Our post on the final day of 7 Days of Action brings two very harsh truths about the current state of social care into focus.
This story has been anonymised. We won’t get to know the young dude’s name. We won’t get to see what he looks like. The family have received a lot of pressure not to reveal his identity. This is common. Like a court judgment, we will refer to the dude at the heart of the story as P.
Secondly, it is important to note in the story that the family weren’t having any problems at all with their dude prior to him going into the ATU. The mother asked for respite because SHE was ill. Family members’ illness is a common passport to detention in an ATU.
Here is our young dude’s story in his mother’s words:
My son is 17 years old. He is locked away, miles from home, away from his family and everything that is familiar to him. Is he a criminal being punished for a crime? No, he has Autism, severe learning difficulties and this can result in behaviour that challenges.
He is sectioned under the mental health act in an assessment and treatment unit. The night he was sectioned was the worst night of my life. You see I had only asked for a bit of help, some respite, a short break, as I was unwell.
He had stayed late at school and I had been told respite was being arranged but it ended up with him being sectioned. He was taken by school staff who were being instructed by social services to a local adult mental health hospital, but rightly so the hospital refused to let him in as he was only 16 years old.
He was left sitting in the school transport in the hospital carpark for about 45 minutes with absolutely no understanding of what was going on, out of his structure and routine. He really doesn’t like waiting at the best of times, so after a while he became upset by just sitting there. His screams of distress echoed around the carpark.
The Social worker then called the police. They arrived, two cars with blue lights and sirens all for a boy that was upset. He was put into a police car and driven through to the back of the hospital. The police then placed him on a section 136 and he was allowed into a room in the hospital with two police officers.
He was assessed by two doctors and placed on a section 2 but had to stay where he was for the night as it was late. This meant he spent the night in an assessment room on a settee as there was no bed. He was given medication to make him sleep and the two police officers had to stay with him.
His dad, me and his auntie were all at the hospital but we were not allowed to see him. The school staff were still there too and some of them were in tears.
The next day he was transferred to an A.T.U and we were told not to visit him for a few days to allow him to settle in. When we finally got to see him he had two serious head injuries from banging his head on the floor while being restrained. As soon as he saw us he picked up his bag and thought we had come to take him home. I will never forget the look in his eyes as I had to leave him there and walk out the door.
As he was on a lot of different medication the Doctor in the A.T.U assessed him and decided to wean him off all medications. So over the next 15 weeks our life became an endless cycle of driving to the A.T.U every other day to visit him and try and maintain our family relationship.
He was discharged home and was so happy, however the support services we were given which were 4 hours a week were inadequate and after 7 weeks due to sheer boredom and a lack of things to do he ended up causing some damage at home and he was sectioned again, but this time we were told it was for a couple of weeks while a residential school was found for him.
For one reason or another the residential school plan never worked out as planned and now 7 months later he is still there, back on medications again, and effectively stuck on a section as he has nowhere to go. This is now an illegal use of a section as he is not being assessed and his treatment is complete and he has been ready for discharge for months now.
Along with his Autism he also has high sensory needs. He is in a unit that is extremely noisy, all noise echoes around the building and he walks around a lot with his fingers in his ears as a way of coping.
He has lost a lot of weight since being back in there and he does not eat the food in there as he has autism, he only likes particular foods.
Some days he really struggles there and constantly asks for his mom and he asks to go home all the time but you can’t really explain to him why he’s there and why he just can’t come home. He has not had any education for a year now and discharge planning is at a standstill because no one can agree where he should go. He has expressed that he wants to come home and go back to school but he’s not being listened to.
He spends a lot of his day pacing around the unit as there’s not much to occupy him. Sometimes he goes out to local parks and to McDonald’s for dinner.
On the unit he does some colouring or watches television. I try to visit him about 3 times a week now and I take a big bag of activities for him so he has something to do.
I would like to have him home but I would need proper support and if this is not possible he needs to be in his own home near to us as family is very important to him. The Doctor agrees that he should be near to his family too.
Social services think he would be better in an adult placement although we don’t have any of these in our borough so that would mean him living miles away.
The big concern now is staying in the A.T.U much longer will make his behaviours worse and it will do him more harm than good. This delay in discharge planning is frustrating as we have meeting after meeting and things never move forward. The Doctor has given notice that he needs to be discharged by the latest in July. Everyone involved agrees that he should not be there but no one can agree where he should be.
While all the professionals go home to their nice lives after yet another unresolved meeting, my son is struggling being stuck in an A.T.U and I barely sleep with worrying what will happen to him.
I’m hoping the next meeting we have we can work together and agree something otherwise I can’t see an end to this situation. I believe we would never have been in this situation to start with if it was not for the closure of local services due to funding being cut, as he had lived at home all his life and was happy going to school and to monthly respite. He had his moments of behaviour but they were not as frequent as they are now and that is just through the sheer distress of him being stuck in an A.T.U.