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Friday, 11 October 2013

MIRACLE: Abused foster teen who hung hImself “wanted to be white”


TRAGEDY: Alex Kelly, 15, was found in his cell at Cookham Wood Youth Offending Institution, Kent, (pictured) with trainer laces tied around his neck
SEXUALLY-ABUSED as a child and shunned by the education system, a teenage foster boy was driven to take his own life.
Alex Kelly, 15, was found on the floor of his cell at Cookham Wood Youth Offending Institution, Kent, with trainer laces tied around his neck, after hanging himself, on January 24 2012. Pronounced dead the following day, Kelly was serving a ten month sentence for theft and burglary from a vehicle.
A recent review by the independent Tower Hamlets Safeguarding Children’s Board has unveiled the tragic circumstances surrounding Kelly’s – also known as Child F - life in the lead up to his death. As with any death in custody, the circumstances are tragic, but the story behind Kelly’s upbringing is particularly saddening.
Kelly grew up alongside his three siblings in the East end of London, before they were all taken into the care of social services due to neglect and emotional abuse.
CHAOTIC
According to Kelly’s own recollections, his living environment was both unsafe and chaotic, underlined by the raping he received by a member of his family over a period of time.
Fostered to a white family in Rochester, Kent, Kelly had to adjust to life in a predominately white neighbourhood. The son of an African, Kelly viewed himself as a white boy, but in his new hometown he was identified and treated like a young black boy. This confusion spiralled into disruptive behaviour in school before he was eventually excluded aged just 14, pushing him to a life of crime including theft and assault.
Among the Tower Hamlets Safeguarding Children’s Board’s report findings it was shown that Kelly’s allocated social worker was too inexperienced. In particular, the report highlights a lack of monitoring of Kelly’s behaviour as well as a lack of skills for dealing with children who have been sexually abused.
As recent research into the impact of sexual abuse on child by the American Psychological Association has shown, “typically, children who experience the most serious types of abuse involving family members and high degrees of physical force – exhibit behaviour problems ranging from separation anxiety to posttraumatic stress disorder.”
In Kelly’s case, he was also exposed to a variety of other stressors and difficult circumstances, therefore demanding a supervisor of substantial experience and knowledge in dealing with such a vulnerable child.
In an interview with East London Advertiser, the Tower Hamlets Education, Social Care and Wellbeing’s interim director Anne Canning said “We apologise unreservedly for the mistakes that were made in his care and support.”
She added: “He wanted to be white, but he couldn’t understand why he was put in care. He was confused and distressed – he had a right to be, with his early life experience.”
Entering youth custody in October 2011, Kelly quickly began to withdraw, self-harming and threatening to kill himself.
His state was so serious that prison officers would check on his well-being five times each hour.
Speaking about the prevalence of self-harm in youth institutions, Sean Duggan, Chief Executive at the Centre for Mental Health, said: “Children with difficult family circumstances, who have seen domestic violence, been excluded from school, or who have spent time in care tend to ‘cluster’ in young offender institutions. It’s these children who are much more likely to self-harm.”
He added: “That too many of the most vulnerable young people are still being given custodial sentences instead of the care and treatment that they need.”
Following Kelly’s death, Canning says that the council has made a series of changes to prevent similar incidences occurring in the future: “We are now working more closely and more regularly with the partner agencies, which have a responsibility for looked-after-children who are placed outside the borough, to monitor the effectiveness of their work. We have also launched an improved system of making sure that complex cases are monitored by a senior member of staff.”

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