Learning Disabilities Problems

Why a Personal Campaign?

The move from commercial/industrial employment into the social field for the writer took place in 1966 when large numbers of day centres were springing up on industrial estates replacing 'caring and minding' concepts. Ongoing involvement brought deep and lasting awareness of the complexity of the task faced when attempting to provide fulfilling and interesting lifestyle opportunities to those with severe and multiple learning disabilities

Not least, there was recognition that this enhanced lifestyle should not be gained at the expense of carers upon whom both the individual and the State will continue to be utterly dependant for around the clock availability. Whilst 'choice' and 'new opportunities' are a major priority for all, first and foremost, these carers are entitled to specialist and structured support that will enable them to have a quality lifestyle of their own. Without their dedicated support all inclusion policies will surely fail.

National Development Group Pamphlet 5 (1977) addressed these needs heralding a new dawn; sign posting a route by which realistic integration policies could be achieved; a continuum of opportunities could be developed; carers could be offered appropriate respite care; and a safety net provided where forays into community integration proved beyond the capability of service users.

These recommendations were widely accepted as the way forward to an achievable and equitable national policy; in 1980 the writer was appointed by East Sussex County Council to implement NDG Pamphlet 5 recommendations at an 80 place Centre at Hastings. This project made rapid progress and was substantially supported by the existing management for the first few years.

In the early to mid-1980s emotive exchanges in 'trade' publications showed ominous signs that the consequences of radical and irrational philosophies were about to impact negatively on progressive work at Adult Training Centres (ATCs).

Sure enough, by 1986 a newly appointed ‘trail blazing’ East Sussex Director of Social Services had abandoned the well advanced evolutionary work and set in motion a radical inclusion policy. Successful programmes implemented by the efforts of staff and supportive carers across the County were replaced by the Director's revolutionary normalisation ideology; uncertainty for carers followed; and the futility of this exercise left East Sussex revolutionary developmental policies in turmoil and a state of suspension.

The East Sussex project was underpinned by the King’s Fund Centre’s ‘Ordinary Working Life’ Project Paper No.50 (1984) and the Independent Development Council for People with Mental Handicap’s ‘Living Like Other People (1985) publications.

The total failure of the revolutionary East Sussex project graphically illustrated the destructive consequences of responding to idealist inclusion dogmas without adequate or appropriate research - and of entrusting local authorities with the well being of learning disabilities services.

Serving under different local authorities the writer had already seen countless examples of both best practices and worst practices and attitudes. Limitations imposed by senior management incompetence repeatedly frustrated realistic developmental programmes, whilst staff morale and motivation have been undermined by the irresponsibility of policy makers and administrators out of their depth - yet too arrogant to recognise their limitations. The potentially cataclysmic consequences for Care in the Community arising from the revolutionary East Sussex initiative had made this issue highly personal.

Greater responsibility for the current policy debacle, however, must surely rest with the KFC working party who in 1984 dreamed up a zealous one-size-fits-all vision for integration. The fatal error was that whilst they considered they knew ‘what needed to be done’ - they left it to local authorities to work out ‘how it would be done’.

To give Local Authorities a licence to identify and meet the vast and complex needs of a million and a half individuals with degrees of handicap from the most profound to most able must be the most damaging and irresponsible misjudgement made in social history – is it surprising that the only advice central government can give LAs in 2012 takes the form of a hopelessly unachievable one-size-fits-all ideology?

Directly and through ‘trade’ journals for the past decade the writer has challenged the architects of current ideologies to expand on their fundamentally flawed premises and justify the denigration of specialist and structured evolutionary options. All have evaded direct response.

Inevitably glorified visions concerning ‘inclusion’ have persisted throughout the ‘Valuing People’ era without further adequate research or detailed strategic advice on how this is to be achieved.

  • For more than a decade after the publication of ‘Valuing People’ day services support has been eroded and alternative residential resources have come under threat.
  • Already many lives are being traumatised and thrown into turmoil.
  • Currently they may be relatively few – but the pain and grief is none the less as the clock ticks towards the same fate for many others.
  • As current major planned closures of support services gathers pace the full extent of irreparable damage will become glaringly obvious.

It does not require a huge stretch of imagination to recognise that if many carers find themselves left without specialist and structured services – or obliged to organise care 24 hours a day/seven days a week/365 days a year even if funding is provided – the strain resulting from turning the clock back for even the most dedicated, may prove too much even for the most committed and resolute.

Inevitably it will be then be too late to save what is left of Care in the Community; the spectre of Winterbourne View will loom large; re-institutionalisation will return in force. Who then will accept responsibility – who then will be called to account?


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Copyright Charles Henley 2015