That Time a Kid Tried to Strangle Themselves
Residential care is a tough gig…
Working with broken children and inconsistent staff, it’s a lot of broken.
When I was in the high school there were a lot of horror stories.
Children scared to call home when they were sick,
Houses that had no staff during the day,
No one to respond to emergencies,
Children scared of the managers,
It was frustrating to say the least!
When I transitioned to residential care there wasn’t much training, and most of the other people were new to youth work. There was a 2 week orientation, and then we were on the floor working alone. Armed with some deescalation theory and a few bad hold escapes for if things got hectic.
For most of us this was fine, but I made the mistake of volunteering for a tough case…
In the house there was a brief induction and a double up shift. During the induction another staff member lied to the child. I forget the lie, but remember the smirk. This girl was proud as punch for lying to this child’s face! I assume it was because it avoided the follow up questions, and possible behaviour escalation. To me this was disgusting, what a terrible way to raise a person!
During the double up we had great chats about life, investing, finance, music, drums, fitness… all sorts. Problem was, the child was asleep all day. I was only talking with the other staff member, the last couple of hours were all of the interaction I had with the client. Following this I was given night shifts. Starting at 10pm the child was asleep or about to sleep, in the morning I would leave at 8am. This meant I didn’t speak with the child on these shifts, as they would get moving around 1pm most days.
Now, some quick back story. This client was a handful. They would verbally abuse staff, fairly extreme self harm, attempts on their own life, absconding. Their trigger word was “no”, so staff avoiding giving the child boundaries. The client had recently tried jumping from a car on the highway. Opening the door when the worker wouldn’t stop as requested. When the worker pulled to the road side the client jumped out and started walking… straight to another care house. The door, walls, windows, EVERYTHING was bashed on. The client inside was younger, and huddled up crying during the entire ordeal. Our client eventually gave up and sat on the ground defiantly after dishing some threats and abuse to the staff. Because of this incident, there was a car restriction that was lifting at 3pm on my shift.
On this shift everything was going fine, we were talking about all types of things. I even got invited to watch some tv. While eating lunch the child asked if we could go for a drive. Knowing of the car restrictions I asked where they wanted to drive, “I don’t know…hmm.. I like country drives, I like to see trees and grass.” … ‘and I know that you think I will drive down the highway past that house again…’ I said we could do that, the client was surprised. I said we would need to have water, be back by 5 (so it was light even if we got stuck) and that they would need to have a quick shower (which gave me time to check the child locks, make sure the back seat was cleaned and call on-call). There was one big gap in my plan, I hadn’t made SURE that the child knew all of the new car rules…
Fresh from the shower, excited and ready to go I stopped them for a second and asked about the new restrictions. The child looked confused, and asked what I was going on about. Looking dead in their eyes I asked about the previous workers explaining this, and they swore no-one had spoken to about this. Understanding that children lie, I still tend to believe it. Earlier I mentioned my induction, and watching staff lie proudly to the client. This told me all I needed to know about the staff, they will bend whatever it takes to make their lives easier. Again, I fully believe that this child wasn’t informed… setting us both up!
The child flew off the handle.
All I was saying was that they would need to sit in the back, and that we were to be back before dark.
Pacing and pulling at hairs, almost plucking them all the way out
SCREAMING “GET THE FUCK OUT, LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! WHY DO YOU ALWAYS DO THIS TO ME?!!!” while walking up to walls to headbutt and kick.
A little confronting! 😐
I decided that the best tactic was to hang back and just observe.
Making sure the child is safe, but keep them emotionally safe by leaving good distance.
I had swept the house earlier after finding broken glass, so I knew it would be safe.
At times I was in the front yard, watching the client move from room to room through the windows like a creeper. Other times I would strategically walk in to get something or go to the bathroom.
An hour or two later, when I thought everything had calmed down a bit I went into the staff room (with all of the doors open to hear what was happening and) to do paperwork. After a few minutes the front door swung open and the child walked out.
I crept up to the door, barely peered around the side and was SCREAMED AT AGAAAAAIIIIN “FUCK OFF, LEAVE ME ALONE, I FUCKIN HATE YOU!!! BLEEEEH!!!!” (maybe some children are baby goats, or kids)
This continued until it started to get dark, around 530pm. At this point I received a text message from a relative of the client, they were worried because of text messages they were receiving. Unfortunately, this family member was known to staff. During the induction we were informed that this family member tries to cause problems between staff and the child. Looking back I fully believe this person cares, and that the staff were annoyed because it would create ‘more work’ (as they weren’t doing their jobs)! Problem was, this person told me that my client was actively trying to strangle themselves. I hadn’t seen this at all, and had been watching closely all afternoon.
To check on the client I walked outside, and carefully peered around the corner of the garage to see them sitting on the driveway. There was nothing visible around their neck, so I didn’t believe the family member. Staff had said that they would cause drama, so I assumed that was the deal again. Fairly promptly I was sent a picture of a cord around the client’s neck. How on earth was I getting out of this?
Walking up to the client and ignoring the abuse I spotted the cord, now what?
I asked if the child was alright and offered to help, as it didn’t seem too tight I left the option open.
As I was abused again I went to the staff room and got the scissors out of the safe, ready to help.
The client swung the front door open and screamed at me for scissors.
“You know I can’t give you scissors, but that I am happy to help if you’ll let me”
At this point I realised there was nothing I could do, speaking with on call was making the situation worse and it wasn’t any support, so I call the police and an ambulance.
The first time they arrived they restrained the client and asked for scissors to remove the cord. Going through the room they noticed some shorts with cords still in them, which the staff were supposed to have removed for these exact scenarios. When came the ambulance arrived they explained that the mental health assessor wasn’t with them, so they could either take the client or do nothing. I called on call to ensure I was making the correct move, then asked the ambulance to take the client. Well, apparently now they would not take the client. The police even mentioned how unfair this is on the workers, and that this was a fairly common issue.
Everyone left, and I went inside to do some paperwork.
The client FLEW inside, slapping ALL of the light switches off and SCREAMING at full volume! As I was already on the phone to on-call I just gave a play by play, and was told to turn all of the lights on.
Their logic was that we need to be able to see the client to watch them.
My logic was this one little win will avoid a huge escalation when I have 2 hours left of my shift.
On-call insisted, so I figured I was in more trouble if I didn’t comply than if I had more escalations.
The second I turned the light on the client flew out, turned it back off and then tried to intimidate me. Repeating what on-call said I turned the light on again, suddenly we are in a power struggle. This struggle lead to… yup, another cord!
This time the client tied it around her throat and marched out the front door.
I followed around the streets, calling the police again and reminding the client that I couldn’t just leave them alone.
When the police arrived they were furious, this was a waste of their time.
Explaining the situation to the officers again I finally had one tell me to just leave the lights off and stay away as much as possible. After what on-call had said this was all I needed.
The rest of the shift I sat in the office, doing paperwork or observing.
Enough light was entering the house, and the client was wearing a white hoodie so I could see exactly what they were doing.
This is just my take on (some) of the interaction with the client…The way the staff operated, and their lack of strategies, I will cover in another post in the coming weeks.