Respite Blues

by barbznz

Suzanne’s residence had a couple of respite beds for children whose parents needed a break for a while. I had no problem with this at all but sometimes there were problems.

I knew the children who stayed with Suzanne, I had known many of them for years, since Suzanne started at CDU. But I also knew how vulnerable people like Suzanne were when it came to their more able bodied companions. 

There was one girl, I will call her Sandy. She was a biter. I know that many children bite particularly when they are around two or three. The problem with Sandy was, she was over eight so she had adult teeth. 

The first incident I heard about involved Mathew one of Suzanne’s flat mates. It happened at school. When staff were busy, she bit him so severely on the face that he needed hospital treatment. 

I knew that Sandy stayed at Suzanne’s place so I  talked to Prue about it. I was worried that Suzanne could be at risk. While I recognised that Sandy’s family needed respite, I wanted to make sure that Suz was safe. She assured me that all practical precautions would be taken. 

Then Sandy bit Cameron. More worryingly, she had gone into his room after bedtime and pulled him off the bed behind the door so any staff passing would be unaware of any problems. He was bleeding quite badly when staff found him.  

When I heard about the second incident, I went and saw Prue again. She said that they would be more careful. There were no other respite places available and Sandy’s family really needed the break. They thought perhaps Sandy was frustrated because these non-verbal children didn’t talk back to her. 

Staff would be more vigilant she said. They would work with Sandy to help her understand why there was no response when she talked to them.  Staff let her help bath the children and even feed them. I said she had one more chance but if Suzanne was hurt she would certainly know about it.

One day, I was at kohanga  and Prue arrived. She looked terrible and my first thought was that Suzanne had died. She hadn’t. She had been bitten and was at ED. On the way to hospital, Prue told me what happened. 

Suzanne was in the van on her way to school. Somehow Sandy had good out of her seat belt, pulled Suzanne’s shoe and sock off and started biting her toes. She was getting back into her seatbelt as  the van arrived at it’s destination. The van driver noticed blood on Suzanne’s foot. And blood around Sandy’s mouth. It wasn’t until staff saw them that they realised what had happened.

Suzanne lost two toenails and spend a night in hospital. Once I knew that Suzanne was fine, I thought about Sandy’s mother. How awful to know that your child could inflict such pain on another child. 

Sandy didn’t come back to Suzanne’s place for respite. They made other arrangements. I didn’t even have to fight them on it. They realised that the risk was too great. 

Fortunately there were no lasting effects for Suzanne. It was just one of those things. But heartbreaking for everyone. 

© Barbara Hart 2014

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