Harry is fourteen years old and the eldest of four siblings. Life has never been kind to Harry; he was born to parents who were both addicted to class A drugs. By the time he was able to walk he had seen more violence between his parents than most children will see in their entire lives. Harry’s dad died of a drugs overdose when he was three.
This could have been a chance for Harry to live his childhood without the constant threat and fear of violence, however Mum’s addiction spiralled downwards and she was unable to cope with the loss of her partner, her addiction and four young children. The children were often locked in a bedroom while Mum was either drunk or high downstairs. Harry was frequently locked in a cupboard as a punishment.
Things changed when Harry was four, by this time he had taken to walking to the local petrol station on an evening where the staff used to give him the unsold sandwiches for him to take home and share with his younger brother and sisters. This was his lifesaver in two ways, it ensured that he and his siblings did not starve to death but also led to social services being alerted to the family.
All four children were underweight and unkempt as a result of severe neglect. They were all taken into the care of the Local Authority and placed into emergency foster care separately. The other siblings were eventually placed with a family member. Harry, who was already displaying behaviour and emotional control issues, was placed with a foster family. He felt utterly rejected as he felt his siblings were at least wanted by other family members. He felt unwanted, unloved and unlovable.
As the older of the children, even at such a young age he had taken responsibility for looking after the others –being separated from them, he could no longer do this role. Before he had even started school he had lost his parents and siblings. Harry struggled to make friends at primary school, he did not have the ability to work well with other children and found it impossible to share toys. He dominated other children when working together and was often violent to his classmates. Having witnessed so much violence between his parents, he had learned that the quickest way to get what you want is to strike out. He was quickly labelled as a naughty child and the problems with his behaviour increased as he progressed through primary school, both within school and at home.
He was having irregular contact with his Mum, but this was very dependent on her drug use, which ebbed and flowed through periods of recovery and full on addiction. The build up to contact with Mum and siblings were particularly triggering. He would pin all his hopes on Mum turning up and not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If she missed a contact or was emotionally absent he suffered setbacks which impacted on all relationships and all areas of his life.
At eight years old his foster placement broke down and he found himself in a new placement and a new school. Again this could have been a turning point, if the new school was a trauma-informed school and the staff there was aware of how Harry’s brain reacted to stimuli on a very different way to his peers. He had once again lost all his relationships with trusted adults in the form or teacher and support staff as well as his long-term foster carers, as well as all the friendships he had made.
Harry struggled even more in his new school than his previous one, he wasn’t established in the ‘pecking order’ with his new classmates who had very well formed friendships, and this led to him again feeling unloved and unlovable. He was constantly scanning for danger and was unable to focus and concentrate during lessons. At break times and lunchtimes his attempts to control situations often resulted in fights and lost privileges.
Thankfully things his new foster placement was a much better match for Harry. His new foster carers were both very active and enjoyed sport. This was the first time Harry had been given the opportunity to play organised sport in the form of hockey and it was obvious from the start that he was a gifted hockey player. He enrolled in the local club and began to form friendships with the other players he was thought highly of by the coaches and he began to see himself as the same as the other boys in the team.
His new carers began to see his behaviour and school issues as a potential mental health problem as opposed to purely a behavioural problem. He was also assessed and found to have mild dyslexia and Irlens syndrome, there were also for the first time recognition of his mother’s addictions
through pregnancies impacting on the unborn child. His carers found out a great deal about developmental interruption and were able to not only understand Harry in a way that nobody previously had, but start to help Harry understand himself.
By the time it came to choosing a secondary school, the carers were very much aware of the impact trauma and abuse. They purposefully selected a school that was trauma informed. The school had a Pastoral Support Officer just for children in the care system. This key worker was a qualified
counsellor and led the school training in traumas. Each of Harry’s teachers was trained in understanding developmental trauma and Harry had regular mentoring sessions to help him understand his difficulties.
There were still problems with Harry’s behaviour and outbursts, but Harry knew that he was accepted, cared about and always had someone to speak to about his emotions and feelings. He is better at maintaining friendships and can overcome setbacks in relationships with adults. Harry does not receive the same sanctions as others in the school , instead he has a bespoke ‘Great Expectations’ list which he has created along with his Mentor in school. This gives him ownership of his own behaviour and it is a great too for reflection when things do go wrong.
With the help of the school, the carers were able to secure additional funding through the Virtual School (responsible for the education of children inn the care system) to ensure that he had additional support in every lesson and was allocated a CAMHS worker. It is hoped that Harry will continue at this school until he completes his GCSEs and then enrol in college and that his placement will continue beyond his 18th birthday as part of the ‘staying put’ initiative.
When the 'team around the child' understands trauma and its impact on the brain, the damage is no longer irreversible. When they understand and accept the child is a consequence of their environment and experiences we can look beyond the anger, the behaviour incidents and the disruption and see a frightened child, in a scary world – a child who needs our help to reset their brain. To help them fulfil their potential and lead happy productive lives.