The Long Journey Home

A journey of one thousand steps starts with just one – an Appletree Success Story

The First Step

Wayne was referred to Appletree when his specialist foster placement broke down. He was seven years old and court proceedings were in process for him to become Looked After. His parents were being investigated for sexual, emotional and physical abuse of him and his sister, who was six years old. They had initially been placed in foster care together but Wayne was moved following sexualised behaviour between the siblings. His specialist foster placement broke down as his wish to be around his foster mother and exclude his foster father was jeopardising their relationship. At the same time he was excluded from his Pupil Referral Unit for violent behaviour. He was described as severely under-achieving in school with possible moderate learning difficulties.

The Second Step

Wayne was referred to us as we had already made significant progress with another child from his Authority. They particularly like the fact that we do not have children older than 12 years, so our children are free to enjoy the play they have missed out on without the influence of much older young people. Wayne was considered by our admissions panel which includes the Principal, Head Teacher, Senior Care Manager, Registered Manager and Clinical Psychologist.

As we do not exclude children and aim to work with them over the years to return to families and day school, it was vital that we make the right decision for Wayne and for the other children we currently had placed with us. It was a unanimous decision. Wayne was coming to stay.

The Third Step

We invited Wayne and his Social Worker to visit. We had decided that he would best be placed in our Fell House Children’s Home and School as this specialises in vulnerable children in need of an extremely nurturing environment. We already knew which bedroom he would have, which classroom he would be in and who would act as his key worker. We wanted to ask him how he would like his bedroom decorated and what he would like for his first tea. He wanted trains in his room and spaghetti bolognaise.

The Fourth Step

Wayne joined us at Fell House and initially it was as if we were dealing with a “model” of a child. He showed no spontaneous emotion of any kind. He was entirely guarded, polite and “masked” from our view. He refused to do any school work but was not disruptive. We commenced our assessment and our clinical psychologist offered consultation to the care and teaching teams for Wayne. This consultation continued throughout his stay and is now offered for all children.

We drew up an Individual Programme for Wayne with targets in Health, Social Skills, Home and Family, Anti-social Behaviour, Education and Psychological Growth. The assessment and targets were discussed and agreed with Wayne, his parents (who had supervised contact) and his Social Worker.

The Fifth Step

Wayne and his sister were awarded full Care Orders. Her plan was to be adopted by her foster carers, his to remain with us. There was to be direct contact twice a year. Wayne’s parents were not to have direct contact with his sister but could have supervised contact with him. They decided they would not have contact with Wayne as it would be “too hard”. Wayne could have monthly supervised contact with his maternal grandmother and this continued throughout his time with us.

The Sixth to Nine Hundred and Ninety Ninth Step

Over the next three years Wayne continued his journey. There were times when for months he would have rage-filled outbursts which he could not control. He hurt team members and other children. It was a memorable moment when one of these rages ended in tears and Wayne allowed himself to be comforted.

Later in his journey he wanted to sexually touch female team members, particularly one whom he cared about. Love for Wayne was associated with hurt and sex. Our Clinical Psychologist helped our teams to respond therapeutically to Wayne and to process their own feelings when he touched or hurt them.

Wayne engaged in play therapy which we contract from the NSPCC. His therapist held regular meetings with the Fell House team to feed back themes. Gradually Wayne allowed us to parent him. Appletree has been described as giving the best possible parenting until a child is ready for the best possible parents.

Wayne made friends with the other children and then with other children in the area. He loved cadets and looked so smart in his uniform. He enjoyed the challenge of rock-climbing. He began to risk doing some schoolwork, although initially much was quickly destroyed once done. Slowly he started to learn, then learn quickly and finally enjoy himself. His crowning moment came when he starred in a Christmas production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which he had written.

The Hardest Step

Wayne was now ready to leave us and live with forever foster carers. He was excited but scared. Predictably his anxiety resulted in a regression. How could we love him and still let him go? He waited at the window to meet his foster carers for the first time. He ran up the drive to meet them. “Can I call you Mum and Dad?” were his first words to them.

Wayne left us in the Summer of 2005. He is still with his foster carers and attending a day school. His journey is typical of the children we help. Over the last four years 75% of our leavers have joined families and day schools. Four years later 75% of these are still with the same families. The cost of all of Appletree’s services is little more than the average cost of a local authority children’s home. The cost if Wayne had not been helped back onto normal paths is incalculable.

Clair Davies is Principal of Appletree Treatment Centre in Cumbria.

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