This time last year, 17-year-old Tianze Ni was living happily with his parents in Fife. He has autism and learning disabilities and attended a special school. Then he hit the teenage developmental/existential crisis that derails so many adolescents, and in the absence of any suitable placement, was escorted by police to Stratheden hospital in Fife and admitted on 28 April 2014, for what was supposed to be a one-night-only stay prior to a Tribunal hearing on the 29th. He never returned home. Stratheden was not suitable as a placement either; indeed, it transpired that nowhere in all Scotland was there an establishment that felt able to cater for Tianze’s needs. The Scottish NHS made the decision that Tianze should be referred to an assessment and treatment unit in England. After the Tribunal, Tianze was sent in May 2014 to an ATU in Middlesbrough for an assessment period that was to last at least six, but no more than 12 weeks. He has been there ever since.
Over the summer, there was talk of finding a residential school for Tianze, but it hasn’t happened. Part of the trouble seems to be that Tianze isn’t responding to treatment – quite the reverse. He is endlessly miserable, begging to come home, composing a song about how much he misses his home and his family and singing it to his mother at every opportunity. He expresses his frustration in destructiveness and doesn’t trust the staff; with good reason since he knows fine well that the people in charge tell lies, starting with the one about ‘only one night’ in Stratheden and going on with the ‘maximum 12 weeks in Middesbrough’. Since he was sent to Middlesbrough, Tianze has been so unhappy and angry that he has begun to self-injure. It seems impossible to find anywhere else to take him on while he is self-harming, but until he gets out of his present environment, he will almost certainly be unable to stop himself. Classic ATU Catch-22.
So for 8 months, Tianze’s parents, Nina and Clinton, have been making a weekly 400-mile round trip, which takes 12-14 hours on public transport, in order to visit him for the permitted two hours. Sometimes a visit has been curtailed or cancelled without warning for some deemed infraction on Tianze’s part of a hospital behaviour policy that he does not understand and has certainly never signed up to. The Nis are worn out and their business is suffering. Their petitions to various Scottish Health Ministers have got them nowhere. They have had enough and have decided that they can no longer make these long trips.
They have not, however, abandoned Tianze. Instead, they have abandoned their home of ten years and their adopted country of Scotland, upped sticks and left the Kingdom of Fife for the borough of Middlesbrough, so that they can be near their son. If ever anybody has been forced by authority into becoming internally displaced persons, it is surely the Nis.
And if ever anybody wanted an exemplar of unconditional parental love, the Nis again provide it: they have given up all that they spent the last decade building, purely for love of their son and to try to do the best they can for him, in appallingly difficult circumstances. They, and Tianze, deserve better than to be arbitrarily chased from pillar to post with no permanent home in prospect. They shouldn’t be turned into refugees.