Thursday, 24 March 2011

little devils and angels without halos #2

The second post in an occasional series of stories from my times working in children’s homes.

Paul, my key-child had been home for a few days with his family. On his return he had four £20 notes in an envelope which he said were a gift from his Nan, he asked me to put them in his locker, which was in the office.

The root of all evil ?
This kid had a habit of helping himself to things that weren’t exactly his, so the next day I rang his mum and asked her if she knew about the money. She said that no, she didn’t and she had wondered where it went but, “ he may as well keep it “.

I thought that a bit odd, but her money her son so I didn’t question it...

As key worker one of the things you would be responsible for was taking your child shopping, they all had pocket money and weekly allowances for clothes & toiletries which could be saved up if they wanted. Paul wanted to go shopping as he had a fair bit saved, and wanted to spend his own money. We got a lift to the train station, the home was on the outskirts of a small town but it didn’t have much in the way of a shopping centre so if shopping for clothes we’d go to one that was a 30min train ride away.
It was only when we were sat on the train that Paul realised he hadn’t brought his own money.
Not a real problem since I had the money from the home.

I loved shopping with this kid - apart from the relationship building that comes from spending time one on one - he enjoyed hunting out the bargains as much as me. He said that he wanted to get some moisturiser because his skin was always dry after swimming, so off we go to the drug store where we spend ages, him wanting to try the different creams on his arms and me advising him, and when he ran out of space on his arms he was using mine. Eventually he decided on cocoa butter. We must’ve been in that shop for close to an hour.

Does exactly what it says
on the label.
We went and spent his clothing money then went for a burger before getting the train back. He was very pleased with all the things he bought that day but he didn’t stop going on about all the other things he could’ve bought if he’d remembered to bring his money, he even asked me if I’d lend it to him but I refused - it was against the rules anyway.
Whilst we were sat waiting to be picked up from the station on our return he said something about the cream he’d bought - I don’t remember exactly what, and as soon as he said it he shut up as he realised that he had accidentally let slip that what he really wanted it for was “me time”.
Great, essentially I spent an hour advising a teenage boy about lube.

The worst of that was every once in a while he’d walk past us and there would be a strong smell of cocoa butter and we knew……..

Later that evening his mum called but at the time he was playing football so I had a chat to her, and told her we’d been shopping. When I told her that he had forgotten to take the £80 she laughed and said it was a good job we hadn’t - the money was forged - and Paul knew this.
Lets just say I was very glad he did forget it, otherwise instead of talking to her at the very least I would’ve been sat in a cell with him, if not arrested myself..

Paul really struggled with literacy but anything electrical or mechanical he was a genius, he had a lot of issues to deal with, including mild autism/aspergers. At the end of my time working there we took the boys on holiday to a seaside town. By day three we were a bit curious how they all had cigarettes to smoke instead of the usual roll-ups, they weren’t old enough to buy cigarettes from a shop but the hotel had a vending machine. As one of the lads had been given a fair bit of spending money by his mum and said he bought from the machine them we just decided to wait and see. In that kind of work you cannot ever be judgemental so unless we had concrete proof or serious cause for concern we would give the benefit of the doubt.

Lucky 7 or just a fluke....
There was a fruit machine in the social room in the hotel and Paul had wanted to play, we had said no he wasn’t old enough but one of the hotel staff said it was fine.

So when Paul had a pocket full of change he said he had won on the machine we had no real reason to doubt him, although knowing him we were suspicious.

My boss spoke to the hotel manager who told him that the night porter had said he’d seen two of our lads coming out of the social room in the early hours of the morning a couple of days before.
And he never said anything ? Again, cheers.
But as this was the last night of the holiday we decided not to say anything to the boys, just watch and wait.

Thanks, but no....
In the evening I was in the room I was sharing with the other female staff getting ready to go out for our last night and there’s a knock on the door, when I open it there is Paul wanting to speak to me.
He has a leaving present for me.
SIXTY cigarettes.
I tell him that whilst I appreciate the thought I really can’t accept them.

Our boss then decided to sit up all night, about 3am Paul appears with another of the lads and is told to go back to bed. In the morning we set off back for the home and when we return we tell all the boys to put their bags in the living room and search them. We found about 40 packets of cigarettes, most of which were in Pauls bag, the other four had one or two packets each, and at the bottom of Pauls bag there was also about £50 in change.
Turns out the crafty sod knew how to break into cigarette machines.

We had to make a very apologetic call to the hotel and return what we found, luckily for him the hotel manager agreed that as long as he paid the rest back he would not press charges.

I found it.....
Pauls story was that he ‘found’ the money and had used some to buy a packet of cigarettes from the ‘broken’ vending machine which then dispensed all the cigarettes it had. Of course he would’ve handed them in except there were no hotel staff around at 4am. Hmmmm.

When I rang his mother to explain she said “oh yeah, his uncle used to run a vending machine company, he knows all the tricks”…..
Thanks for telling us.

I have to say I really liked that kid, it took me a long time to build a relationship with him but underneath all the messed up crap life had thrown him he was such a character. The fact that he wanted to give me 60 of the cigarettes (and he even got the brand right) as a token of appreciation said a lot about him and how much he, despite the grief he used to give me, thought of me.
In every kids home I worked in cigarettes are as valuable as money.

He had a huge heart, unfortunately he didn’t have the brains to realise that his gesture was going to drop himself in the shit.



  1. Yeah, I've had my experiences with really crafty kids. Some are pretty brilliant at both the act of thievery and the tales they come up with. We played a game of "cat and mouse" with a group of burglars that came to our program, trying to get all of their stories to line up. These kids have good hearts, and brains, just misdirected. Good post!

  2. Aren't cigarettes used as money in prisons? It's pretty shocking that the same thing happens in homes for children.

  3. Another hilarious post. I will never look at cocoa butter the same way...

  4. Thanks Retch, had a feeling you might like it.

    @gorilla, it's more that there are not many kids that can get away with appearing old enough to buy them, and obviously staff aren't going to buy them for them, so the ones that can will buy for the others in return for some, and if one wants to maybe lend anothers xbox usually the favour will be returned with tobacco. I met very few young people who didn't smoke.
    @cait, me neither - to this day if I catch a whiff of it on someone...ew !

  5. I love the detail about smelling cocoa butter on him occasionally.
    That is so funny about knowing all the vending machine tricks-so many of those kids have such random smarts in certain areas and then absolutely none at all in others
    thanks for being such a great supporter of my blog, dirtycowgirl!


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