A Stolen Childhood

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Authors: Casey Watson
problems, miss,’ he said eventually. ‘It’s ’cause I’m stupid, miss. I don’t know stuff and I’m rubbish at football, and the other boys make me mad and then I get cross and swear and then I lose my mummy dollars and then I don’t get stuff and then I get angry all over again.’
    He sighed heavily. It was a long, impassioned speech. This anger about losing rewards was clearly the driving force in his life.
    ‘Tell me about your mummy dollars, Jonathan,’ I prompted, and he explained that his foster mum had a cabinet in her kitchen, in which was a box containing treats and small toys. At the end of the week, provided he’d earned sufficient dollars (by doing specific tasks and being helpful) he could spend them on the treats of his choice. A bad day at school could derail this, however, as poor behaviour would result in previously earned vouchers being taken away again, often resulting in him having none left come treat day.
    I actually thought it was a great idea; a classic way to incentivise a child to change their behaviour, not via punishment, but by accentuating the positive to give them motivation. Though, at the same time, I was sorry that his school day was included in the system, because, to my mind, what happened in school should, in a case like this one, be dealt with in school. Both carers and teachers were working towards the same goal after all, and I couldn’t see the logic in him effectively being punished twice for his small transgressions. Was this the key to his growing frustration? That he’d simply got into a cycle of negative reinforcement? Perhaps all that was needed here was to break it. And in my Unit, he had a fighting chance of doing just that. With no flash points, or clever-clever peers, or bullies, or impatient teachers needing answers, there was simply so little opportunity to be ‘naughty’.
    ‘Well, we’ll try and help you with that, love,’ I said gently. ‘You’ve been a very good boy so far this morning, and I’m going to enjoy getting to know you. You can go back now, sweetie, and carry on with your story. Could you ask Thomas to come over, please?’
    As Jonathan made his way back to his new classmate, I glanced over at the girls. They were both busy writing now, having presumably shared their respective stories, and I was tickled to see Chloe reach a hand out now and then, and stroke Kiara fondly on her forearm. I wondered what Kiara was making of it – she didn’t draw her arm away – and it seemed I wasn’t the only one, either.
    ‘She’s a bit funny in the head, that one, ain’t she, miss?’ Thomas said conversationally, as he settled down beside me on a floor cushion. ‘This is a bit of alright, miss,’ he added, scooping his fringe from his eyes. ‘I ain’t never seen a classroom like this before. It’s well cool.’
    ‘Thank you, Thomas,’ I said. ‘But you know –’
    ‘It’s Tommy, miss. I didn’t like to say before, but it’s Tommy. No one ever calls me Thomas ’cept me granny.’
    ‘Okay, Tommy it is, then,’ I agreed. ‘But, you know, one thing I need to tell you is that we don’t name-call in this classroom,’ I added mildly.
    ‘I weren’t calling her names. I was just saying she ain’t right in the head, miss. And he’s not, either, is he?’ he added, nodding back towards Jonathan. He did a circular motion with his index finger beside his temple. ‘Bit away with the fairies, like, isn’t he? That’s not calling people names, miss. It’s just a fact. That’s why they’re here, isn’t it?’
    I half-expected him to ask why he was here, given that. The old ‘why have I been put in with the retards?’ being a common refrain, from kids who, in saying so, were answering their own question. But I had detected no cruelty in Tommy’s tone, just simple curiosity.
    ‘I know what you mean,’ I said, ‘and I know what you’re trying to say, Tommy, but in this class we have children with all kinds of different

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