On April 13 2013 I made a complaint to Sloven/OCC about the period of time leading up to LB’s admittance to STATT. My main complaint was Overall I felt my voice as a carer for LB was not listened to and as a result the seriousness of the situation was not appreciated. This complaint was largely dismissed by a Sloven internal review. Five weeks later I raised urgent concerns with STATT staff because LB had had a seizure. They’d noticed he’d bitten his tongue but hadn’t made the link with seizure activity. Six weeks later he was dead. [Howl]
I felt my voice as a carer for LB was not listened to and as a result the seriousness of the situation was not appreciated.
Person centred planning is (or should be) at the heart of social care provision (in the same way patient centred care should be central in healthcare), and techniques like Circles of Support are becoming more common. Families are a remarkable resource for health and social care staff. I wrote about this in an article to do with diagnosing autism a couple of years ago arguing that parents maybe the best resource in identifying autism. They typically understand and know their child/sibling/grandchild better than anyone. They love their child/ren and want the best for them. As Katherine writes, they want their child to have the same life chances as everyone else. But this love, expertise, knowledge and understanding is too often dismissed and ignored. Health and social care providers/staff appear to think they know better about the person they are supporting and families are portrayed as problematic.
Funnily enough, we don’t necessarily know we’re portrayed as unreasonable, or worse. It’s only on reading health or social care notes that this may become apparent. After Mark Neary raised concerns about Steven’s clothes disappearing, the social worker famously wrote There’s always something or other with Mr Neary… in an email to staff. Sally commented on my blog last week:
Blaming parents seems peculiar really and there seems to be little reflection on the part of these professionals to maybe reflect why Mark might want to know where Steven’s clothes are. Or why Sally turned down a particular service. Boxes of records and emails in the Justice shed recount my apparent hostility, refusal to accept the moon on a stick and general flakiness, positions inconsistent with other areas of my life that I seem to manage fine; bringing up LB’s sibs and working full time (although the kids might disagree).
Why aren’t families listened to?
I’ve tried to tease out some possible reasons below. These are early thoughts and there is quite a bit of overlap between the categories.
- Basic humanity: If someone isn’t seen as fully human there’s no reason to bother to engage with family members. Much easier to just get on with the task at hand – containment at the lowest possible cost – and exclude pesky relatives who bang on about better care, missing clothes and the like.
- Background: By the time the child reaches adulthood, families typically have experienced some fairly full on tough times in terms of accessing support across the years. Adulthood offers little certainty, no imagined future and deep concern about what will happen when parents are no longer around. Not understanding or recognising this background can too easily lead to exchanges that damage relationships between families and professionals.
- Black hole of trust: Trust is essential (as it is in healthcare) to the provision of good and effective social care yet it seems to be absent from consideration by social care professionals and providers. Fear is probably the most common emotion I’ve encountered in families I know both personally and through work. The lack of engagement with trust flags up a disregard for the expertise and knowledge families have to offer.
- Budgetary considerations: A lack of available resources/provision can mean that family expectations (that people will be supported to lead enriched lives) is so far out of reach that overstretched professionals don’t really want to listen to families. There are no options so it’s easier to ignore increasingly frazzled and concerned family members.
- Moon on a stick: There can be a complete disconnect between what families and providers think good care looks like. Providers may think the care provided is good enough and families are unreasonable and/or difficult to turn it down or challenge it.
- Capacity misunderstandings/misappropriation: The Mental Capacity Act can be used as a bit of a weapon against families. Partly (I think) because of misunderstandings around the workings of the act but also because it’s a handy tool to bash back concerned families and get on with the containment mentioned in 1.
That’s where I’m at right now but I realise this only scrapes the surface of an area that urgently needs attention. Any comments/thoughts/additions or revisions would be great so we could start to really flesh this out. If any health/social care professionals could chip with their experiences, thoughts and observations, that would be fab.
There may be some fairly straightforward solutions here.