It’s a chilly day in January when Christine Bolton calls Casey to ask if they’ll consider taking on an 11 year old boy, potentially as a long term fostering placement.
‘Sammy’s been in care since he was 9,’ Christine explains, ‘after the death of his gran, who was his principal carer, as his mum has spent most of his young life in and out of prison, for offences involving drug dealing and prostitution. Sadly, since then, he has been passed around quite a bit.’
According to Sammy’s file, the reasons have been varied, and not due to any longstanding behavioural issues. His first carers were new to the job and, after only six months, decided fostering wasn’t for them, so Sammy got moved on. The second set had a death in the family and needed some time out, so once again, he was moved on. The third was a single female carer and when Sammy started acting out following his move to secondary school, it all got too much for her, and he was moved yet again – to the care of Sally and Eric Hawthorne, where he is now.
Christine goes on to explain how Sammy, after living with the Hawthornes for just six months, was recently in a physical fight with the carers’ 14 year old son. They have tried hard to get to the bottom of things and repair the relationship, Sammy’s made it clear he cannot bear to go on living there, and has already run away from them once.
Christine finishes up by saying they need to place Sammy immediately, as there is a fear of him self-harming if he is told he has to stay, and, given the poor boy’s awful past, Casey and Mike agree to take him on.
A few hours later, Sammy arrives, accompanied by his social worker. He’s young-looking for his age, with wavy shoulder length hair, and is so slight he gives the impression that a stiff breeze could blow him away. He looks cold, too, and no wonder. It’s the middle of January, and freezing outside. Yet the boy is dressed in baggy, ripped jeans, a skinny fit white T-shirt and a bright yellow chiffon scarf, that serves no use other than as a fashion accessory. The jeans are also rolled up at the bottom, so that Casey cannot miss the boy’s skinny (and presumably chilly) ankles, and the extremely expensive-looking trainers on his feet.
Casey’s shocked expression immediately gives her away, because the social worker says, ‘yes, I thought exactly the same as you, but Sammy doesn’t feel the cold, do you, love? Well, at least doesn’t admit to. If it’s a question of being warm versus being fashionable… eh, Sammy?’
‘Fashion!’ Sammy confirms, sashaying over the threshold with a flick of the scarf around his neck.
They both laugh and Casey’s pleased to note the rapport that exists between them. But though Sammy is unfailingly polite and well-behaved over the first few days with the Watsons, everything else about him seems shrouded in secrecy. Casey doesn’t want to interrogate him but even the most innocuous questions are met with a brick wall, in the form of a mantra he always trots out when she probes, which is ‘I’m sorry – but I never ever go there.’
The other oddity, which was first flagged by those extremely high-end trainers, is the amount of money Sammy seems to have. And when Casey queries this with Sammy’s social worker, she tells her he has quite a lot of money and his own online banking app and to ‘keep an eye so he doesn’t go mad with it.’
How can an eleven year old have a banking app? Casey wonders. But apparently, as long as signed off by a parent or guardian, they can. And Sammy is open about the source of all these riches; a wealthy uncle who apparently has no kids of his own, so he likes to help him out…
Casey knows that last thing she should do is jump to conclusions; this family member is clearly known to social services so she must assume that checks out. But it seems the flight from his previous carers has led to development; a police check which confirms something of no surprise to Casey – that the ‘uncle’ has a record for sharing indecent images, and the answer to how Sammy earns all that money. Good news; the boy can now be protected from his malign influence.
But that’s just in theory. In practice, the deeply psychologically disturbed Sammy genuinely loves his uncle. And, more challenging still, he has been groomed to such a event that he has no concept that what he’s been doing is even wrong, let alone that he’s being abused…
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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