Michael is a sixteen-year-old boy of Nigerian descent. His father left the family home when Michael was seven, ceasing to have any contact with him and his younger sister. Michael’s mother struggled on her own and when he was eight, both children were taken into the care of the local authority. An uncle, who was the only other family member in this country, had previously been violent to the children so was not a suitable placement. Michael and his sister were placed separately and contact between them was irregular. Their mother died when Michael was twelve. Michael received specialist educational support for his social, emotional, and mental health needs and had a good rapport with his key worker at school. Over time, Michael was trusted to travel home independently from school. Through this, he started mixing with older children. He started going missing regularly and professionals suspected he had a much older girlfriend. They were concerned that he might be groomed or criminally exploited but Michael did not trust them and did not want to speak to them, so they found it difficult to assess the risks to his and others’ safety. School had been a positive factor in Michael’s life but, as his missing episodes increased, his attendance declined and fears for his safety and wellbeing increased.
Getting to Know Michael
SHiFT started working with Michael in December 2022. Almost immediately after, Michael was arrested for attempted robbery and assault. Although Michael was described by some professionals as ‘evasive’, ‘difficult to engage’, and someone who did not like new people, Michael’s Guide knew that his keyworker at school had a good relationship with him and used that relationship to gain Michael’s trust. With this support, Michael’s bubbly character quickly shone and together they began having mature and structured conversations about what was important to him so that support could be tailored to his needs. Michael’s Guide worked closely with him throughout the police investigations, helping him to understand what was happening and advocating to ensure his rights were respected. His Guide offered consistency and space for Michael to feel heard and held while what was going on around him felt scary and uncertain. Unfortunately, by the point of Michael’s arrest, his long-term foster placement had completely broken down. His foster carer described his behaviour in and out of the home as aggressive and out of control. She was very worried about Michael’s safety outside of the home and felt she could no longer manage this risk. Through conversations with his SHiFT Guide, Michael voiced that he wanted to stay with his foster carer as he had lived with her for approximately four years, and this was the closest experience he had to ‘real family’.
Getting Alongside and Creating the SHiFT Difference
SHiFT assessed that the risk to Michael and others was high but believed that a placement move within the borough or a neighbouring borough supported by a robust and tailored safety plan that included intensive monitoring and support from his Guide would enable risk to be managed and Michael to rebuild the healthy relationship he had previously had with his foster carer. The professional network disagreed and decided that a placement at a significant distance from Bexley was required to safeguard Michael. Although his SHiFT Guide tried to challenge this, taking the view that a forced move so far away from home would cause Michael to relive previous childhood trauma and his experiences of being taken into care, a Deprivation of Liberty Order was granted by the courts and Michael was moved to a placement in Scotland. Unconstrained by geographical boundaries, Michael’s Guide has travelled several times to Scotland to support Michael in transitioning to his new home and to ‘break the cycle’. She has continued to invest time in building their relationship and make it clear to Michael that she will persist and continue to support. One of Michael’s goals was to complete his GSCEs and SHiFT advocated successfully for Michael to be able to complete his GCSEs at an external education provider. A practical next step was that Michael needed to be taken to the school – in Newcastle – to sit his exams. His placement said they were unable to provide transportation. Doing whatever it takes, and recognising the vital importance of Michael being able to achieve his goal to complete GCSEs so that he can attend college, Michael’s Guide has stepped in, travelling from London to Scotland and then driving Michael to and from his exams. During their long drives together from Scotland to Newcastle, Michael and his Guide have had open and powerful conversations about Michael’s childhood. Michael has felt safe to share things with his Guide he has never previously shared with any professional - the loss of his mother, the abuse of his father and uncle, and his time in care. Michael has opened up to his Guide about feeling out of place in Scotland, especially due to his race and his Guide is supporting him to explore these feelings further, reflecting on his identity. Michael and his Guide are already discussing and planning his transition out of this placement, considering what he would like to see happen. Keeping in mind his hopes, strengths and achievements as well as needs, risks and vulnerabilities they will work together to set staged and structured goals that will help him to come back into the community where he wants to be. Michael’s Guide will continue to help him to navigate his world differently, walking alongside him and working with everyone in his world, including his foster carer and the wider professional network to help to change limiting patterns of behaviour and relationships.