My blog this week was planned to be about Pokemon Go and the concerns posted all over social media and BBC News about children playing the game and the trouble they can find themselves in. However, my week did not go as planned and I found myself dealing with the police night after night along with an emergency duty social worker as M absconded and went missing.
It’s a rare Looked After Child that doesn’t come with a complicated back story and family history and M is no different. In fact, J’s is even more complicated and if that Pandora’s Box ever opens, it will really cause the sparks to fly! M has a turbulent relationship with the family members she chooses to be in contact with, and keeps other relations at bay due to an ongoing and unresolved conflict. Last week a family member who has not been in M’s life for years surfaced out of the blue and contacted her with promises of a life outside of care. M hates the terms fostered, LAC, being in care and any other stigmatising tag that makes her different to other teenagers, so the lure of being ‘normal’ and not in foster care was too much for her to resist and she arranged to meet this person without my knowledge.
I was oblivious to this and tried to text her about dinner and got no reply. M knows her mobile comes with conditions and one of them is that she must answer her phone (which she mostly does) and she must keep it charged (which she is a dismal failure at), so I assumed she had run out of charge again and made a note to talk to her about being better prepared. Two hours later I started to get worried and could no longer concentrate on the TV or to what J was trying to explain to me about a superhero character. Hubby was away on a course so I had no one to share my worries with and they seemed to mount in my head; was she hurt? Had she fallen out with Claire? Was she safe? Where was she?!
The first person I called was Claire, who was actually miffed with M for not responding to her texts all day which rang all my alarm bells, and I made my way through the list of friends I thought might know where she was or who she was with. Everybody seemed genuine in their responses and I was now clammy with worry. Although M is not my birth child, I have come to love her and the fear now clutching at my chest was very real. By 10pm I was frantic and I kept trying her phone to see if it had magically been charged. I had no choice now, I had to phone my emergency duty social worker and tell them I didn’t know where the child they had given me responsibility for was. The social worker was wonderful. She helped to calm me and we came up with a plan. In the meantime, Hubby had called and he was now on the case. Hubby takes a backseat role in everyday life such as cooking, planning, organising activities and making sure they’ve got pocket money and other such routine jobs, but he is definitely the man you want when things go off grid. He was calm, thought of things I hadn’t and more importantly, he was on his way home and we could worry together. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t cope, it just means I know I can rely on him. We are a team and work best together.
Just before midnight, which was the cut off point for calling the police and reporting her missing, M called from an unknown number saying she wasn’t coming back and she’d text me. She sounded emotional, angry and stressed and I couldn’t keep her on the phone. I was at once relieved that she wasn’t lying attacked somewhere, but where was she and who was she with? M text me long, complicated texts about family and started quoting government statistics. She admitted she was with a family member and, through elimination, I worked out who it was. No amount of texting got through to her to come home, and eventually I had to report her missing to the police, which made her very angry and upset. This was the pattern over the next 5 days; sleepless nights with police visits and calls throughout the night, calls to and from the emergency social worker who again was very supportive and hundreds of texts from M in all states of mind. Having to find a recent photo of her for the police was very upsetting and the dragging exhaustion didn’t help us deal with the situation. J of course was confused and upset and we tried our best to keep him out of the situation by taking him out while the other person dealt with the police or social worker.
M was returned by the police after the second night and immediately ran away again, and this pattern repeated for another four nights. It wasn’t until legal threats were made to the family member that it came to a head and she returned again, but not by choice. The days that followed were marked very clearly by the Cold War from M’s room, the only way she would communicate was by text and they weren’t very pleasant. We had a lot of advice during this time and handled the situation carefully, knowing a wrongly worded response could set it off again and she would disappear. The following days allowed a thaw to begin and we gradually and slowly went back to the façade of normal. M started talking to J first and that breakthrough meant that talking to us next was easier. I can’t say things are as they were, but this evening I was back to refereeing a brewing argument with M and J about PlayStation and M was chatting to Claire about what brands to spend her birthday money on.
The months ahead may change our relationship again as M is convinced she will be able to leave care at 16, even though her Care Order states she is in care until she is 18. We also have to add this newly surfaced family member to our concerns but I’m grateful that M’s social worker is dealing with that.
One lesson I’ve learned from this experience is a reminder how quickly things can change and even when you think there is no hope and the placement has broken down, there is a way back. We didn’t punish M for running away, her rude texts or the cold war she instigated, as her loyalties were torn. We also made it easy for her to come back into the fold of the family, talking to her normally even when we were ignored. I can’t say it was easy and internally I occasionally fumed; the sentence I repeated over and over again was ‘I am the adult’.