Jack's story

Earlier this week, the Commission on Young Lives published its second thematic report, looking at how we can best support families whose children are at risk of exploitation. 

We are very grateful to those families and young people who spoke to us about their experiences. These conversations are crucial to our evidence-gathering and to the recommendations we make. 

Today we are publishing Jack's story.

Jack finds it easy to talk to people, has a great smile and can be charming and lovely. But he can also be destructive and is abusive towards his mother, Sian, and often puts himself at risk. Now 17 and living in residential care, Jack's additional needs were identified when he was at primary school. His parents sought out a parenting class hoping this would help them meet his needs. Although the school supported him and his family, Jack - one of the youngest in his year - suffered early on from low self-esteem. Despite this and being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), Jack's parents battled for two years before they managed to secure an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).

By this time Jack was in Year 6 and was coming home from school saying that he was stupid and was being rejected by his peers.

When Jack moved to secondary school, he became more difficult and refused to engage with help offered by his parents and the school. Jack was assigned a social worker, but Sian says the assumption was that her and Jack's father and her were "bad parents" and that the social worker said as much in front of Jack.

She feels this empowered Jack without providing the support they needed to deal with his behaviour, which was escalating and impacting on the whole family. They pleaded with social workers - Jack has had five - to provide the family with a break but, despite offering respite foster care, this never happened. Jack was referred to CAMHS who promised visits but again this did not happen. Nor did the promise of "daily interventions" or transport to school (to try and improve Jack's attendance).

Jack started smoking cannabis at about 13 and Sian believes that this has made things much worse for him. By this time, his parents had split up and Jack had become increasingly abusive towards his mother. He continued to live with Sian until he was 14. "I found a large stash of weed in his room and when I challenged him, he was very distressed and said he would be 'hurt'. I disposed of it and tried to educate Jack on the whole drug thing."

Jack went to live with his dad. But things went from bad to worse and he returned to Sian aged 15. For a few months things went OK.  Jack was referred to a drugs intervention programme but his behaviour deteriorated and he became destructive. While he could be violent, mostly he was verbally abusive, would kick in doors and punch walls and would not engage in support. The social worker just seemed to pacify him and was desperate to try and keep the status quo. Meanwhile CAMHS said they could not support Jack as he was using cannabis.

Unable to get the support needed, Sian had to make the hugely difficult decision to make Jack homeless as this was the only way she felt he would get help. He was placed in a hostel for 16 to 30-year-olds that Sian says was totally inappropriate. He was evicted after an altercation with an older resident and was then moved a few times, including to one private care home that went into liquidation and another which was miles away from Jack's friendship group. He would go missing most nights. Sian does not know whether the different homes were regulated or not.

In one placement, Sian discovered that Jack's allowance would be paid in arrears, so he was suddenly being handed £200/£300 in one go, a disaster given his drug habit which had escalated.

By now Jack was 16 and had not attended school for a year. Sian became increasingly concerned that he was involved in dealing, confirmed when she found a burner phone in his room at the home. The support staff said that social services knew Jack was involved in selling drugs for a young girl and this has been reported to the police but there was no follow up. "He was also turning up with new things such as jewellery and clothing which I knew he didn't have money for and which he could not really explain. He was also pressurising us for a moped at this time but obviously we would not support that."

Jack is now in another children's home and has a key worker who Sian feels is really helping. She helps him to manage his budget, staggering payments and is able to get support from the police when Jack disappears. Sian keeps in touch with Jack but he continues to reject her and be "incredibly abusive". She hopes that he will settle and change his behaviour.

Sian feels guilty about "giving up too soon" but also believes that things could have been different if the family had been able to get the support they needed earlier. "We are supportive parents and our other children have done well. The interventions we were promised just did not materialise. We have had a very poor relationship with social services and the social workers did not seem particularly capable and are extremely judgemental and prejudiced. All apart from one used their own parenting experiences to tell us how we should manage Jack, including one who told me as I had breast fed him, I should hold him to my breast and to allow him to smoke weed outside. It has been hell and so incredibly damaging to our family."

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