For the past 8 months, I’ve had the neighbours from hell. From the person that would come onto my driveway several times a day, looking through my bay windows or staring through the letterbox, and on one occasion mid what was probably a psychotic episode physically assault me, through the smart-arsed teenager who just liked to throw inappropriate comments over the fence, to my current neighbour, who goes on a vandalising rampage every evening, smashing cars and windows, threatening passers-by, and whose throwing skills find me clearing up my garden countless times a week, removing anything from saucepans to kitchen utensils, or this morning’s offering, what can only be described as the contents of a very large fruit bowl. My car is currently off the road sitting in a local garage awaiting the arrival of some new brake lights – after our “angry neighbour” smashed the old ones.

To say that I’m livid is an understatement, you see I live next door to a children’s home, and I’m livid because 12 years of successive Tory governments and our care system is not fit for purpose. As the adoptive parent of two small children I have some superficial understanding of the care system so can speak with a tiny bit of authority as to what’s going so wrong here.

When adopting our 2nd child nearly 9 years ago, the social workers that we were dealing with were expressing great concern over a new ruling or policy, or something that the government had brought in, which said that children that needed to enter the care system for whatever reason should be placed with extended family members wherever possible. You see placing them with a family member was a lot cheaper than putting vulnerable children into the care system, setting them up with a foster family etc.

The change of policy was hugely problematic because of course there was no understanding that familial issues are likely to be cyclical. There is every chance that the struggling parent today was the struggling child of yesteryear, the “doting granny” offering to take in the children might not be the best role-model, or even worse, the stories of large extended family members taking in the children when up until then they’d had nothing to do with them. It was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

Now I don’t know if that’s contributed to our current situation, but it’s a huge coincidence don’t you think? Then throw in a pandemic and a cost of living crisis for good measure, and suddenly the care system is over-run with damaged, angry teens.

This is when it gets worse though – because very few people seem to grasp how poorly we look after our teens in the care system. For some unexplainable reason foster carers and care homes have very little agency in how they attempt to parent these troubled teens.

Good parenting guides will extol the virtues of strong boundaries, tough love and good communication. However the care system does not subscribe to that thinking. . . at all. So the carers have no authority to stop the teens going out. Our current angry neighbour is just 13 years old. He is forever roaming the streets on his bike, cigarette in mouth, asking people for money. The lovely street that I live on is also home to a brothel, and is forever being reported to the council for the amount of drug dealing going on. At the top of my street are a few “half-way houses”, full of adults living in the community with their own issues. The very same adults who are happy to take a vulnerable teen and help them out with drink and drugs. I mean more than most I guess they know the benefit of numbing the pain.

So to recap, a 13 year old child, who for whatever reason has lost his family, is under the care of the local authority, who have elected to pop him in a children’s home in an area with known social difficulties. The people looking after the child are not permitted to stop him going out, and instead have to manage him when he returns “home” inebriated (or whatever). The child comes “home” around midnight (once more for those in the back he’s just 13 years old), completely off his head, filled with rage, a rage that’s exacerbated when he can’t gain access to the “home” (even though the temperature is below freezing). His anger overspills and he proceeds to smash everything in sight – and even though my car is one of those things, I really can’t blame him.

Every night as a neighbourhood we end up calling the police – the situation is escalating, the carers have been assaulted and can’t contain the situation, the lad runs off, the police go to find him. Somehow he ends up back in the home and his nightmare continues.

Over 20 cars have been damaged, neighbours have been threatened, yet nobody wants to press charges as remarkably for quite a large street, we can all see that the boy is a victim of the system, and nobody wants to make it worse. Eventually (because we’ve seen it before), the local authority will move him to a different home. Better to move the problem on then sit down and think about how to fix the system.

These are not “bad” children. In fact the three that I’ve mentioned were all really funny and cute in their own ways. The current one will always stop and have a chat with me when I bump into him in the street. He’s just a child that has been let down by the grown-ups. What’s terrifying is that he’s not an exception – he’s quickly becoming the norm.

I fail to see how this lad gets to turn the current situation around. The more he gets embroiled in the thought that “numbing the pain” is the solution the more you can predict the future ahead of him.

Why haven’t the government worked out that to look after these children foster carers and carers need full parenting agency? If the care home could stop the lad from going out he wouldn’t be making the same mistake night after night. He could be being hugged as opposed to restrained.

I understand that these things are complex, but why the hell haven’t the powers that be sat down and looked at the issue from a systemic viewpoint? Stats on the outcomes for looked-after children are a depressing read. Nobody deserves to be written off at 13 years old?

If the council have a responsibility of care, give them full parental responsibility, and give these kids a chance at least.