‘So what you are saying is that this is a no-crime.’
‘Well, in the sense that no crime whatsoever has happened, yes.’
‘Can you update the crime report to reflect that?’
I open it up myself. ‘I have, here where it says, ‘Officer has attended and no domestic had taken place.’‘
There’s a triumphant silence on the end of the phone which lasts about three seconds. ’Ah! That won’t do I’m afraid,’ says Enid. ‘Put in a fuller update explaining exactly what did happen, and why you believe no crime has taken place, and forward the paperwork to me.’
‘There is no paperwork, because no crime took place.’
‘What about the Domestic Risk Assessment?’
‘There isn’t one, because there was no domestic.’
‘So… are you saying that no offences have taken place at all, not even a domestic?’
‘Yes.’ I mean, is it me?
‘Right, well forward the paperwork to me and I will get it sent up to Headquarters for no-criming.’
‘Did you not hear me just say that there is no paperwork?’
Lloyd, Becks and Will are listening avidly, with encouraging grins on their faces.
Enid is stumped. ‘Well, I can’t no-crime it without anything… let’s see, did you get a pocketbook entry signed by the caller, to say that there was no domestic after all?’
‘No, because the caller was anonymous.’
‘So how do we know there was no domestic?’
‘Because the people who were meant to be having one said nothing had happened and were obviously fine.’
‘Well we will need something in writing from them.’
‘Something in writing?’
‘A signature, to confirm that they don’t wish to make a complaint.’
I gasp for breath, for several seconds. ‘Right, fine.’
Once again a conversation with Enid ends in my hanging up the receiver in a manner far too abrupt to be representative of a professional 21st Century Police Officer.
It’s all down to my naïvety, again: I had not realised that part of the police’s job is to knock on people’s doors and get signatures from them to confirm that they have not called the police.
Meanwhile, Colin Roach has been located.
While the sergeant is there, I trick him into signing his name on my Missing Person paperwork; that means it is now he who will be fired if Colin Roach is not found. Even as he realises what he has done, the radio controller interrupts us to inform me that Colin is now back at the Foundation and could I please go and lay eyes on him so the incident log can be closed.
I lay eyes on Colin from about fifty metres away: he is standing on the roof-top outside his bedroom and when he sees me he screams that he will jump. I race out of sight and inform Sergeant Woodcock by telephone that he is about to be fired after all. Fortunately, Colin is coaxed down from the roof by Carlita and a packet of Marlboro Lights, whereupon he kindly informs me that if he ever sees me again he will smack my pretty face in.It is one of the more complimentary threats I have received, so I thank him and record this on the Missing Person report for the officer who will be carrying out the same procedure again on Wednesday.
Carlita apologises once again and I depart with the satisfaction of someone in possession of paperwork that is ready for filing.