“ I’m off to the pictures, Miss. Put the rest of my wages away until tomorrow. We’re going on the outing you know. So I don’t want to spend too much tonight.”
She turned from the senior on duty to speak to me. “See you next week, Miss. Have a nice weekend.” I murmured stuff about having a good time and looked with some pride at this fresh, healthy looking sixteen year old. Her hair, pulled back in a pony tail, gleamed. Her face was now spot free, the skin glowing and just about free from any make-up. Her eyes sparkled with anticipation. Her clothes were modern, but not outrageous. She exuded confidence and an air of well-being.
What a difference from the pale, rumpled, ill-looking, rather smelly, frightened, dull-eyed creature who had been brought in to The Willows by the Police about a year ago. This was the kind of thing that made my job worthwhile.
She hugged both of us and walked out, calling over her shoulder, “Won’t be late, Miss. Will you ask the night staff to call me in the morning? Don’t want to miss the trip, do I?”
We watched her go. Like a pair of mother hens we talked a bit about the changes in Dawn and no doubt felt self satisfied that she had changed so much and now was a lovely girl we could both feel proud of. Unusual at The Willows, where most of the girls were un-loved and un-lovely and tended to remain that way, no matter how hard we tried.
I finished the administrative tasks I had to do with the senior and drove home.
On Sunday evening I got a phone call from her. “Sorry to break into your weekend, Boss, but I thought you would want to know. Our Dawn did not come back on Friday evening. The staff thought she might have stayed with a friend from work because of the early start for the trip, but all her clothes and money are here. You know how she said she didn’t want to take much money out with her on Friday night. Then, when she didn’t come back on Saturday night either, they called me and we have started the Missing Person process with the Police. Of course they aren’t too bothered at this stage about a sixteen-year-old girl who stays out a couple of nights even from here, but I told them I thought you would want it treated as serious.”
The staff at The Willows had let her mother and social worker know. “ How did mother take it?” I asked.
“The usual tears, profuse thanks to the lovely staff and hard words for Dawn, for messing us about again”, came the predictable reply.
Poor woman I thought. Every time it looks as if we are about to get Dawn back home with her something happens.
We agreed that I would call on my way to the Office on Monday morning.
We all gathered early. Mrs Jones was still managing to squeeze out the odd tear and sniffed and snuffled a lot behind her snow white, cotton handkerchief. As usual I gazed at her and wondered how many people these days still had cotton hankies. In every other way she was a typical woman of this area. Plain face devoid of make-up, shapeless over-sized body, drab clothes, puffy ankles and flat shoes.
She was always pathetically grateful for what we were trying to do for ‘her Dawnie.’ She was eager to please us and readily agreed to all we proposed. I sometimes wondered how she would respond if we had proposed sending Dawn to the moon. She went along with every other suggestion we made without hesitation. She kept telling us all she wanted was ‘Dawnie’ back home with her. So we had had supervised contact, leading to unsupervised contact, escorted visits home, leading to unescorted visits home, to overnight stays and so on.
But every time we got close to Dawn going home for more than an overnight, she disappeared and the planning and building up started all over again. Like now. She was due to be discharged at the end of the month. Instead she had gone to the cinema and two days later we had no idea where she was.
The social worker and her senior had been to the family home frequently and spent hours with Mrs Jones. Their reports about the physical conditions were almost ecstatic. They positively glowed about Mrs Jones, Super Mum and Housekeeper Extraordinaire.
Dawn’s school had given her excellent reports for the time she spent with them, although her many absences affected her attainments and resulted in a job in the local supermarket, rather than something she should have been capable of. The supermarket manager spoke highly of her. Apparently she was willing and reliable and popular with the other staff.
Dawn herself was polite and co-operative at The Willows and did all that was asked of her. All but see through to the end any programme that resulted in her going home for good. Although she attended all the meetings, was asked for her opinion and agreed to all we proposed.
When she came back she was usually quiet and withdrawn. She would soon ask what would happen next and as usual agreed to a plan that was designed to end in return home to live with her mother.
Needless to say we spent a lot of time discussing the case. But Mrs Jones seemed flawless and Dawn seemed to have an ideal mother-daughter relationship with her. Dawn was also offered plenty of opportunities to talk to her social worker, her key worker, other staff and me. The mask never slipped.
She had come to us the first time after being picked up for soliciting with a bunch of other under-age girls. Unfortunately Mr Big had slipped through the net and none of the girls either could, or would, tell us anything to be helpful. They had been bullied, intimidated and raped and put out on the streets or kept in seedy houses, always under strict watch. They had been fed various cocktails of drink and drugs and when Dawn first came to The Willows she had no idea of the day, date or even what time of day it was.
It had taken a long time to get from that to the lovely young girl who had gone missing on that Friday evening. Now all we could do was wait and every now and then try to persuade the Police that this was not just some typical teenage tearaway who had run off for fun.
To be continued next month.