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The school social worker: 'Some of our students' lives are horrible beyond our comprehension'

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Daniel was disruptive. He would rarely turn up to class, and when he did he pushed the boundaries as far as they would go. The school tried everything to engage him, but it had little impact.

I started working with him informally at first. When he did come to school, he chatted to me when our paths crossed. Eventually, this led to a professional relationship and I learned more about the roots of his behaviour.  

Daniel was bright. When he bothered to do work, he was top of the class every time. But he had experienced a lot of rejection throughout his childhood and now suffered significant attachment issues. This had led to barriers and defences becoming high and he found it easier to push boundaries and fall out with every member of staff who tried to help him. It was clear his foolish and reckless behaviour was a cry for attention, love and acceptance.

Gradually, through our meetings, we started to make progress. And then one day he took the pastoral manager of the school and me aside and told us that things at home had gone seriously wrong. This was a Friday afternoon just as we were about to leave for the weekend. That plan changed quickly.

The only suitable place found for Daniel was a hostel for young men. This was unsupervised during the night and he would be the youngest there. We got him in the car, trying to reassure him that it would be fine, knowing we had no idea if that was true.

We accompanied Daniel up the stairs of the hostel and were welcomed into a blank, dirty, cold room. We set about cleaning, Daniel helped us, and we made his bed. We laid out the food we had bought him on the way that would last him the weekend.

And then we had to force ourselves to leave, not wanting to but knowing there was nothing else we could do. It was one of the hardest things I have had to do. This young person was so vulnerable and I feared for what could potentially happen. We both got into the car tearful.

The experience reminded us that some of our students' lives are horrible beyond our comprehension and that the behaviours they exhibit should never be put down to them simply “playing up”. Before we tag children with a "disruptive" label, we should bear in mind that they may be experiencing things we would almost certainly not be able to cope with as well as they do. We should not be so quick to judge.

This blog is part of an ongoing series by a social worker working in schools in the North of England. Previous posts can be found in the links below

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