Aged eight Keoni was excluded from education. No one would have him. He was a tortured soul filled with anxiety which manifested in daily violent tantrums. It was difficult getting through to him. Night times were unpredictable rampages so doors and cupboards were locked to ensure safety. As he grew the violence became more difficult to cope with and we were close to the limit of my our capabilities. We never gave up on the idea of Keoni having the education he deserved. After a long battle where our health suffered, around his tenth birthday we secured a place for Keoni at St Christopher's, Bristol; a specialist residential school.
Seven years on Keoni is transformed. Years of patient techniques and therapies mean the violent tantrums are in the past. He's learnt sign language and overcome many anxieties and is calm enough to flourish in the classroom. He ceased manhandling people when feeling anxious, able to convey his discomfort and seek an alternate space without violence. Above all he feels safe and secure enough to participate in his education.
Keoni is learning skills to give him independence. He's accomplished much since joining the school. Basic skills we take for granted; learning how to cook, to do his laundry, cleaning his living spaces, managing his personal hygiene, dressing himself, demonstrating an eye for fashion and pride in his appearance.
His carers at school were bold and determined enough to unearth within Keoni a talent for rock climbing that is both transformational and inspiring. After watching her brother eftortlessly climbing a 40ft indoor wall for the first time, his then 3 year old sister Zahra was determined to try it herself.
Keoni's a popular member of the community. He's well known at the barbers, cafe's and shops. As a boy just getting him to the newsagent and back was a challenge. We'll never be able to fully convey my gratitude to the care staff, Medical consultants, experts and management team of St Christopher's who've been so devoted to Keoni. They've given our son a chance of a meaningful life. A life we didn't dare dream of.
In Jul 2015 St Christopher's scored an inadequate Ofsted rating. Keoni's team reassured us his House was not a contributing factor. Despite this our Local Authority (LA) immediately tried to remove Keoni from St Christopher's. We fought successfully to keep him there from Aug 2015 until Apr 2016. The LA finally confirmed in writing their plan to remove Keoni from St Christopher's with a deadline of Jul 29th 2016. They named a non residential school in South London completely unsuitable for Keoni's needs at which point we had no choice but to employ the services of a Solicitor.
To further confuse things Christmas 2015 the school faced the threat of closure due to maladministration and austerity. A campaign spearheaded by parents led to a take over of the school early 2016. The takeover was seamless. The group are experienced with an impressive track record and have reassured us they will not rest until St Christopher's has received an "Outstanding" rating from Ofsted.
The LA still maintain they wish to remove Keoni due to an inadequate Ofsted rating that was awarded over a year ago. A subsequent OFSTED inspection Autumn 2015 recorded a significant improvement and the school has now been taken over by a group with a proven track record. These elements simply ignored as an "inconvenient truth" by the LA.
Keoni cannot speak for himself and the LA motivated by austerity are ignoring his needs as well as the directives laid down in "The Children and Families Act". Sidelined we were left with no choice but to seek legal representation and appeal the LA's decision. Because of his age Keoni is not entitled to Legal Aid so we have to fund his defence ourselves.
Of great concern is that despite our best efforts Keoni has picked up on the disruption. He's already displaying anxiety related behaviours we haven't seen for years. All the behavioural experts we've spoken to predict that the shock of the move would see all the good work of the past seven years unravel in months.
We both work but raising money for Keoni's defence is proving to be painfully expensive. The alternative would see Keoni fall through the cracks in the system and the inevitable conclusion is an institution or worse. He warrants so much more and we would appreciate any help that you are prepared to give him.
Our humble thanks.
Desta and Mike
- Ruby Stephens
- Karen Bath
- Phyllis Boland
- Curley Ley
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