Every school has students like Chelsea. These are the students who get on with things despite the horrific circumstances and experiences they have to live through. Frequently these children will tell me that school is their escape, a sanctuary and a place for them to be normal. When these students are absent without explanation, you know you have to act quickly.
Chelsea always turned up. Despite a desperately troubled home life, she never missed school and she never missed a session with me (I am a social worker who works with schools). Today, though, she was absent.
I had been working with her since her mother died 12 months previously. She was living with her biological father. Before her mother's death, Chelsea had little contact with him and he had addiction issues with both alcohol and drugs. It was an extremely challenging situation but after my last home visit things seemed to have been improving. What had happened now?
The pastoral manager had made a number of telephone calls to her home but had been unable to make contact with her. This was completely out of character. I knew something was not right.
I went to her house. The windows were all smashed. I looked inside. The house was destroyed and it was clear drugs and alcohol had been in use. Threatening messages were written on the walls in red paint. Chelsea was not there.
I ran to my car and called the police. I then called the pastoral manager and we started searching for Chelsea.
We looked in all the places she had ever talked about going in the local area: parks, swimming pools, cinemas. She was at none of them. We gave up when we had nowhere else to look and had a sleepless night waiting for news.
The police eventually found her the next day. She and her father had been hiding at a relative’s house as her dad had fallen out with some people in the local area. I was so thankful he had the sense to hide, that Chelsea had not been there when those people had arrived at her house.
Chelsea did not let it effect her studies. She was back at school the next day and the school and I offered all the support we could. It was challenging, her situation was desperate, but her resilience was remarkable. She worked hard and she got the qualifications to go to college. She is doing great.
Chelsea is one of the reasons I get so annoyed with people saying that young people lack character. Every day I see kids battling against awful circumstances beyond their control. And they beat their situation. They thrive in it. They show more character, more resilience, than I could ever hope to have.
I'd like see how much resilience Nicky Morgan would show in the same circumstances.
This is the latest blog in a series by a social worker who works in schools. Names have been changed to protect anonymity. You can find the writer's previous posts in the related links below.