Learning Disabilities Problems

The Normalisation/Inclusion Debate.

The Relevance of the 1970s/80s Debate to Current Policy Failures.

Events that took place a quarter of a century ago are not redundant historical anecdotes but highly relevant factors linked directly to an ongoing spiral of decline in service support. A succession of well-intentioned modernisation processes but a failure to learn from the consequences of erroneous policy judgements for over 50 years has left a depressing policy vacuum.

Elderly parents who have struggled long and hard to develop and improve services over the years can only despair as they view with dismay the relentless erosion of service provision that offered much with each successive change of policy - but delivered so little. How many younger carers are aware of the cycle of changes over which the older generations fought so many long and bitter battles? For that matter - how many academics, professionals, bureaucrats and policymakers have much awareness either?

The Occupation Era - Despite a 'Caring and Minding' role perpetuated the image of permanent childhood.
Optimistically became:

The Industrial Era - Set up to offer 'Real World Employment' prospects but was sabotaged by the unrealistic expectations of early radical modernisers.
Moved on to:

The Social Education Era - offered lifelong learning opportunities and realistic evolutionary community integration until frustrated by radical modernisers dedicated to total inclusion ideology.
Then transmuted into:

The Resource Centre Era - promoted wider inclusion and opportunities but was again sacrificed on the altar of total inclusion and the ruthless denigration of structured and specialist services.
Leading to:

 'Valuing People' - Promised choice - but being based on the false premises generated by 'do-gooders' and radical extremists inevitably failed to deliver. Currently being salvaged by rebranding into:

 'Valuing People Now' - VPN again claims to recognise the importance of Choice but having failed to learn from historical failings is unlikely to deliver the unrealistic aspirations raised.

‘Valuing Employment Now’ (2009) – A document extolling the virtues of open employment for all – despite the reservations by its advisers that “at present funding arrangements and policies are not in place, as they are in some parts of America, to support a large scale increase in numbers employed, nor to promote a move away from traditional day activities.”

‘Raising our Sights: services for adults with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities’. (2010) - Whilst clearly great progress had been made in many other areas there was little in this Report that gave reassurance that provision for day care needs had made much progress in the past quarter of a century.

The need to modernise and integrate is indisputable - but the means of achieving these aims have remained a matter of contention since the debate of the 1970s/80s.

Two principle options predominated:

  • Evolving integration within the community using specialist and structured methods.
  • Revolutionary relocation of clients directly into the community using only generic community resources to meet their needs.

The reality that must be faced is that for the past two decades the revolutionary option has dominated policy direction - but failed abysmally. Whilst its proponents continue to perpetuate false premises and malicious mythology to discredit specialist and structured services, the evolutionary option, despite its capacity and potential to benefit more severely handicapped people, will continue to be rejected.

It is time to go back to the drawing board; fight for an informed and objective debate in the public domain; acknowledge the grievous errors of the past; and identify rational and achievable objectives that can lead to adequate, appropriate, equitable, and sustainable national policies.

Our most vulnerable citizens must be the priority.

The Government deserves recognition for its commitment to the principle of welfare of the vulnerable and weak but must recognise that evolving local best practice often carries more benefit and less risk to all concerned than imposition of the latest fashion.

Little is likely to change for the better until an influential policymaker demonstrates for adults the same courage and integrity shown by Baron Warnock in admitting she 'got it wrong' regarding children in special schools. Only intense parental/carer pressure will bring this about.

Parents must work in unity and not be distracted by attractive benefits for the vocal and more able people to the detriment of services for those for whom specialist and structured support are vital.


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