Josh’s parents ran a very public campaign demanding, “Bring Josh home’. It took three years and much heartache but today Josh is living close to home and is a very different boy. Father Phill Wills tells their story.
Josh was sent away from his home in Cornwall to a unit in Birmingham because his self-harming behaviour had become life threatening and it seemed there was nowhere locally that could give him the support he needed. It took three long, hurtful, emotional years to get him back to Cornwall and to put together and get agreement on the wonderful bespoke care package he now has.
We campaigned very publicly and got 241,500 signatures through change.org (we are proof that it does work!). All those we fought against are now working together to help Josh’s care run smoothly. He has a team of 16 round-the-clock carers. The evidence that Josh is getting the right care and enjoying life back near his family and in the area he knows so well is in every picture we take of Josh now. His eyes sparkle, he is confident and he loves life again. For me, it’s the environment, the people close to him, extended family being just down the road, his beloved Nan and Pa. No amount of money could pay for that look in his eyes when he visits his Nan’s house.
So much do I believe in the quality of the care package that he has, I have asked the Care Minister to visit to see for himself. Other NHS England officials are also interested. So what? I hear some of you say. It’s to show these people the difference in Josh, the difference his care package has made to him physically and emotionally. I have always tried to remain positive, to keep people together, to work with everyone who wants the same outcome, the same goal, which is of course to get all of our precious children and adults close to home, where they belong.
One of the main focuses of our very public campaign was to get Josh’s voice and story heard. We certainly did this and, in turn, opened the way for others to speak out. We demanded, “Bring Josh home” and that’s what we achieved. It took lots of shouting, heartache, public and media pressure, but we were lucky and, eventually, we did bring him home. It wasn’t as simple as just leaving Birmingham, jumping in a rapid response vehicle and heading to Cornwall. The transition began ten months earlier, both in Cornwall and Birmingham.
As soon as the local authorities in Cornwall gave the go ahead for a local care provider – Spectrum – to provide a specially adapted bespoke care package for Josh, things swung into action. A new team of carers was hired and we, as Josh’s parents, were involved in the interview process – quite rightly as we are the parents of the child who they, the staff, are going to spend a majority of time with. Meanwhile Josh, unaware of the huge project going on back in Cornwall, was continuing his life in Birmingham while we continued travelling the 520-mile round trip to see him. We were involved from the start: the transition process, the new care package, his autism profiling. Hours and hours were spent going over every aspect of Josh, every part that defines what and who he is. No stone was left unturned, no topic deemed too difficult.
Once the carers were all in place (16 in total) they began to visit Josh in Birmingham so that they could get to know him and, of course, he could get to know them. I think he picked up on certain accents from his homeland and gradually the Birmingham carers stepped back and the Cornwall carers became primary.
A house was rented back home and made ‘Josh proof’ – a lot of work. It had to be registered by Ofsted as a children’s home, as Josh is still a minor.
After a few delays, and a high profile 15th birthday celebration in Truro Cathedral covered by the local and national media, Josh returned to Cornwall on 2 November 2015.
What did I expect? Part of me wanted him to go back into Cornwall and run along the beach happily as if he had never been away. It wasn’t going to be like that. I look at it now, 8 months later and realise that back then, I, his Dad had taken him away from everyone and everything he had known. He had spent three years in Birmingham, getting to know the staff there, who loved and cared for him and on whom he had become reliant and now here I was being the one taking him away from everyone in Birmingham and bringing him back 3 years later. After the move back to Cornwall there was a really painful time for me, where Josh seemed not to trust me, I will even go as far as saying he seemed to hate me (a 15 year old boy reaction to his old man anyway perhaps?!)
Our keen outdoor boy, who would walk for miles a day in Birmingham suddenly did not want to leave the house. Was it the bad winter weather? No, looking back, it was because every time he left the house he thought he would not be coming back, that he would be going away again. Trust and confidence was going to take months to build up again. I can see now, that no amount of planning and preparation could have got the homecoming exactly right, but we had all done our best.
It was around Christmas time that Josh’s confidence and trust began to return. He met his 2 year-old sister Marnie for the first time on New Year’s Eve. They hit it off immediately and now they automatically go in for the kiss when they see each other. The Bishop of Truro became President of Spectrum in January, and came along to bless Josh’s house. It was a lovely event. As the weather improved and spring announced itself, so did some of the old Josh – the giggles, the cheeky smiles, the appetite. Josh’s appetite was non-existent in the Unit, food wasn’t prepared in front of him so he didn’t really have a chance to get hungry. Here, in the home, he gets involved, chooses, and helps to prepare the meals and so his appetite has returned.
Josh attends Spectrum’s own school for four hours a day (itself a huge step forward) and whilst there has rediscovered his love of music and loves to bang on a drum. I happened to report this on Josh’s Facebook page and mentioned how a drum kit would suit him. Within days one was donated and delivered. On the back of this, I’m trying to find one for a friend’s son who has been through an experience similar to Josh’s. He is in the London area. So can we find him one? Please do make contact if you know how!
The whole point of our campaign was to get Josh’s voice heard, to exercise his human rights to a family life and to let him have a life that he deserves. The way we shouted is something not everyone can do – and shouldn’t have to. There are still so many sad stories of families torn apart out there. I hope people will see our campaign as calm and dignified, despite the circumstances. I firmly believe the decision-makers are more likely to sit down and work with families this way.
Josh continues to grow and adapt. His life has altered immeasurably and in some cases irreparably. I do regret not fighting earlier. What’s done is done. Josh lives 15 miles away rather than 260 miles. It’s still not in my home, I still can’t tuck him into bed, or cuddle him if he has a bad dream at 3am. We lived a bad dream for three years but now there is hope, love and a brighter future for Josh. Everyone who supported us and continues to do so has helped to make his future brighter. People comment on his beautiful smile. They helped with that too.