Sunday, March 04, 2007

Passing the buck

On the western edge of Suburbiaville is a foster home run by Urbantown & District Local Authority. This is the place where kids with backgrounds that make you wince go to stay. (Talking of which, I had to take a girl away from her mother into protection recently, more on that another day).

Some of these kids tend to be a tad disrespectful of authority, which in moments of sanity I can understand, especially when you look at their individual histories. But what has got my wick this week is not the kids but the Authority policies which apply.

Mona is barely scraping 15. She has a curfew at the foster home, which means she has to be there by 10pm every night. As any parent of one of similar age may know, getting teenagers to abide by curfews is a touch challenging. Mona is no exception. Pretty much every weekend this year she has decided she'd rather be out somewhere else than the home and stays out late.

Pretty much every weekend this year she has been reported missing by staff. If she isn't in on her curfew time y'see, their "duty of care" is to call police. Except it isn't duty of care. Its passing the buck. Its what they have to do to prevent themselves from being criticised for not being concerned.

At the weekend, Mona goes out. She isn't in for curfew. Staff call police. Staff do nothing else. I read through the previous missing persons reports as I'm section sergeant and have to do risk assessments on all these missing bods. I read through how another Sergeant had a blazing row with the home staff, telling them that their duty of care does not completely dissolve once they've called us, they need to continue to make their own efforts to contact the "missing" person. You see, once they've called the police as per their policy, they "hand over" all investigative aspects to us. They don't even bother calling the missing kid, as it's no longer their problem. They can't even be bothered to make a phone call to speak to her.

Of course, we know as well as they do she isn't missing out at all. She's out getting bladdered with friends.

Every time Mona has been reported missing, she saunters in with likely a bit of a hangover the next afternoon.

Of course, once this happens a hapless response car has to be despatched to her to speak to her, with the hope she might tell us something about where she's been so next time we might save ourselves a bit of work and go pick her up straight away. She of course says absolutely nothing. Dont' forget that prior to this the original response car assigned to the missing person report has had to spend approx 4hrs off the road doing standard enquiries, e.g. checking with all of the regions A&E departments, custody suites, doing various computer traces.

This of course is a complete waste of their time, which the crew are only too aware of. This makes them angry at the kid and the foster home staff. And unfortunately they sometimes let them know (more by demeanour and attitude rather than anything which is said), which simply breeds further resentment on both sides.

When this landed on my desk "Here you go sarge, a great misper for you" I took an educated gamble and called the crew off all but the most basic routine checks. I classified as the lowest risk possible, spoke to the control room and scheduled it to be reassessed in the afternoon, after the time she usually comes back.

I say gamble. This is a story of the missing person who cries wolf. One day, she'll go out beyond her curfew and get herself in a world of trouble, whereupon I will probably be in a pile of big steaming poo for inappropriately classifying the risk level and halting the enquiries. But in a world of a severely reduced vehicle fleet and weekend football matches meaning a large chunk of my team are off elsewhere on public order duty, I have better things for the remaining response cars to do. Like go help search for the dangerous mentally ill person who's just escaped in Urbantown.

And yes, roughly 3pm Mona stumbles back, staying awake long enough to tell the attending officers to "f--- off" before going to sleep. Gamble pays off this time.