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Groomed: Danger lies closer than you think

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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‘I’ll do that,’ John assured me. ‘If we can pin one down we’ll bring along a community support police officer too, just to reiterate that a criminal offence could be taking place without her even being aware of it.’

That I didn’t imagine for a moment. I reckoned Keeley was bright enough to be well aware of the ramifications of everything she did. But it couldn’t hurt, and a presence in uniform often had an impact, even to a child who’d been in the system long enough to know how to work it to their advantage. Feeling I’d done all I could do for now, I told John I’d see him later, then got down to the business of making our little entrepreneur her breakfast.

Chapter 6 (#ulink_4f6bc8b5-594f-5296-a219-973e8d99e1a9)

‘Oh God,’ Keeley groaned. ‘I hate meetings.’

She’d come downstairs in the ten minutes she’d promised. I was impressed. It was also nice to see the pretty fifteen-year-old beneath the make-up, and I hoped she wouldn’t feel the need to slap a load more on after she’d eaten, though with her assessment of her social worker Danny as being so cool, I suspected that I’d probably hope in vain. ‘Don’t we all, love?’ I replied.

She sat down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs and groaned again. ‘Well, he just better fetch my stuff, at least. That cow will be wearing all my clothes by now. Bet you anything.’

I eyed the pseudo-sportswear that Keeley had come to us in – and was, of course, still wearing – and though I too hoped that her social worker would be bringing some more clothing, I doubted very much that Zoe Burke would currently be parading around her house in baggy Ellesse bottoms. Let alone any kind of designer hoody. But then, what did I know? I didn’t know her, did I?

I rolled my eyes and slid the jar of jam across the table.

‘Strawberry jam okay?’ I asked. Keeley nodded. ‘And don’t worry. I reminded John, my link worker, that you needed your own things.’

Keeley bit into her toast with her even white teeth. ‘Who else did you say was coming?’ she asked, her mouth still full of it.

‘A community support officer and some kind of family liaison person,’ I said. Her brows drew together. She was obviously perplexed. ‘Something like that, anyway,’ I added. ‘Well, as far as I know. Just to speak with you about how to keep yourself safe while using your phone for … Well, the kind of things that you were doing when I heard you …’

Keeley’s lower lip dropped open. ‘God,’ she huffed. ‘You mean you’ve grassed me up for that? Why would you do that? I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I told you!’ She glared at me then, her nostrils flaring. ‘Why would you tell people about that? No wonder I go fucking mad at foster carers!’

I banged my cup of coffee onto the table rather more heavily than I’d intended. ‘Please don’t use that kind of language in this house, Keeley,’ I said firmly. ‘You don’t hear it from us and I don’t want to hear it from you. The reason I told Mr Fulshaw what I did is very simple. I have a duty to do so. It’s my job. And I’d expect you to know by now that foster carers have to fill in daily sheets recording any incidents, and these get passed on. You might not like it, but it’s something we have to do and that’s that.’

She was still glaring, so I simply glared back at her. There was nothing to be gained by coming over all apologetic. She knew perfectly well I’d had no choice in the matter. And even if I had done, my glare told her, I’d have reported it anyway. We would care for her whether she liked it or not.

I watched her face go through various changes as she clearly tried to work out whether or not to continue to argue with me. Thankfully she took the sensible option.

‘I didn’t mean to swear,’ she said, readily contrite now she’d registered that I wasn’t standing for any nonsense. ‘And, okay, fine, then. But I really don’t need to speak to those people. I’m not stupid. And I’ll stop doing it while I’m here if that’s what you want.’

Which seemed all too easy. I didn’t doubt saying one thing to her foster carers and doing another was second nature to her. ‘Yes,’ I said anyway. ‘That’s definitely what I want, obviously. But “those people” are coming out now anyway, so it won’t hurt to listen to what they have to say, will it? Now eat your breakfast and then you can go make your bed, please, if you haven’t already. No doubt Danny will want to see where you’re sleeping.’

‘Yeah, right,’ she said with an eye roll. ‘To make sure I’m tucked up safe in my winceyette pyjamas, clutching my teddy, like a good little girl. Okay, okay, sorry,’ she added quickly, raising her palms.

Keeley might well find the whole idea of the impending meeting tedious in the extreme but she didn’t make a fuss and went back up to her room to get ready without any further wisecracks.

And I sympathised, too, despite feeling so irritable with her. She must have sat through so many of them, after all.

It was such a singular situation being a child in long-term care, and having your life pored over and discussed by a series of strangers – not to mention having little power to shape your own destiny. I wondered if she was thinking twice now about taking the action that had brought her to us, and again about whether there was any truth in it. Time would tell, but in the meantime the most pressing thing, it seemed to me, was to head her off from her chosen way of getting herself pocket money. I hoped the professionals coming to see her were good at what they did, because I knew kids like Keeley had a built-in off-switch when being lectured by adults – hardened by life, they tended to think they already knew it all.

I did a lightning clean, and was just peeling off my rubber gloves when I spotted John Fulshaw heading up the front path. He was making slow progress, on account of the brace of enormous suitcases he was lugging.

I went to the front door and opened it just as he lowered them to the ground, puffing. They were clearly as heavy as they looked.

‘Seems this young lady here’ – he nodded towards Keeley, who had rattled down the stairs and was now standing in the doorway with me – ‘has too many things to fit into just one car.’ He held his hand out to shake Keeley’s. ‘Nice to meet you,’ he said, grinning. ‘I’m Casey’s supervising social worker, John. D’you want to nip out and bring in the rest? It’s all in the boot. Your social worker’s following along with the other lot.’

‘Of course,’ she said, almost shyly (which I took to be a positive). ‘I’ll just go up and grab my hoody.’

We both watched Keeley sprint back up the stairs. ‘Not quite the live wire I’d been led to expect,’ John said, as she disappeared across the landing. He hauled the cases inside and rubbed his hands together. ‘Jeez. It’s bloody freezing out there.’

I smiled. ‘Oh, you ain’t seen nothing yet,’ I said. ‘“Live wire” is our Tyler. That girl outsparks live wire by a mile, trust me. Just give her time.’

Keeley trotted back down then, feeding her arms into the sleeves of her hoody as she descended. John raised his car keys, once she’d poked her head up through the neck. ‘Can you catch?’ he asked. She could. ‘There you go, then,’ he said. ‘There’s a couple of boxes in the boot and a bin bag on the back seat. Give me a shout if any of it is too heavy for you.’

‘No worries. I’ll be fine,’ she said brightly.

‘So what’s her social worker like?’ I asked him as Keeley now headed off down the front garden path. ‘Danny? Oh, you’ll like him. Young lad. Mid-twenties. Though he looks about sixteen. Which doesn’t make it easy – particularly with older teenagers, or so I’m told. Specially the girls – they apparently either tend to fall immediately in love with him, or decide he’s one of their besties.’

‘You’re remarkably well informed,’ I said, raising my eyebrows. ‘And it sounds like a dangerous combination. Which category does he fall into for Keeley? Do you know that as well?’

‘I do, as it happens. The latter, apparently. Though it’s a love–hate kind of thing. One minute she loves him like a brother, the next she hates him – the usual stuff. I suppose it is what it is. But it’s generally a good relationship. He’s been with her coming up for a year now.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘Replacing the “bitch”.’

John frowned. ‘Yes, by all accounts that wasn’t such a great match. But, yes, this one seems to be. So that’s a positive.’

It was definitely a positive. A child’s relationship with their social worker was a complicated and close one, even more so if the child was in long-term care. They were at the sharp end of the council’s role in loco parentis, and how well they bonded with their child impacted on everything. Even Tyler, very much part of the Watson family these days, still retained a close attachment to his social worker, Will, and that was exactly as it should be. A network of healthy personal attachments was massively important to any child’s well-being, but particularly so when that child had already suffered the loss of the ones many of us took for granted.

Not that there was a blueprint for successfully matching children to social workers. For one thing, it didn’t really work like that. Cases came in constantly, staff were in perennially short supply, and who they were given was more often than not simply a case of who was on duty. And the strangest pairings – in terms of age, personality and gender – were often the most successful.

Having left the doorstep to drag Keeley’s cases upstairs, John and I were now alerted to Danny’s arrival by the sound of laughter as we came back down into the hall. They were both coming up the path now, heavily laden with yet more bags and boxes, and I could see straight away that they were comfortable with each other.

John had been right. Danny definitely looked younger than his years. Maybe not as young as sixteen, but he was definitely youthful, an impression heightened by his skinny jeans and cool trainers, and the way his hair was swept back, in what was currently the fashion – he could have stepped straight from the pages of a fashion magazine. Or maybe auditioned for One Direction.

And there was still stuff to bring in apparently. So introductions were made as I trooped out to help, leaving John to go into the kitchen and put the kettle on.

I was staggered by the amount of possessions Keeley had, if I’m honest: at least eight large boxes, two more suitcases – large ones, again – and a variety of bags stuffed with goodness knew what. Most kids we’d had came with far less than this, but I knew that a child who’d been in the system some time could easily amass a fair bit.

Even so, I couldn’t help wonder about the extent of it – even for a modern female teenager. Was the glut of possessions the fruit from her labours on the phone? And if so, how much of it did it mean she’d been doing? No wonder she had no interest in going to school.

It was a question I imagined I might answer in time but for now the main thing was where to put it all.

‘I’ll do it,’ Keeley said, when Danny offered to help her upstairs with it. ‘That way you can all get on with talking about me, and I don’t have to sit there getting brain-dead.’

It was said with no attitude – just a statement of fact. And, having glanced at Danny, who immediately nodded his approval, I told her that was fine. ‘Though only while we go through all the files and so on,’ I told her. ‘Then you’ll have to break off and come down.’

‘Good. That should give me at least an hour, then,’ she said dryly. Then she grinned at Danny. ‘I have a very thick file, don’t I?’

I told the men to set up at the dining table, while I finished making the tea and coffee, and by the time I’d come back in with the inevitable plate of biscuits both John and Danny had already spread out various clipped-together documents on top of it. Care plans, risk assessments and background information. All the things that should make caring for Keeley a breeze.

Well, in theory.

I was actually happy that Keeley had taken herself off for a bit as reading through the case notes – which made for grim reading, even though I already knew the gist of it – I had loads of questions popping into my head, not least of them being to wonder about her blood family, and what had become of all those little brothers and sisters. Even if I couldn’t help reunite them, I could at least try to find out they were okay and happy, couldn’t I? But that would need to wait. First things first, and the first thing in this case was that Danny and John were both keen to establish whether Mike and I would keep Keeley till she was sixteen and, hopefully, a bit beyond. If at all possible, anyway. It seemed she had very different plans.

‘Her birthday is only a matter of weeks, now,’ Danny added, as if trying to tempt me.

‘I know – she’s reminded me several times,’ I said, grinning.

He nodded. ‘The Big Day. And she’s certainly been counting them,’ he said. ‘And I doubt all this imbroglio will have changed her plans either.’

‘What sort of plans?’ I said.

‘To wave bye-bye to the Burkes. Once she’s sixteen she can legally stick the proverbial two fingers up at the system, of course.’ His face grew serious. ‘She’s made it abundantly clear that as soon as that day comes, in her ideal world she’s “offskies”, as she puts it.’

‘Offskies where?’ I asked. ‘And what’s going to happen about school?’

‘Offskies not too far away, I hope,’ Danny answered. ‘Though I’m sad to say that school has become a bit of a lost cause.’

My heart sank. ‘But she’s only just started year eleven,’ I said.

‘Or rather, hasn’t started year eleven,’ he corrected. ‘She’s got a long history as a non-attender. I’ve been trying my best, but, again, her mind’s set.’

‘And that’s that? There’s nothing you can do to convince her otherwise?’ I asked, concerned. In our short acquaintance, it seemed to me that a sixteen-year-old Keeley, alone in the world, and out of education as well, was a tragedy waiting to happen. ‘Does she already have an assigned “moving on” worker, then?’ I asked him, recalibrating my thoughts. She’d obviously been planning to escape for some time, then. ‘Does she have a pathway plan?’

These were both things put in place when a child was approaching the time they would officially be leaving care. It usually meant that measures would be taken to ensure continued safety until they could properly look after themselves. It could take the form of finding them supported lodgings, or a flat in a supervised building, or, if they were ready for it, complete independence. It all depended on the individual child. And it definitely didn’t generally apply to children who were still almost a full year off normal school-leaving age.

Danny nodded. ‘We’ve started a pathway plan,’ he confirmed. He then pointed at the biscuits. ‘You mind if I take the Bourbon, John?’
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