Multisystemic Therapy helps shut down safe-houses in the UKSetting the scene
In an Inner London borough on a hot summer’s day, unusual for the U.K. (remember, we are obsessed with weather this side of the pond), the MST team was supporting a family in search of their 13-year-old daughter, who was out past curfew, putting herself at risk. This was time for us to help this family learn to increase monitoring and supervision as well as help their daughter get involved with in pro-social activities.
Our MST therapists have learned over time that we must show families how to do higher-level interventions needed to extract their teen from criminal peers. These interventions sometimes include locating and poisoning “safe houses” and posting pictures of the young person in the community to alert others that this teen is vulnerable and the family needs their support. (“Safe houses” are homes or places where a teen thinks she or he can go and are “safe” because parents and other adults don’t know where they are, and even if they did, the adults wouldn’t dare go looking for them there.) These MST interventions are performed with care to ensure the safety of this high-risk population. Here are two of our favourite success stories, demonstrating this is always done with hope, humour and sticking to the MST Analytic Process and Principles.
The ecology in action
It was a typical British summer day, rainy one minute, sunny the next. New therapist Ana, armed with sunglasses, an umbrella and Principals 2, 3, 4 and 9, settled into the Camden office to guide family members in locating a teen who didn’t turn up at school. Earlier in treatment, this family worked with Ana to identify, through social media, mobile phone and the teen herself, where her safe houses were. The family developed a map of these places and was ready to spring into action when the call came from the school. Granddad to park bench, cousin to a local housing estate, safer neighbourhoods community police on watch, youth workers alerted, aunty to the known safe houses—you wouldn’t mess with her.
Not more than one hour later, the girl was picked up and escorted back to school. Time to check in and evaluate. Ana met with the family to review the plan from multiple perspectives to help identify what worked well and where they struggled. Armed with this new knowledge, everyone geared up for the next challenge—when school finished. This meant grandparents made sure the school was fully informed and able to hold this teen at the end of the day (after completing her detention for being late), until she was picked up and escorted back home by two members of the family. Success. The family learned how they could successfully work together, use their supports to locate the teen, get her back to school and keep her at home during the evening and night.
Eyes and ears in the community
For another case, the missing-persons posters were already up in known parts of the community where this 15-year-old hung around. The picture of her and her teddy bear was particularly endearing and very aversive to this young person. As quickly as they were torn down, they were put back up by family and neighbours. But not all safe houses were known, and despite the family’s efforts, the girl was not found because locations were being referred to by code names on phones and social media. It was time for some undercover work.
The family and therapist Natalie developed a plan to follow the girl and track her down. In this case, Natalie took the lead on the first part. It started on a freezing winter’s night. Natalie waited outside the home ready to follow the teen to see where she was heading. Unfortunately, this cold evening, the girl was spending extra time on her makeup, leaving Natalie to face the elements—but not unfortified. Teammate Emily had thought ahead and supplied her with a surprise flask of hot chocolate—great teamwork. Finally, the girl left the home. Natalie was disguised as a jogger, however, despite her nimble feet, the girl got away as the tube doors closed in Natalie’s frustrated face.
The next time, Natalie was ready in her businesswoman disguise—and this time, she located the house the teen entered and shared this information with the parents. They then took the lead on the next part of the plan, poisoning the “safe house” by visiting there with chocolates in an attempt to get support from the occupants. After all, “we would not want the police bothering you at 4 a.m.” This was followed up with posters of the teddy-bear girl. The local street cleaner was even brought on board to pass on information. (An email of thanks was sent to him and of course, cc’d to his manager. Maybe a Street Cleaner of the Year award is due.) Another safe house closed down and another set of parents who learned how to be able to track down where their young person is going and know how they can keep their teen safe.
The Brandon Centre teams have been working with an influx of referrals for young people who were missing from home, particularly girls. In fact, 80 percent of one team’s cases were girls, all of whom were breaching curfew. In addition, many of them were using drugs, attending raves, were out of school and at high risk of sexual exploitation.
To learn more about MST at the Brandon Centre Click on our MST video.