So, as I’ve mentioned, I used to work in a residential group home for teens. Most of the teens were there due to some sort of behaviour difficulty at home and in some cases (probably more than we ever knew at the time) for mental health problems.
On a fairly regularly basis some of the kids who lived there wanted to leave. We used to work with a level system; if you had a high enough level, you could plan an outing and go out in the community. Not high enough? No outing without supervision. Not every one liked this little system and they would often choose to leave the house anyway. We called this going AWOL (not like that fucking Project AWOL shit I’m sure you’ve all heard about/from.)
So, when a kid went AWOL, there was a fair amount of paper work involved and phone calls to make. We needed to notify our supervisor, their social worker and in many cases their family. If they didn’t return before curfew we needed to also notify the police and file a missing persons’ report (as well as fill out the police report which we had copies of, courtesy of the police).
So, generally, for the kids it was pretty simple. They would let us know that they intended to leave, we’d try to talk them out of it, or at least find out why they wanted to leave. Then, if they were calm, we’d open the shoe cupboard, give them their shoes and let them leave. I loved the shoe cupboard. You see, we needed to know when the kids went AWOL and if they needed to ask for their shoes before they left then we’d know about it. The other thing that I loved was the need for the kids to be calm. The idea was, we didn’t want to unleash angry teens, with behaviour issues, on the unsuspecting suburbs. Calm can mean a great many things. Mostly, as long as they weren’t being aggressive or overly abusive towards the staff or their peers, we would let them go. Sometimes we’d really stretch the bounds of what it means to be calm.
A lot of times when working with kids and even parenting, you need to pick your battles. You can push some kids pretty far before they snap and some you can look at funny and it’s over. On one very memorable occasion my coworker, Peaches, and I decided that we needed to make going AWOL a bit of a chore. In this case and with that kid we were able to stretch things to ridiculous lengths without breaking anything.
Cody wanted to go AWOL. He’d been doing it on a pretty regular basis recently and was never a problem about it. He was good natured and generally a bit dim. OK he was a lot dim. His stand out quality was that he was pretty good natured and he had a pretty decent relationship with Peaches and I. Peaches and I had talked about his inevitable request to leave and decided that we’d try very hard to keep him home. It was a slow day and we had low numbers in the house and were pretty sure that the other kids wouldn’t interfere with our shenanigans. When Cody asked to leave and wouldn’t be talked out of it, we told him that we were getting really tired of filling out all the paperwork for his AWOL’s and making all the phone calls we had to make. We then informed him that he’d need to make the phone calls for us and would need to help us with our paper work. He was not happy about this but remained pretty calm about it. He did at one point loudly swear in frustration. As soon as the lid “Fuck!” was out of his mouth, Peaches casually informed him that he didn’t seem calm enough to go AWOL and as per our AWOL “routine” he’d need to go up to his room and remain calm for 30min (up to an hour depending on how upset or angry they were). On his way up there was more swearing and he punched a wall, at which point the 30min became an hour.
An hour later, without incident, Cody asked to go AWOL and stated that he would call his mom and his social worker before he left. We reminded him of the paper work too. He told me to “Fuck the paperwork.” Peaches let him know that swearing was not calm behaviour and he’d need to wait another 30min. To his credit, Cody did not snap. We were pretty sure, ahead of time, that he wouldn’t or we would never have pushed it as we did. Cody managed to leave voice messages for his mom and for his social worker, letting them know that he was going AWOL but that he’d be back by curfew (11pm). Once the calls were made, low on patience, Cody asked “Now can I have my fucking shoes?”
“Sure, once you wait 30min to calm down. If you’re swearing at us, you’re not calm.” I replied. He hung his head and went to his room. Most other kids would have tried to kill us by this point but Cody really did manage to stay calm and put up with our bullshit.
When Cody came back downstairs we began a sort of interview process with him, asking him questions so that we could fill out the various bits of paperwork for his AWOL. When we asked him what he was wearing, so that we could write it down on the missing persons’ report, Cody loudly asked “Do you want me to draw you a fucking picture?! You can see what I’m wearing!” Without being asked to, he went back to his room to wait 30min because swearing is not calm. He left with a bit of a smile on his face, realizing how funny this really was and that we were basically fucking with him because we didn’t want him to leave. We’d told him as much several times, but no it was sinking in.
When he was allowed back down, Peaches had lain out a huge length of brown paper, the kind that comes in huge rolls and gets used for arts and crafts in schools. When he asked what it was for, Peaches explained that it was for the picture he was going to draw, to be included with the missing persons’ report. We told him that the bigger the picture, the more detailed it would be and the better it would be for the police. One of the girls who lived in the house had been sort of watching everything burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. This got Cody going as well. Through her laughter she told Cody that if he laid down she would trace his outline so that it would be easier to draw himself. He agreed. This sent Peaches and I over the edge and laughter ensued. We tried to point out to Cody that he was not going to have this much fun wherever he was going and that he should just stay home. He politely declined.
As Cody finished colouring in his self portrait, he began to pick at a scad on one of his knuckles. He’d skinned it earlier when he punched the wall. He then smeared a bit of blood on the drawing, on the hand that he’d hurt. He told us that if the police wanted a description they’d want to know about any injuries as well. He said this in the most sincere manner ever. At that, we asked again if he’d reconsider, and of course he declined. I unlocked the cupboard and gave him his shoes. As he left he assured us that we didn’t need to worry about him and that he’d be home before curfew.
Peaches and I had incredible amounts of fun together, but this one stands out in the top five.