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Prediction has been designed to help work with the whole range of children in need. The following illustration belongs to the more complex end of the social services case spectrum, but it is fairly typical. This case example is also linked to the Aggregating Data practice tool.

It concerns Nigel, the 13-year-old son of Shirley and Michael McMahon, a couple from Ireland, who moved to London soon after their marriage. They have five children - three boys older than Nigel and a daughter, Ann, who was born a year later - despite the fact, according to Shirley, that Michael was already alcoholic at the time of Nigel's birth and that her pregnancy had been marred by his domestic violence. Evidence of Shirley's underlying frailty began to surface soon after Ann was born, however, and she was in hospital for over four months receiving treatment for a combination of physical and mental problems. Clinical depression was diagnosed and she has been taking anti-depressants ever since.

During Shirley's period in hospital, Michael returned to Ireland with the children and lived with his mother. When the family came back to London, he began another relationship and moved out of the family home, leaving the children to drift back and forth between their unhappy family home and their grandparents in Ireland. By the time Nigel was eight a pattern had become established: he and his sister lived with their mother during the week and with Michael and his new partner at weekends, while the older boys - John, Adam and Alan - stayed first with their father and then moved out into their own flats, in the process following in his footsteps by turning to property crime.

There is some evidence that the problems at home affected Nigel's psychological health, behaviour and educational progress during this period. Nightly bedwetting continued at least until he was seven. Frequent moves between homes and repeated absences were making him noticeably withdrawn and backward at school. Nearer to the time the case illustration was compiled, he was picked up by the police for shoplifting. He has been warned twice since, with the result that youth justice workers and social services are working together to decide what to do about his latest offence. Unusually he goes out alone to steal from shops - he does not associate with his older brothers or with other anti-social boys.

When Nigel's sister Ann was nine she claimed to a teacher that for the previous three years her father had been abusing her during her weekend visits. Her disclosures caused a family crisis: Michael snatched Nigel, Ann and John and took them to Ireland, and Shirley had to be hospitalised for a further three months. Liaison between social services in Ireland and London resulted in Nigel and Ann eventually being returned to their mother and their names being placed on the child protection register. Whether Nigel had been sexually abused by his father was never established, but it was clear that he and Ann had on occasions been badly beaten and that in the girl's case there had been sexual maltreatment also. She had accepted therapy at a London hospital; Nigel has so far declined it.

Have any potentially protective factors been operating in Nigel's life? It is clear from at least two reports (one by a social worker, the other by a primary school teacher) that he has a close relationship with his sister and that they are very protective of each other. Moving from primary school to secondary school can be a stressful transition but in Nigel's case it appears to have had a liberating effect. His recent school reports have been good and he has not missed any days during the last 12 months. The music teacher has noticed a natural talent in him and arranged for
him to take violin lessons after school and he has formed a close relationship with her also. Although still very shy and with a tendency towards withdrawn behaviour, he has a group of friends who have seldom been in trouble.

Nevertheless, the use of the prediction tool has been prompted by a new crisis: Michael McMahon is back in London and says he wants to see his children. The police will not intervene because Ann refuses to testify against him. Fearing he will be attacked by his father or else taken into care, Nigel has run away from home. After three nights sleeping rough, he has been picked up by the police yet again for shoplifting.

Click here to view the Social History slideshow for Nigel

Click here to view the Method A and Method B slideshow for Nigel

Click here to view an annotated PDF version of both instruments

An Aggregated Data instrument has also been completed for Nigel.