That Boy


There is a Home down the lane from the school where my children go.  A Social Services Home.  It’s a Home-for-naughty-boys-and-girls-in-care.   There is a boy at the Home.   A naughty-boy.   A particularly naughty boy who is well-known in the area for being particularly naughty.  Disruptive.  A “juvenile delinquent”.  No-one knows what to do with him?  Lock him up?  Asbo him?  Move him to another foster-family?  He’s too challenging.  Why won’t he conform – reform?  Make their jobs easier?  Make their statistics better?

I saw naughty-boy the other day.  He was with two other naughty-boys who were just messing.  He wasn’t messing.  He was just standing under a tree.  Doing nothing.  Looking forlorn.  Our head teacher moved them all on.

Today after dropping my squabbling kids off at school, I saw naughty-boy again.  He was sat on the kerb-side outside the Home-for-naughty-boys-and-girls-in-care.   It was cold.  His elbows rested on his knees and his cupped hands supported his chin.  And his eyes stared downward, despondent.  I wanted to stop the car.  I wanted to get out and sit beside him.  Talk with him.  Ask him his story.

All morning I thought about him.   About how awful it must be to feel unloved.  Passed from care home to care home without really ever fitting in.  Placement after placement.  Family after family.  Always an outsider, looking in on the happy family.  Never really belonging.

What will become of the boy-man?  Will he achieve?  Be a success?  Will his talents be discovered and nurtured?  Will he be capable of holding a loving relationship?  Will he make up for the loss of love and real care in his own life and become a good-man/father/partner? 

Or, will he be messed-up?  Bitter and angry?  Will he become a deviant?  A criminal?  Opt out of society?  Will he be forever inhibited?  Will he struggle to find love or contentment?  Never able to form an attachment?  Restless.  Ever searching for his childhood-lost and all that he was deprived of? 

Will the naughty-boy become the naughty-man of whom society will judge harshly and condemn his naughty-ways.  Or will society examine itself and ask – did we fail the naughty-boy? 

I wish him well.  I could cry.

Some kids in care get lucky.  Most don’t.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Hmmm. Tough one this earthpal. I feel this way about lots of black boys at the school I work at. They start off happy in Y1 and leave cynical and angry in Y6. Are they treated differently by the staff & everyone else in the outside world? Is this why they end up angry?

    But, went it comes to kids way out of control and they start doing petty crime around the community, that does annoy me. The school has had some of its windows smashed several times over the last 48hrs. Believe me, if I found them they would be hauled straight off to the police.

    Reply

  2. Indeed, the law is there to be respected, but the thoughts that occurred to Earthpal are really some to be considered by all of us.

    Are those naughty-boys really understood? Are our societies responsible or aren’t they for the future of these kids, not only boys?. Here again I’m discharging “my” responsibility on the term “society”, something that perhaps diffuses the concept “duty” that each and every person must individually have.

    Are we individually doing what is necessary to re-conduct the lives of these members of our so-called societies?

    I am afraid we are not.

    Reply

  3. My 2nd daughter’s Best Friend is in care. She is one of eight children. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you the ins and outs of T’s life, but considering what she told us herself, without any prompting, she is sooo happy-go-lucky.

    T is coming to us on Saturday for a sleepover. It’s taken us 2 years for this moment. The Social Services in Ireland, is, and quite rightly, very strict on Play Dates and Sleepovers…

    We love T and she loves us…

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  4. “…His elbows rested on his knees and his cupped hands supported his chin. And his eyes stared downward, despondent…”

    Staring into nothingness of his future?
    Just reached an age when he wants to know
    the meaning of his existence?
    a purpose for him living?
    but whichever way he looks, it is emptiness
    just a void?

    “…Always an outsider, looking in on the happy family. Never really belonging…”

    What if he wants to ‘belong’
    but is not sure how to take that step
    or he still has some remnants of self-pride that
    makes him hesitate to reach out for that first contact,
    is he destined to stay an outsider forever?

    “…I wanted to stop the car. I wanted to get out and sit beside him. Talk with him. Ask him his story…”

    How many others like you,
    would you reckon, felt the same way
    but then stopped for one reason or the other?

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  5. Hi earthpal, this post of yours has touched on a theme that I have been discussing and thinking about recently after my trip to America – empathy. Your post is an illustration of the emotion. At my critical discourse analysis group meeting last night we reviewed Judith Butler’s latest book written as a response to the aftermath of 9/11. She talks of America’s lack of empathy. She talks of her disappointment that America did not see 9/11 as a chance to empathize with people who are constantly under siege. She sees their violent reaction as an opportunity lost, an opportunity for empathy.

    Reply

  6. Indeed, it is all a question of empathy. I have heard of anecdotes, though, of people trying to understand the type of kids under discussion here, who have been violently rebuffed.

    I think it is necessary that the problem be approached by, let me say, a logistical process that shows those kids that they are not “the” enemies of our society, that they belong in and that we consider them human beings, not beasts as they themselves have ended up believing they are.

    Reply

  7. I think we are beating around the bush here.

    Our society is selfish. If someone doesn’t want to stay in a relationship any more or, wants to play the field, then they don’t hesitate. They take the risks and sod the consequences for their children. The result is normally that the mum and dad eventually split up. Bitterness sets in and the dad ends up hardly seeing the kids. Dad, as a male role model (even if not a particularly good one) is lost. Mum is often stressed trying to run things herself. Who suffers most? The kids. Maybe mum does too. Maybe she hits the bottle as a result of depression. Dads not around and mum lets things go. Maybe the kids start missing school, look scruffy and the school notifies Social Welfare. Maybe at some point there is violence between dad and mum. Social welfare takes the kids away. A few years down the track earthpal’s boy that she is talking about is sitting in the gutter completely empty inside.

    OK, a simple scenario but it starts from selfishness.

    We can add other ingredients to the cake that is ‘selfish society’;
    * want everything now-pay later-cheap credit society
    * leads to debt problems and confused expectations
    * gap between those with and without their own homes
    * interact via an electronic gadget (games/internet) rather than face to face interaction!
    * some aspects of PC culture that prevents firm but fair disciplinary approaches to problem solving. Believe me when it comes to dealing with kids on the street and petty crime the police have their hands tied. And those kids know it. Once they are at that stage it is so much harder to bring whose kids back. To stop them ending up in prison later in their life.

    Sorry this is so long but it’s a complex subject!

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  8. Matt, no need to apologise. Yes it is a complex issue with no easy answers. I hear what you’re saying in that the authorities have their hands tied due to pc madness and that kids know this and are all too willing to exploit it.

    Children need discipline and they need to be aware of what’s right and what’s not. That requires good guidance and love from their carer’s. Unacceptable behaviour requires appropriate action. Regular loving discipline and a stable routine makes children feel safe. An unstable or neglectful background confuses kids and makes them feel insecure. It shouldn’t excuse bad behaviour but it should help us to understand. And since we know that disadvantaged kids often suffer negative impacts, we know then that it’s better to try and tackle it before it becomes a problem. We also know that being sent to several different placements increases feelings of loneliness and rejection. Providing equality and opportunity in a long-term loving and caring environment free from abuse or neglect would be a good start. Not easy given the lack of *good* foster-carers and limited funding.

    Absolutely, the natural selfishness of individuals has a knock-on effect and divorce/separation is a contributory factor in the behaviour of children from broken families.

    *******

    Jose, yes, I personally think we all have a duty to tend to children in social care. Not always possible in a physical sense but just by having an understanding attitude rather than being judgemental can be a way of reaching out to them. Empathy. I don’t think enough people, individually, try hard enough to understand.

    *******

    MissyL, hope you have fun with T. Like I said, some kids in care are lucky. Maybe she’s ones of the lucky ones. She’s lucky to have you and K as her friends.

    *******

    Little Indian, always lovely to read your poetic thoughts. Yes, the boy is at that critical age when he is searching for a meaning…an identity. This is probably when he needs guidance the most but he’s also, unfortunately, probably reached the age when much of the damage is done. It’s reckoned that until the age of ten, a damaged child can be guided back into a healthy state of mental and social well-being but it get’s harder with each year after this age. But no-one is beyond redemption and we shouldn’t give up on them.

    And yes, kids have their pride and dignity too. They just need guidance on how to channel it correctly.

    I wonder too, how many people would “sit beside him” but for some reason, don’t? Good question. Some people are probably scared, wary, unsure. I think sadly that quite a lot of people simply don’t want to get involved. They’ve already judged him. Written him off even.

    *******

    Bindi, interesting meeting. I think empathy is a key word here. Society is so judgemental. Good points about Americans not seizing the opportunity to empathise with people under siege. Yes, it did seem that as a nation (but not neccessarily individually) America looked inwards after 9/11. Sort of an…”how could this happen to us?” rather than a…”gosh! is this what it feels like for you all the time.

    *******

    Although there are exceptions, we are largely the product of our upbringing. And none of us have a say in the circumstances of our birth and background.

    Ok, not all children in care are naughty or become dysfunctional adults. Not every deprived child becomes withdrawn, suffers from low-self-esteem, is unable to form bonds etc…

    And there are some good foster homes. But there are some very bad ones. But even in the good ones, cared-for children may still feel a sense of not really belonging.

    But either way, it’s a sad statistical fact that an unacceptably large number of kids from care homes….
    fail at school
    are withdrawn
    suffer from low self-esteem
    are unable to form bonds
    turn to crime/drugs

    And the disadvantages of their childhood becomes their legacy in adulthood.

    A report by the Dr Barnardo charity into education for children in care found that that:

    More than half reported being bullied at school as a direct result of being in care.
    Four out of 10 said no-one had attended their school parents’ evenings.
    Nearly half said no-one went to sports days or other school events.
    The number of care placements young people had lived in varied between one and 30 – half had been in more than four placements.
    More than half were not currently in employment, training or education.
    Almost half the group had attended six or more schools and 11% had attended more than 10.

    They’ve already lost their parents due to no fault of their own. To be then let down by the system is a kick in the teeth. No wonder so many are angry. Whichever way you look at it, their prospects are nearly always grim. Do you know that many schools are unwilling to accept children-in-care, partly I suppose because of the presumed acceptance that they will fail which will hurt their planned targets. So these kids are often placed in poorer schools. The cards are already stacked against them. To treat them this way is compounding the problem…and keeping the cycle of lost chances turning.

    It’s my belief that the welfare of children in care is the responsibility of all of us. It’s also my belief that we are largely failing them.

    Reply

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