Friday, 13 September 2013

The Feral Child in my Classroom

During my teaching life I have worked with, and helped, some very sad cases in many wild and remote parts of the world. It's always challenging and heart wrenching to be a prominent integral piece of the jigsaw of a very young child's sad story; but when you work hard and with passion, as part of a team, and actually make a difference and change something so very negative into a positive it makes the difficult periods in life worth the fight. I have often quietly told myself “I have seen most things” but then some other horrendous situation pops out the woodwork and I am faced with a new and daunting challenge that takes me on another difficult journey with a small innocent child.

This little boy, who I will refer to as Jon, arrived in my nursery school aged two years, still in nappies. Jon spoke well for his age and appeared a clever capable little boy. At nursery he seemed happy enough although I noticed he was a slight loner. He still parallel played alongside his friends and he liked spending time with his adult carers engaging in pleasing conversation and chit chat. He attempted to participate in all activities with great enthusiasm and often struggled to end an activity and move onto the next task. He often became so fully engrossed in an activity he was “lost” in his own little world. I remember thinking on many occasions that it was obvious he had never experienced most of the play and craft activities offered to him.

I noticed that Jon came to nursery, each day, in grubby clothes and often wore the same clothes all week. Sadly, it was reported to me that he was rather smelly and unclean and consequently I asked the staff to change him into clean clothes as often as necessary and give him a wipe down to freshen him up. Sensitively and tactfully (and on many occasions) I mentioned this to his mummy, but nothing really changed. Still he came to play in a rather unkempt, grubby and smelly condition.

It was also very quickly noticed that Jon was always hungry and very thirsty. He would “woof” down his snacks, lunch and tea and was always the first to ask for seconds and he never seemed to be full; he wanted to eat and eat, as if he just couldn't get enough. The same was noticed with drinks; he was thirsty all day, every day, and would gulp down his drink and immediately ask for more. I began to realise that maybe he was scared that if he didn’t fill up at nursery he would go hungry at home until he returned the next time to nursery. Again, very sensitively and tactfully, I had a difficult conversation with his mummy and I decided to begin to keep a confidential diary of events.

Jon's mummy showed no concerns, she said he was same at home and was "just a greedy child". His mummy commented that “she tried to restrict his food and drink intake at home” and that we should do the same at nursery. She said he was always hungry and had an antisocial relationship with food. I very quickly advised her that I could not withhold food and drink; it was against the law and if Jon was hungry and thirsty we would be sating him adequately while in our care. Disturbingly, we had even seen him scrabbling to eat food off the floor. When we asked him not to do this, he would take the food and run off and hide. I learnt from other professionals that once a teacher got close to mum she did not stay in the setting for long. As soon as you got close (or wise) she made her excuses and moved Jon to a new nursery setting, hoping to blend into the background and remain off the radar. I knew I needed to move quickly and wisely. I knew I had a difficult task ahead of me. I also knew I had a duty of care.

Within twenty four hours, Jon made my next move easier; he made the decision for me. Unbelievably I found him lapping water from the children’s miniature stalls. Down on his knees, bending over the “little” toilets in the miniature stalls, Jon was lapping like a dog. Distressed and shocked, I gathered him in my arms, took him to one side and asked him to try to tell me what he was doing and why. He told me, in his own words, clearly and succinctly, that "this is what I do at home". I asked him to try to explain why, he replied "mummy doesn't allow me to eat or drink". I was horrified and I immediately referred.

Jon was taken into foster care and later adopted, joined a Preschool and, I am pleased to tell you, thrived.

Sadly, Jon's birth mother showed no remorse or conscience and went on to have another child with another partner. There was much more depth to this story but I am sure you get the picture. My duty of care was to Jon. For him to be deprived of food and water, strapped in a high chair all day in order for a mother to continue her substance abuse and not have to bother to take care of her precious baby was completely unacceptable and abusive. To see him acting like a feral child was heartbreaking and I had to act and act quickly before she moved her family on again, got lost in the system and Jon possibly became a statistic.

As you can imagine, sweet tea served in my Royal Doulton rose encrusted fine bone china mug was a welcome interlude while dealing with this distressing scenario.

Thank God this child was saved.

The characters in this story have been anonymised and names changed to protect identification and respect confidentiality.

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