Casey and Mike have only just said goodbye to little Annie and Oscar, four year old twins who have been staying with them on respite for a month, after a house fire in which their parents have been badly burned. They both sustained their injuries while rescuing the children, and, with no family to take care of them, the little ones have had to be taken into care till their mum and dad are discharged from hospital and the family is re-housed.
It’s been bittersweet to see them go. The twins have been adorable and everyone’s fallen in love with them, but as it was always going to be short term, Casey and Mike feel light of heart to see them reunited with their parents.
But, as is so often the way, it’s to be short lived: it’s on the drive home from delivering the twins to their parents, in their new home, that Casey takes the call from her link worker, Christine Bolton.
‘I know this gives you no chance of a break,’ she starts off, ‘but we are desperate, Casey. Is there any chance you could agree to another short term placement?’
Casey knows Christine wouldn’t have called unless she was all out of options. She’d at least want them to have a couple of days to re-group, if possible. But it seems it isn’t. Christine needs a place today.
Harley is 13 and has been sectioned under the mental health act. She’s currently in a hospital some 30 miles away. She’s been in there for six weeks now, after a suicide attempt - she was spotted on a footbridge that crossed a busy motorway, having apparently climbed over the railings. Police were alerted, and a member of the public had immediately intervened, grabbing her arms so that she couldn’t let go, and the section of motorway was closed in both directions until Harley could be pulled to safety.
And, according to Harley, this was apparently no ‘cry for help’, either. She was adamant that she wanted to die and that the minute she had the opportunity, she would try to end her life again.
Harley apparently has a family, Christine tells Casey – a mother (widowed young) and an older sister, Milly, who is nineteen. Though Milly moved out just under a year ago, to relocate to another part of the country with her long-term boyfriend, at which point, it seems, Harley began to lose her way.
There is no immediate prospect of Harley going home though, as her mum, who has learning difficulties and addiction issues, just doesn’t feel she can cope with her - much less keep her safe in her present suicidal state.
‘So the plan,’ Christine says, ‘is to use a twenty eight day care order, so she can be kept safe while some family therapy takes place and she can hopefully be returned home.’
Casey is increasingly familiar with such 28 day placements, which are being used more and more, it seems, where a full care order isn’t sought – i.e. for situations where parents are intent on putting their children into care, but social services aren’t yet convinced it’s warranted. It’s increasingly used as a means of ‘holding’ children newly in the system while decisions are made about what to do with them; either to go for a full care order, or get them back to their families, putting home-based support in place instead.
As Christine talks, Casey makes some quick calculations. Her daughter-in-law, Lauren, is heavily pregnant with her and Kieron’s second child; he’s due to be born by caesarian section in six weeks. And as her and Mike’s plan had been to hold off on another long-term placement till the baby is safely delivered and settled in, she’s a little wary of taking on a complicated placement like this.
‘Oh, I’m sure everything will be fine with this one,’ Christine assures her when she points this out. ‘According to the psychologist, Harley has made great progress while in hospital – hence the discharge - and we will, of course, be very clear with the LAC team in any case, that this is only to be 28 days, and definitely not extended.’
‘Absolutely sure?’ Casey presses. She’s heard this before.
‘Absolutely,’ Christine says. But should she believe her?
She can’t stop thinking about the girl, though, and what might become of her. Just thirteen and suicidal - how can she say no? But even as she and Mike agree, and they turn the car around to drive to the hospital, they both know they are running the risk of further trouble down the line, however much Christine reassures them otherwise.
It’s only a matter of minutes – not hours or days, but minutes – before it turns out Casey’s instinct is right…
Casey Watson has been a specialist foster carer for six years. During this time she has welcomed 14 difficult to place children into her home. Casey has spent the majority of her adult life working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. This includes two years running behavioural units in schools.Casey combines fostering with writing, usually late at night when the rest of the household are sleeping. Casey’s own son has Asperger’s Syndrome but is high functioning.
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