Rob is a 17-year-old boy who identifies as dual heritage and lives in a Local Authority home with other children who are looked after. Rob moved into the care of the Local Authority a few months before starting to work with his SHiFT Guide, Shakira.
Rob has been known to services since he was in his early teens when he began to get caught in a deeply destructive cycle of crime. When out on the streets, Rob has been violent towards others, involved in gang initiations and has convictions for robbery, theft, sexual assault and has engaged in drug dealing.
Rob has a good relationship with his mother and two half-siblings. He doesn’t know his father, who has been in prison for much of his life, and his step-father had not long moved out of the family home when Rob moved into his placement. His step-father had perpetrated domestic violence in the home.
Rob was deeply involved in what he calls ‘the roads’ lifestyle. However, the lifestyle ultimately took a toll on his mental health. After he finished school he went into a depression and was overdosing on various tranquilisers – his mum described him as being completely ‘out of it’.
One day, Rob left the house in a haze and was badly beaten. He ended up in hospital and the team of professionals around him decided that he ought to be taken into Local Authority care instead of going home. For Rob, home had been a place of domestic violence and, although the perpetrator of this violence was no longer living there, professionals felt that he needed a break – a place to recover and recuperate.
It was at this point that Shakira, Rob’s SHiFT Guide, began working with him.
Getting to know Rob
Polite and gentle when he talks to professionals, Rob is well liked. When Shakira started working with Rob, SHiFT was one of six services involved – her first meeting to discuss Rob’s situation involved 15 professionals and, initially, Shakira felt uncertain how she could support him with so many other people involved. When he was asked how he felt when he heard so many people had been discussing his case, he said, ‘It’s confusing cos like, why is no one helping me?’
Shakira began working with Rob alongside his Youth Offending Team worker – someone with whom he had a good relationship and was able to support Rob and Shakira in getting to know each other. From the outset, Rob felt comfortable with Shakira. He said, “From the first meeting I could tell she wasn’t like the others, the way she was, the way she presented herself, I felt like after the meeting I felt like she is different.”
Shakira quickly discovered Rob was bright and caring. He has a strong relationship with his mother (who he speaks with every evening now he no longer lives in the family home) and two half-siblings of whom he is very fond. Rob did well in school despite five fixed-term exclusions and one permanent exclusion and his family moving boroughs in an attempt to keep him safe and away from the criminal activity. While in a Pupil Referral Unit, Rob completed his GSCEs and performed well – including getting a 7 in English.
Getting alongside and creating the SHiFT difference
In the first few months, Rob and Shakira spent time together in his Local Authority placement where they worked together on issues related to his mental health. Rob talks about how he could “actually speak to her”. “I actually open up to her about my problems and what I am thinking”, Rob says.
Rob said he was lost when he first started working with Shakira. He needed the support to “get me back to me”. He wanted to get away from his old lifestyle. He had a place to live and an apprenticeship that was going well. Outside of work though, he didn’t know how to keep himself safe or how to manage his new home life. He said, “Since I met Shakira, my life’s changed so much [...] if I have a situation and I am stressing out or I need someone to talk to, Shakira is there.” Slowly, Shakira and Rob have built a strong relationship.
Since working Shakira, Rob has committed to, and successfully completed, a variety of programmes around healthy relationships, substance misuse and, through virtual schools, to gain an apprenticeship. Shakira has been with him every step of the way. Shakira’s daily check-ins remind him about his goals and strategies to stay drug free. Shakira has had the skillset to talk about risk, staying safe, and keeping Rob honest and open about his lifestyle. And, she supported him with his education and learning – supporting him through his virtual school exams, so that he could get the pass he needed to get onto his apprenticeship.
Many children and young people in Rob’s situation, being housed in a Local Authority placement for the first time would not easily settle – other professionals said they would expect to have to move someone like Rob quite often. For Rob though, this hasn’t happened. Shakira has been there as the person he can talk to about how he is feeling and issues that arise at his placement and ways to resolve them. She has spent time with Rob and his wider family, communicating with Rob’s mother to keep her informed of her work and organising creative activities to support the family to strengthen their relationships by spending quality family time together.
Six months after Shakira began working with Rob, they attended court for a hearing regarding an offence Rob had committed prior to his work with SHiFT. Rob states that the judge specifically told him that he was facing time in prison unless Rob could provide a good reason to change his conclusion. Shakira – along with Rob’s Social Worker, Youth Offending Team work, and mum – spoke at the hearing in support of Rob. This was enough evidence for the judge to change his mind and Rob was not sentenced to custody. More importantly though, Rob says “that just showed me that I mean so much more than just the roads like.” Rob has remained entirely offence-free since.
Rob has trusted Shakira enough to show her his Snapchat so they could reflect together on how his life had changed. They went through his photographs and updates. Rob realised that his life before his hospital admission and placement was “just weed, knives, [and] fights”. Scanning forward, since his work with Shakira, he reflected “it just got to the point where I was just me again. Going out, doing normal stuff, being happy and that.”
Rob has stopped being involved in ‘the roads’: “The roads ain’t for me fam, it’s not for me”, he said. Rob has also significantly reduced his cannabis intake, begun to take better care of himself by developing key independent living skills and engaging with mental health services. He now also has a child and, with Shakira’s encouragement, is learning to be a dad and take responsibility for his child’s care.
Shakira has been the consistent thread through Rob’s life over the 18 months they have been working together. With Rob’s father in prison and Rob’s own criminal record, there were good reasons to believe that the cycle of crime in which he was caught would be especially difficult to break. But, there’s promising evidence to date that Rob is well on the way to breaking the cycle for his child and future generations.