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Anonymous accounts of two children who spent
three years at the Mulberry Bush School…
1. BILL’S STORY
Bill did not have a happy early childhood. Because of his mother’s mental health issues and alcohol dependency, she found it very difficult to be preoccupied with him. Although desperately immature, Bill took on a caretaking role to look after himself and to attempt to help his own mother manage her chaotic lifestyle. His case came to the attention of social services, and he spent some time in a local children’s home while his Mum was offered support. Mum regularly rejected this, and Bill often responded by absconding from the children’s home to return home.
As a result of the accumulation of these experiences Bill felt increasingly neglected, and developed an image of being self reliant and ‘streetwise’ to protect himself from his real feelings of abandonment and hurt. By the age of seven he was avoiding his local school and spent much of his time wandering around his town, in and out of trouble for petty theft and vandalism.
This lifestyle at home, and on the streets, eventually led to Bill being physically and sexually abused by adults who had no qualms about exploiting his confusion and vulnerability. By now he had very little experience of family life as a good experience, found it difficult to make sense of relationships, and had no trust in adults whom he saw as either uncaring or totally exploitative.
Bill was eventually taken into care and placed with a foster family but by now he was too mistrustful. He would fly into violent rages hitting out at his carers, damaging furniture, and refusing to eat and to go to bed. After six months the foster family needed respite from these unrelenting behaviours, and Bill was eventually referred to the Mulberry Bush School.
After an initial 12 week assessment Bill joined one of the ‘group living’ households alongside other primary aged children and a dedicated team of adults. Bill’s behaviour proved challenging from day one. He could only see the attempts of adults to meet his needs and provide him with a caring and nurturing routine, as attempts at controlling him. At first, as with the foster placement, he tried everything to disrupt the household routines by aggressive and controlling behaviours, enacting his belief in his own ‘toxicity’ and feelings of being unloveable and unmanageable.
A multi-disciplinary team worked together to create an individual treatment plan, which involved him having his primary needs met through activities such as escorting him to and from the school, providing individual support in the classroom, managing his chaotic and anti- social behaviour, and providing regular psychotherapy sessions. After six months he seemed to be forming an attachment to Jane his key-worker. Although he continued to ‘test out’ her feelings for him through abusive behaviours, these incidents started to reduce, and staff observed how dependent he had become on Jane. He would sometimes find her absence intolerable.
By the end of the year he was also starting to be able to stay in his classroom for a whole morning, and his self esteem grew when he started to read and write independently for the first time.
During his second year he started to play for the school football team, and was eventually allowed to join a local village team, where the coach commented on his increasing ability to manage difficult situations and talk about his feelings. This experience outside of the school was a valuable stepping stone to re-integration back into his foster family and local community. Despite some setbacks during times when his feelings of being unwanted re-surfaced, little by little Bill’ s behaviour became more settled and he appeared more content with himself. During his final year he started to visit a local primary school where he settled in well, and increased weekend visits to his foster family.
Bill left the school a few years ago. He has managed to remain with his foster parents and successfully attend a mainstream school. Bill is still in touch with his mother, but now realises he cannot live with her on a full time basis. He keeps in touch and has visited on our annual open day. He talks warmly about the adults who looked after him and the role the school has played in his life journey so far.
2. LUCY’S STORY
When she was three Lucy was taken into care by social services. She had been discovered living in a house which was being used as a base for trading in drugs and sexual relations. As a result of living in this environment Lucy had experienced severe emotional neglect as well as physical and sexual abuse. Lucy’s behaviour had become so disturbed that she was found to be eating off the floor with several dogs which also inhabited the house.
Prior to admission to the Mulberry Bush School, Lucy was placed with foster parents. During the first week at the foster home her behaviour included wetting, smearing, self-harming, aggression, insomnia, inappropriate affection to strangers, extreme controlling behaviour and cruelty to animals. Her insomnia resulted in one or other of her foster parents having to stay awake all night with her. Attempts at schooling failed as her behaviours were so aggressive and uncontrollable; she was therefore also severely underachieving. As an early intervention to help her make sense of her chaotic life Lucy started play therapy sessions, her therapist described her as being in complete emotional turmoil. During the sessions she was described as being highly aroused, tense and exhibiting signs of physical and sexual abuse she had experienced, she showed no understanding of keeping herself safe. Her therapist commented ‘she brings chaos and destruction into everything she does’.
At the Mulberry Bush School Lucy, now aged seven, was placed in one of the four care and treatment households living in a group with other children of primary age. A dedicated staff team lived alongside the children creating a reliable daily routine. The structure of this routine included close supervision and support through all aspects of the day: mealtimes, playtimes, bedtimes, transitions to school etc. They managed and resolved the frequent behavioural breakdowns, arguments, rivalries and the general anti social behaviour of the group of children. With time Lucy responded to this re-education in relationships and started to understand that she could be helped to engage with normal and respectful social living. Through this daily routine the care staff gave Lucy opportunities to help her think and talk about her confused, betrayed, and angry feelings. She started to find alternative ways of interacting and little by little started to come to terms with the injustices in her life.
In the education area Lucy joined the foundation stage where she was helped to enjoy learning again. Alongside an introduction to the National Curriculum the children are encouraged to play with pre-school equipment, listen to stories, sing, dress up and work co-operatively. After a year Lucy moved to the second tier class where expectations of behaviour, application and learning are higher. She was still a noisy child, readily distracted and easily led into others misbehaviour but she made good progress and was able to move to the top class a year before she left the school. During this last year she successfully participated in a weekly visit to a local mainstream primary school, supported by staff from the Mulberry Bush.
During this treatment process at the school, periods at home with her foster parents were still difficult with Lucy exhibiting her previous testing and challenging behaviours, however the school placement offered some respite for her exhausted foster carers who were able to recharge their batteries during term time. With time the foster carers also noticed an improvement in her behaviour; Lucy was becoming more articulate about her needs and started to display more loving and affectionate feelings. The carers began looking forward to a time when she could come and live with them full time, and attend a local school with teaching assistance. After three years Lucy was able to make this transition and return home to her foster parents. She is currently doing well and the placement remains stable. She is successfully placed at a local school for children with moderate learning difficulties and despite being quite demanding is no longer un-fosterable nor unacceptably disruptive in school or other social situations.
- John Diamond