Our secret single male foster carer shares his thoughts on - What do you do when you discover the lad you are caring for is not only taking Class A drugs, but is actually dealing in them?
Panic? Call the cops? Throw him out?
You could call the cops. Perhaps you should call the cops. But that marks the end of any help you can give the lad.
And can you be sure? You find evidence of his using Class As, and you’ve heard from reliable sources in the town that he’s dealing. But that is not evidence. There is room for the scintilla of doubt that gives you the breathing room to talk to him about it, a slight glimmer of a possibly positive outcome, be it ever so dim.
But how do you talk to him about it? He comes in, late, pupils dilated, smelling of spirits, his mood elevated but on the edge of rage, a simmering aggression fuelled by whatever cocktail he’s sniffed up his nose or popped down his throat. Laughing but dismissive, and, of course, denying that he’s ever dealt in class As, denying even that he takes them, all the while his staring eyes pools of darkness, his foot tapping, his fingernails bitten to the quick and bleeding; the boy can’t keep still.
So, you don’t call the cops. You call your supervising social worker instead, who speaks with great care. Can you be sure?
‘You realise you are putting yourself at risk – of both your future as a foster parent and as someone who is breaking the law by having Class A drugs on your property?’
‘I can’t be sure of the dealing. I’m pretty sure of the drug abuse.’
‘Well, you need to make sure there are no drugs in your home. That really mustn’t happen. We need to have a meeting and get some support in for him.’
‘He’s not going to accept any support.’
We hold a placement-in-crisis meeting, which he attends, eventually, coming into the meeting an hour late and clearly out of his mind on something or other. But he says all the right things. He loves the placement. He wants to stay. He does take drugs but it’s under control. Yes he knows they’re bad. He’ll keep it all away from my home and he is giving up. This place is the best he’s ever lived in. Yes, he’ll think about professional help. Anything to stay. He’s laughing a lot, on the edge of panic and emptiness, furious, frightened, emphatic and desperate all in the same maniacal expression.
A week later he – let us call him Don – comes to me with an alarming tale. Four police cars have just driven into his old carer’s home. ‘They came to pick me up for something.’
‘Oh some bloke around here has made an accusation against me.’
‘Oh. Nothing to worry about. But the cops are likely to turn up here.’
But the police don’t turn up. Not that day, nor any other day. The weeks slip by. His behaviour improves.
I hear later from the sort of people who know these things in this seaside town that Don had become involved with a dreadful group of local lads who had sold some ‘bad gear’ to a local man. The man had refused to pay the remainder of the due price on quality grounds, and they’d become violent, threatening his family if he didn’t pay up. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the man had called the police. Again, it’s all rumours. Nothing confirmed.
The continuing radio silence from the police leads me to believe it’s a false alarm. I hear nothing more on the grapevine.
And now we are approaching Don’s 18th birthday. He’s been granted an extension until 21 to stay in this placement, because, apparently, it’s doing him some good and he has a local job which he’s just about holding down. For some months we’ve been suggesting that he does what my own sons have done – break out of the trap of living in Britain’s drug-culture which saw his older cousin commit suicide just a few months before, get away and stand on his own two feet – go travelling and ‘make a man of himself’. He says he’s not brave enough. My boys, home from abroad on holiday, encourage him with tales of adventure and parties and disasters, fear and elation. He dismisses it, but there is a flicker in his eye that shows a touch of longing.
A fortnight before his 18th, he learns that he’s going to collect close to a thousand pounds on his birthday accumulated from savings made for him while in care. He’s bright with happiness. ‘I’m going to go on a bender. I’m gonna put it all up my nose – it’s going to be the greatest party ever’ he heroically declares to a tableful of friends.
We look at him, quietly horrified. Eyes are rolling.
‘What? What’s the problem? Oh, come on, it’s my 18th! Didn’t you party on your 18th? I’m going to spend all weekend with girls and sniff.’
I say, ‘at the risk of sounding boring, Don, old bean, how about you don’t put it up your nose, you crackling nutcase?’ (He enjoys a bit of old-school, bantering insult.) ‘How about instead you buy a ticket to Canada, like my son here, get yourself a job and have some proper adventure – you know, the sort of fun that you actually might remember the following day?’
Silence round the table. Followed by general assent. But this, apparently, for Don, is a terribly dull idea. For him, all his heroes do loads of drugs and get utterly wasted and that’s an end in itself; a glorious, legendary end. I contemplate another three years of living with Don and feel queasy.
And then it’s his birthday. He’s skived off work. I assume the worst. But instead, he comes to me and asks me to help him transfer the larger part of his money from his bank to mine. ‘Keep it for me, Nick, until I’m ready to travel. I don’t want to put it up my nose.’ He walks off and I stand there, bemused. How long will it be before he asks for the money back? I wonder.
But it comes to pass, a few months later, that Don has jumped through all the hoops and secured himself a passport, entry documentation and a transatlantic ticket. He’s arranged most of this himself, with guidance from me. He’s clearly not taking anything like the amount of drugs he used to. All rumours of dealing have gone away, his income from and attendance at his job is sufficiently steady. There is no evidence of him using drugs in my home. The police have remained silent. It’s all looking so very good.
He confesses his trepidation about the trip, so I reassure him: ‘it’s a holiday – I’ll hold the placement here open for as long as I’m able in case it all goes wrong. But if you find a way to stay, let me know as soon as possible. Find your feet first.’
And so, one cold spring morning, he finds himself sitting in a comfortable chair aboard a warm Boeing 747, the first time he’s been on a plane, contemplating the excitement of take-off and the filmic and alcoholic delights that will be available at 35,000 feet. He’s done it, he’s home free, he’s off on the adventure of a lifetime. He’s scared, but he’s blissfully happy.
The plane starts to taxi, but stops. This doesn’t bother Don; he thinks it’s normal. Normal until the fuselage door opens and in walk four uniformed police, who stop to have a word with the cabin staff. They all turn to look at him. The four coppers (‘each of em bigger than the other’) walk down the aisle towards him. They can’t be coming for him. That would be insane.
‘Is your name Don Peachy?’
‘What’s that to you?’
‘I’m afraid you have to come along with us.’
‘I don’t think so. F*** off will ya?’ He smiles at them and tightens his seatbelt.
They read him his rights. He is wanted in connection with drug-dealing, violence and threatening violence. ‘Come on son, up you get.’ The seat behind him and around him are being emptied. The man in the window seat has been encouraged to climb out over the seat back.
‘I’m not going anywhere, mate’, declares Don. He hunches up, tensing all his muscles.
‘You’re not going to Canada, that’s for sure.’
‘I AIN’T LEAVING THIS SEAT!’
But he is. These four burly coppers have done this sort of thing before. His passport had tripped the alarm and they’d stopped the plane and the scene was ready for the well-trained extraction. In a few deft moves his arms are pinned and his seatbelt undone – Don is struggling for his freedom, his future, his life.
It doesn’t last long – the police know their business. They drag him handcuffed down the aisle and off the plane, kicking and swearing. ‘Everyone was looking at me like I was a f***ing terrorist’.
He’s banged up for the night at Heathrow before appearing in court in the morning, after which, his passport confiscated, he is released on bail but on the proviso that he does not return to the town of his placement and alleged crime. Bye, bye Don.
He lies about his dependents and spends the first weeks of his bail sofa-surfing. Then comes the news – the police have dropped the charges. But there is, of course, no refund for his ticket, no hope of the new future he was hoping to forge for himself, and no hope of return to me – the placement at mine had been closed. The blow has crippled him, and soon he’s living in a crappy, dirty bedsit in a nearby dead-end hellhole of a town and sinking inexorably into a world of drugs and booze, firmly on the path his cousin had forged the year before.
Is there a happy ending to this story? Well, astoundingly and relatively, yes, there is.
Six weeks later he awakes to discover a large amount of cash on his bed – he can’t recall how he got it. He gets up, picks up the money, walks to the nearest travel agent, buys a one-way ticket to Canada, and hey presto, the following day he is sitting terrified in his seat awaiting the arrival of the airport police force. They can’t come. Surely. Not again. They don’t come.
Does it go well in Canada? Not really. He lasts about a month before it all goes wrong, and he’s on a flight home. But he did it. He did what he had promised to do and given it a go. He doesn’t regret it, he knows he mucked it up, but he’s learnt ‘stuff’.
And after? He’s now in regular work, has most of his demons under control and we are still in contact.
So, what’s the moral of this remarkable tale? Only that, sometimes, against the odds, when it all looks irredeemable, sticking with the lad, so troubled by his appallingly destructive past, so beset by the demons cultivated in a loveless, violent past, can reap some dividends and yes, even that great fillip to the foster carer, some heartfelt gratitude.
How will it end? Who knows, but lessons have been learnt on both sides and at least I am left with the sense that I had done all I could.
So here’s to happy endings. Cheers.