Yup, I really screwed up last week, and I can't get it out of my head. I can't believe I have a note on my permanent record!
What I did, my reasons for doing it, the way I went about it..etc....
Ok, so I'll start at the beginning, but before you read, you need to know this.
A 'Young person' at work is classed as someone aged 13-19 and if they work with us, we DO NOT socialise with them outside of work. At no times should we talk to them alone, and if we bump into them outside at any time, we're to say hi, but leave it at that.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a colleague of mine from work who also happens to be a really good friend. He was explaining to me that a young person we work with had become a volunteer for him on a lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGB) youth group. I thought that was great, as the young person (a 17 year old girl that I'll call 'Emma' here) is very bright and an all round fun person. I figured she'd be great for the group. So after that that, I no longer considered 'Emma' a young person. To me, she was a volunteer, which meant she was now a colleague. With that in mind, Emma and I swapped cell numbers as we get along so well and I'd kinda been someone for her to talk to during a rough time which I wont discuss.
Anyways, that was that........Emma text me a few days later with a simple 'Hey, how are you today? Do you know how I can turn this baby off?'. I replied 'Great thanks, you, and what's the problem?', and that is the basics of that conversation. It was about 5 text messages long.
A few days later, I happened to mention in a meeting at work that Emma had text me regarding an electronic baby programme she was on. ('Baby think it over' programme: The idea is, we give young people electronic babies to take home for a few days and they're programmed to act like real babies (to a degree). There is an off button but we only tell the young people where to find it if it's an emergency). I mentioned that Emma text me and said she was having trouble with her baby so she'd text me to find out where the 'Off' button was. I replied by saying 'Sorry, unless it's an emergency, I can't tell you'. That was it. One of my superiors was really alarmed that I'd text Emma, so I explained that she was now a volunteer and not a young person.
I was quickly alarmed myself to find out that Emma is only a volunteer for another organisation (which owns the LGB group) which meant that to us and our company, she's STILL classed a 'Young person'.
Obviously, I knew then that I'd screwed up, but promised to ignore any further text messages I receive from Emma, which I really intended to do.
I assured my superior that Emma was a smart and bright girl who I trusted and that she wasn't going to be a nuisance.
Later that same day, Emma text me and asked 'Ste, I'm so sorry to ask you this, but could you lend me any money because my Mum's money hasn't gone into her bank and we're all hungry and have no food'.
Straight away, I knew that I hadbeen put into a really uncomfortable situation. Emma's household consists of herself, her mother and 6 brothers and sisters, all under the age of 12.
I didn't know what to reply, so I ignored it for an hour or two. Eventually, I realised that I couldn't leave it, so I made some decisions.
1.I needed to know if this was a genuine issue, so I text her and said 'I'm so sorry, I don't have any money, but I will get some food together for you'. I figured, if all she'd wanted was the money, she'd text back and say that it didn't matter about the food. Her response was important to what my next step would be. As it happens, she replied:
'Oh my god, thank you so much Ste. You don't know what this means to us'.
That was enough to convince me that this was genuine.
2. I would NOT give her money as I have no idea if she'd spend it on food, but I WOULD arrange some food for them with help from my Mum, family and friends.
3. I would meet her in a mutual place as it's not appropriate for her to know where I live.
4. I'd take a witness with me.
So that's what I did. I took my Mum and met Emma in a mutual meeting place and handed her the bags of food. I realised that the bags were too heavy for her, so me and Mum walked her to herdoor and parted ways there. That was it. I knew I'd be in trouble if anyone at work found out, so I decided to keep quiet about it.
Well that plan didn't work out.
A few days later, I decided that I'd best come clean at work as the welfare of those children was now eating away at me. I should've reported the incident IMMEDIATELY as it could've been a social services issue. To be honest, I did consider telling my boss when it was all actually happening but then I thought of what would happen if social services got involved. I had visions of the family getting split up, the kids going into foster care, adoptions..that kinda thing. I also didn't believe that they'd be able to sort them out with food that same day, and none of them had eaten! It was late evening too...no time to arrange anything.
That's why I hesitated to tell them for days, but I soon realised that it was my job to report it, so I did.
I told my boss and key worker. We sat down and had a 2 hour meeting. I could tell that they were very concerned that I'd done wrong, but they didn't come across as angry at all. They talked me through everything that happened in sequence and then they realised it was nothing inappropriate, but still, they have to do what they have to do. So now, after the investigation I'm left with a permanent mark on my record. It's nothing serious (cos if it were, I'd be suspended) but the fact is, it's there, and I hate knowing that!
The most worrying thing to me is, I hesitated because I didn't want to split a family up, but at the end of the day, that could've been a life risking decision. I didn't know the situation. I never stopped to think WHY they had no money and not one bit of food in the house. Had their mother spent all the money on alcohol or gambling? Was the story genuine? Is she a fit mother? Is this a case of child negligence and abuse? I just didn't know, but the fact is, it could've been any number of reasons and all I should've done was report it. I now know that.
I guess I've learned the hard way.
But aside from all of the things that I don't know, I do know this one thing;
Mark or no mark, I slept like a baby that night and so did my conscience.