A feral child in present day Britain
September 13, 2012 5:21 AM   Subscribe

Thought experiment: would happen to a feral child like Victor of Aveyron in the present day UK?

By this I mean: what is the layer cake of provision (foster care, children's homes, psychiatric facilities etc) that Victor would fall through and where would he eventually end up? Who are the professionals who would deal with him? Which courts would be likely to become involved? Who would advocate for him?

What would happen when he became 18?

If it helps, assume the following: that at times he displays some or all of the following: violence, in appropriate sexual behaviour, escape attempts; that he finds it difficult to form human relationships; that he does not acquire language; that his parents can't be found; that he may have cognitive or spectrum disorders; that he's resistant to behaviour modification.

Bonus points if you know of any academics, lawyers, or agencies who would be able to help answer this question.
posted by unSane to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may want to look at the case of Genie, a feral child from 20th-century USA. Granted, it is the US and not the UK, and was about 30-40 years ago, but it's at least closer to present-day Britain than Victor of Aveyron's time, and may be able to suggest a direction.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you heard of this case?
posted by likeso at 5:47 AM on September 13, 2012

Heh. Coke for EmpressCallipygos.
posted by likeso at 5:48 AM on September 13, 2012

Here's the most recent US case I could find. Warning: heartbreaking.
posted by availablelight at 6:21 AM on September 13, 2012

The term in the UK is "looked after children", and assume he would almost immediately be referred there by police dealing with his appearance. They have a range of options, such as adoption, fostering, care teams, and residential homes. Adoption and fostering would be out of the question, as he would need to be physically and mentally assessed, which would likely turn up his severe problems. A care team would be most likely, so that he received individual attention and didn't disrupt (or even harm) other children in a home. My local children's services maintains a residential "suite" on one of their bases, which they can open up if they need it for a special case. He would have a specific case worker, but he would by far be the most severe case any children's services had at the time (or had ever seen), and definitely receive 24 hour, and at least one-to-one, care. He would also receive an advocate through local government (although technically independent), and ongoing mental health assessments and treatment from contact services in the NHS. There would be regular meetings between his case workers, his carers, his advocate, his doctors, and the manager of the children's services. It's impossible to stress that his case would be so far beyond the norm that a lot of resources would be poured into handling him.

In the long run, it really depends on how much progress they make with him. At sixteen he will be classed as "leaving care", but he would still have a case worker, and be given supported lodgings. He may even still have substantial care within his lodgings. If he had made progress toward "normal", then they would slowly let him pass into society, most likely referring him to an adult case worker for future needs and moved into independent, but sheltered, accommodation. The case worker would be in adult social services of local government, who would also provide the accommodation.

However, if no significant progress was made, he would likely be passed to the local mental health care trust (who, of course, would already know him from the assessment and treatment above). In the worse case, he would be permanently sectioned as a threat to himself and society and held in a residential hospital. Of course, he would still have an advocate, and have regular reassessments to ensure that his treatment matched his needs, and was not being held needlessly against his will. Given the nature of his behavior, he could well end up somewhere like Broadmoor or Rampton, as few local NHS trusts could care for him adequately or for the long term.

Somebody who knows more could fill in the details, especially what happens outside local care and the NHS, which I know nothing about. But I've worked with the Looked After Children team and in the NHS, and this is my impression of what would happen. Try searching for children's services or "looked after children on a local government website, and it should give you an impression of the services they have.
posted by Jehan at 9:23 AM on September 13, 2012

Jehan, that's fantastic info. Do you know what the current state of play is re locking children up? Back in the 90s there was at least one institution that I visited which was operating outside the Children Act by locking children inside a residential home, but the authorities turned a blind eye because they were literally the last resort to send kids with non-criminal behavior issues (eg head injuries which caused aggression etc).
posted by unSane at 9:35 AM on September 13, 2012

Thanks, guys -- I'm aware of the US cases and of the panoply of feral children in general but I'm really interested in the specifics of how the system in the UK would deal with such a case.
posted by unSane at 9:37 AM on September 13, 2012

Also, Jehan, do you have any suggestions for voluntary agencies who would get involved?
posted by unSane at 9:39 AM on September 13, 2012

Re locking children up - there are secure units, such as Vinney Green. That page gives a bit of info about the different legal types. There's some data about numbers of children in secure units at the Research and Statistics Gateway. I would be surprised if Ofsted ignored a situation like the one you describe in a residential unit.
posted by paduasoy at 12:28 PM on September 13, 2012

You might be interested in Peoplings.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:44 PM on September 13, 2012

Whether UK or US, there are plenty of kids like this around today. I have worked with in a shelter here in the US. Trouble is, society hides from the reality that these kids exist. The assumed conditions that you described are all too familiar(except maybe the language piece). They are part of the reality of the human condition!
posted by lake59 at 6:24 AM on September 17, 2012

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