Tag archives: homelessness

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

I was very impressed with this novel. It features three teenagers living difficult lives. The Me of the title is Lou, a lonely thirteen year-old with an IQ of 160 and obsessive tendencies. A misfit in a class of students two years her senior, her home life is equally hard. Her mother is profoundly depressed. Her father cries in the bathroom. Lou immerses herself in mental conundrums and scientific experiments. Then she meets No, who lives on the streets. Despite a five year age gap, they become friends. No is prickly and a drinker. Lou gets another friend too, Lucas, at seventeen the coolest, best-looking boy in school, a boy who never does any work and whose parents have left to his own devices. Rough sleeping is taking a terrible physical and mental toll on No. Lou asks her parents if she can come to live with the family, and to her amazement they agree. For a time all goes better than Lou could have dreamt. Her mother engages in conversation for the first time in years. She ventures outside. Lou’s father starts making plans for the future. No gets a job. She and Lou are inseparable. But No starts drinking again in earnest, and stealing Lou’s mother’s drugs. Everything unravels. Lou and Lucas struggle to help her as her behaviour gets increasingly unpredictable and dangerous.

No and Me is humorous and moving, the characters sympathetically drawn and believable. Through them we get an insight into what it might be like to have an intellect far ahead of your peers, what it might be like to be a homeless teenager, what it might be like to be abandoned by your parents. Published in France for adults, in the UK Bloomsbury have brought No and Me out in an adult and a teenage edition, in an excellent translation by George Miller. Recommended.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Young runaways

The Children’s Society has just published an important report, Making Runaways Safe, to highlight the incidence and plight of young runaways in England, and call for coordinated action to address the problem.

The report contains disturbing data. 100,000 children run away from home or care each year in this country. That’s a child every five minutes. A quarter of them are forced out by their parents or carers, others are escaping conflict, neglect or abuse. In 2005 most runaways were between thirteen and fifteen, with a quarter under thirteen, and one in ten nine or under. Latest trends suggest that the proportion of runaways who are under thirteen is increasing. Children in care are three times more likely to run away than their peers. Children who are facing difficulties at school are more likely to run away than others, as are those who consider themselves as disabled or having learning difficulties.

Many young runaways end up on the street. They may steal or rob for survival. Many become substance misusers. There is a clear link between children who run away from home and child sexual exploitation. Mobile phones and social networking sites are making it easier for predators to target vulnerable young runaways.

Eighty percent of young runaways do not seek help, because they do not know who to turn to or trust. Two-thirds of cases go unreported. According to the report, agencies such as the police and local authorities are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Young people and homelessness

Latest government figures show a record rise in the number of homeless young people in England – up 15% since last year. Last Friday’s TES magazine contained a disturbing but important item about the issue. Nowhere to call home explores the plight of young people ejected from their homes by parents or step-parents. Many resort to sleeping rough or sofa-surfing. All suffer mentally, emotionally and academically. Schools frequently fail to spot that students no longer have a home of their own, and may not react appropriately even once they know. The article provides hints for recognising the signs and ways to act on them. (As some people may remember, at least one school is fully clued up about this growing problem, and determined to alleviate its impact. Quintin Kynaston School in London is fund-raising for a hostel for its homeless students. You can read a Guardian article from last December about this here.)

The TES piece refers to Shelter’s resource pack for teachers. Their Good practice briefing: Engaging with homeless children is very valuable, and not just for educationalists. It is well worth looking at Shelter’s other good practice guides and briefings too. The Centrepoint website is also extremely informative.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Fix My Family

Fix My Family was a fascinating documentary on BBC2 last night, about a hostel run by the charity Save the Family. The charity, founded by the remarkable Edna Speed, works to keep homelss families together, to prevent children from being taken into care, with all the dreadful outcomes that so often follow both for individuals and for society. The hostel instead takes whole families into care, and gives them support to re-build relationships and move away from damaging patterns of behaviour. Most of the parents they help have very few parenting skills, a result of the poor parenting they themselves received. All the people who work at the hostel have themselves experienced family breakdown, and have huge reserves of empathy for the individuals and families they are attempting to nurture. Controversially, Christianity and chapel services feature prominently in their thinking and their methods. The programme highlights the anguish that families in crisis experience, the immensely hard work required from all the  individuals and agencies involved for change to happen, and the enormous value of that work in rescuing families on the brink of falling apart.

There is an interesting article by Samantha Callan here about the background to the programme and the implications of family breakdown.