Just as STOP had made initial contact with Mark, he was involved in a homophobic incident at his school. This was reported to us by his social worker. The very same day, Mark went to live with an aunt as he could no longer stay with his elder carer who needed to shield as a Covid-19 lockdown was being implemented.
Agreement to engage with Mark was obtained from both him and his aunt. It was explained to them both that STOP was not looking for admissions of guilt but were more concerned that these Hate Crime allegations were attributed to him and would like to explore how to prevent this in the future. Both Mark and his aunt agreed it would be beneficial for him to work with STOP. The aunt also informed us that she has three children of her own and when awarded Kinship status for Mark, she was committed to making the placement work within her family unit. With agreement from Social Work, STOP, agreed to assist her in any way possible if this was what Mark wanted.
A six-module programme was assessed by STOP as being the most appropriate fit for his charges. All contacts took place digitally via Zoom and these were supported and enabled initially by his aunt. The contents and delivery of the programme were tailored accordingly to match his age, stage of development and attention span.
The very first discussion explored his right to privacy and highlighted the very real dangers that the widespread media coverage of the racial offence at football could bring for the safety of himself, his family and his friends. Significant time and effort was put in to building a strong relationship with Mark. The first module identified that there had been a real lack of stability and consistency in Mark’s life. His aunt had also highlighted this to us and said she would like to be kept updated on his progress and in turn she would support him to attend his sessions with STOP.
Initially Mark was very detached from his behaviours and responsibilities. Work took place exploring his thoughts, feelings and actions and looking at why they were all interlinked and how they affected not just himself but others. He was keen to learn what Sectarianism and Hate Crimes were and fully explored these. He was shocked at what the consequences were for perpetrators and persons harmed (both the racial and homophobic accusations were discussed at length). Emphasis was placed on his understanding of the laws in Scotland regarding protected characteristics. Mark was also able to understand why and how his behaviours impacted on the safety and reputations of himself and others. The appropriate use of language and behaviour in different environments (school, football stadiums, home and in the community) were all important topics where Mark was guided towards choosing working solutions that involved him taking responsibility for his actions. This was very successful and towards the end of the programme, Mark was engaging digitally without any assistance from his aunt.
Mark’s commitment to his Action Plan was as well executed as it could be while Covid restrictions regarding football and school were in place. Changes were evidenced by Mark’s aunt who reported further positive developments at school regarding his level of co-operation and engagement. Although she stated that he had always listened to her guidance and direction within the family unit, she now said that she had witnessed a greater level of self-control over his behaviours. Mark declared that he was happy at home; he felt safe there and wanted to stay permanently. He also said that he has always liked school and his relationship with teachers were getting better. There were no negative outbursts or incidents to report. Successful completion of the programme had been achieved and was positively demonstrated and expressed by both Mark and his aunt. Pre and post questionnaire answers were also supportive of the changes in Mark’s attitude and behaviours.
Mark’s aunt has kept in touch with STOP and at Christmas time the family were issued with £50 worth of gift vouchers donated by a local church for distribution to families who were experiencing financial difficulties. The aunt was delighted as this paid for a substantial Christmas Day dinner for the family. Social Work also assisted by exploring the possibility of financial assistance for the family via the Aberlour Urgent Assistance Fund.
Now Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed, STOP hopes to arrange a tour of the football ground/stadium for Mark, including a discussion with football staff to help him further understand how anti-social behaviour at matches is detrimental to the club as a whole.