Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Stalemate: Dilemmas When Working Out-of-hours and the Difficulty with Teenage Girls

Helen Flanagan in Coronation Street
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, as well as doing my day job, I also worked one or two shifts a week on the out-of-hours standby duty team. This team, consisting mainly of fulltime social workers, dealt exclusively with emergencies and crises that arose outside normal working hours. We covered nights, weekends, and Bank Holidays.
Out of hours, two social workers covered the entire county. It was a large geographical area, and although I lived fairly centrally within the county, it could still entail a journey of 40 or 50 miles to reach the far ends.
We dealt with all the service user groups: children and families, young offenders, older people and people with physical disabilities, as well as people with mental health problems. We dealt with any sort of crisis, including child protection investigations and emergency protection orders, assessments under the Mental Health Act, and obtaining night sitters or emergency residential care for elderly people.
Here then, are two true tales from The Masked AMHP’s archives.
For some reason, teenage girls often seemed to present the most intractable problems...
One evening I received a call from a woman, reporting that her daughter had brought Angela, a 14 year old friend, home with her. Angela was saying that she hated living at home, and that she would not go home tonight. The friend’s mother seemed a reasonable person. After a discussion, it was agreed that Angela would stay the night with them and I would then report the matter to the local social services department in the morning. This seemed to me to be a good temporary solution to the problem.
I rang Angela’s parents and told them what had happened, and what was planned. They did not like this.
“She’s our daughter, and she belongs with us. We’re not giving permission for her to stay with her friend,” the father insisted.
I suggested that if he felt that way, he could go to the friend’s house, which was several miles away, and collect her. However, he had no transport.
I talked to the friend’s mother, who did not think she should go home, was not prepared to take Angela home herself.
I had a dilemma. Her parents were insisting she went home. There was no legal authority for Angela to stay with her friend overnight. Angela was unable to give me any evidence that she had been abused in any way by her parents, so I could not apply for an emergency protection order. A teenage girl not wanting to go home was not exactly a matter for the police.
I reached the conclusion that the only thing I could do was for me to collect her and take her home, despite the fact that I would have a drive of over 40 miles to get to the friend’s house.
When I got there, Angela was understandably not happy about this arrangement.
“I’m not going home. I hate them. They hate me. I’m not going home.”
It took me some time to persuade her that, much as I might sympathise with her situation, I had no powers to endorse her staying with her friend. I told her that she would have to go home tonight, and discuss her feelings with a social worker in her locality the next day if she was that unhappy about being at home.
We drove back to the estate in the town where she lived. The estate was a warren. It was not easy to find her address. I asked her to give me directions, but she refused to cooperate.
Without her help, and in spite of Angela huffing and tossing her hair back in the passenger seat, I eventually found her road. Her house was the last in a line of terrace houses overlooking a grassed area. It was not therefore possible to park directly outside the house.
I got out of the car and opened the passenger door.
“Here we are Angela,” I said to her.
She did not move.
“I’ve got to take you home,” I said, my heart already sinking.
“I’ve already told you. I’m not going home.”
“You have to, I’m afraid.”
“No I don’t. What are you going to do about it?” she asked defiantly.
What was I going to do about it? I couldn’t physically manhandle her out of the car, and certainly couldn’t restrain her and drag her, kicking and screaming, past the other houses until I got to hers.
This was in the days before mobile phones, so it was not an option to ring her parents to say I was nearby and get them to help.
It was clear I could not persuade her to get out of the car voluntarily. I also knew that if I left the car to go to her house, she would take the opportunity to run away.
In the end, knowing what would happen, but being powerless to prevent it, I went to her parents’ house. As I left the car, I heard the passenger door open and close. When I turned round, Angela had already disappeared into the night.
I informed her parents, and notified the police. I found a phone box and let Angela’s friend’s mother know what had happened. I suggested that if Angela happened to turn up at her house that night, that she leave it till the morning before letting anyone know.
Fairly late one evening, I received a call from a rural police station many miles from where I lived. Anthea, who was also aged 14, had voluntarily come into the police station. She was in the care of the local authority, and had recently been placed with foster carers. She was refusing to go back to them.
It seemed to me that the most straightforward solution, taking into account the late hour, would be for her to be placed overnight in one of our children’s homes. The police could transport her there. I would not have to go out.
In order to facilitate this, I had to ring the local children and families team manager.
“Anthea’s trying it on,” he said. “There’s no good reason why she should not go back to the foster carers. I’m not agreeing to a placement in a children’s home.”
I let the police know this. They were not happy.
“She says she hates the foster carers. She won’t go back there,” the sergeant said.
“But she’s got to. There’s no reason for her not to go to the foster carers. We’re playing into her hands if we give in to her demands.”
“Well, I’m not deploying any of my officers to take her there,” the sergeant told me.
So I would have to go to this police station, pick her up and take her to the foster carers myself.
When I arrived, Anthea was not at all pleased to see me.
“I’m not going back to those bastards,” she said.
“There’s no other option,” I said.
“I’m telling you, there’s no way I’m going back there.”
Had it been my decision, I would have concurred, and placed her in a children’s home overnight, at least until her social worker could sort out a longer term solution. But my hands were tied, and I was having to execute an action that was ordained by others.
She refused point blank to get in my car, so the police reluctantly agreed to transport her in police transport as long as I accompanied them.
I followed the police car to the foster carers’ home, which was on the edge of a remote village. By now it was after midnight.
Anthea refused to get out of the police car. I asked the police to help me get her back to the foster home, but they saw me as the wrongdoer in all this, and refused to cooperate.
As I was discussing this with the officers,  Anthea did get out of the police car, but instead to going into the house, she instead headed off in the opposite direction, down the pitch black lane.
“Can you stop her?” I asked the police again.
“It’s your problem,” I was told.
She was the responsibility of the local authority. I couldn’t allow her go wandering off into the night, miles away from anywhere. And even if I could physically drag her into the foster home, I could not ensure, in the mood she was in, that she would not go AWOL as soon as I had left.
“Wait,” I called to Anthea. “Let me try and sort something out.”
She reluctantly returned and sat in the police car, while I phoned the team manager again and explained what was going on. I really didn’t think there was an alternative. We would have to use a children’s home.
He reluctantly agreed, and I arranged a placement.
She was quite happy with this arrangement. She was prepared to go to this home. But only if the police took her.
They were equally happy to do this.
“You’d have saved a lot of time and aggro if you’d done that in the first place,” one of the officers said as they drove off.
I could only agree.


  1. Stroppy teenagers in Police stations. Glad I don't that any more. I remember one regular. I suggested all the out of hours staff sign a card for her 18th birthday.

  2. Oh! those Seebohm integrated social services days before EDTs!!