Clumsily, I’m pulling together two things that happened yesterday.
Firstly, I got involved in a Twitter discussion about “Co-production”. Embarrassingly, I had to admit to not having a clue what it meant. I read the TLAP definition and have to say that my experience couldn’t be further from co-production. Certainly, when it’s come to chosing who supports Steven, the LA have made all the decisions. They have a very small bank of agencies that they use to provide care and won’t entertain the idea of going elsewhere.
Secondly, one of Steven’s longest term support workers resigned yesterday. he started working with Steven during his time in the Unit. I think he got fed up with the small number of hours the agency were allocating him, so for the past two years, he has worked with Steven on a Sunday and worked elsewhere during the week. He is a great guy and has built a fantastic relationship with Steven. It brought home again, how fragile our support system is.
Lying in bed last night, I found myself running through the previous agencies that Hillingdon commissioned and our dreadful experiences with the first three. I do consider us blessed that we found the current agency because I’d hate to go back to those early days.
This bunch were commissioned when Steven was about 13/14 to provide 5 hours per week. At the time, I was programme leader on a counselling diploma course and working one evening a week. The idea was for the agency to support Steven whilst I was at the college. My sense of time has shrunk over the years but I seem to remember they were employed for about five months. One night, Steven was upstairs and there were two support workers with him, the regular guy and a trainee shadowing. They were doing Steven’s homework on the computer. Suddenly, Steven came running downstairs in tears and hid in the kitchen. The staff left soon afterwards. The computer was in my bedroom and when I went to bed later, I noticed the duvet was soaking wet. I talked to Steven and it came out that he had thrown a glass of water at the support worker, who in turn punched him in the face. I reported it the following morning and then things turned very sinister. 24 hours later we received an unannounced safeguarding visit from the social worker. The same support worker had reported that inappropriate behaviour had been taking place at home and at the same time denying that he had hit Steven. It was clear what they were thinking – My (Steven’s) allegation was made up to deflect attention. And what was the safeguarding issue? For many years, Steven laid out on the sofa in the evening whilst watching TV. He liked to put his feet up on my, or my wife’s lap as he snuggled under his Buzz Lightyear duvet. The inference was horrible – something untoward was happening under the duvet. This went on for weeks and of course, diverted attention from the punching incident. We never found out what the outcome to all that was.
This was the agency that supplied staff at the Unit and after Steven’s first stay there in 2008, the LA commissioned the agency to provide Steven’s home support. Three weeks after coming home, we had the dreadful incident at the airport where Steven was arrested. That investigation revealed that the agency didn’t have the licence to supply home support. Three weeks after that, Steven was assaulted by one of their staff and was kicked three times and had a hot cup of coffee thrown over him. The CPS pressed charges: the LA tried to cover it up by leading us to believe it was another service user who carried out the attack. Once again, we were never told the outcome of the internal investigation but it was a shock when Steven was back at the Unit during his unlawful deprivation of liberty to discover the same agency were being used to supply the staff there.
Agency three lasted three weeks. They only had one worker. He couldn’t swim. This was shortly after Steven had joined Virgin Active and the gym expressed concern that one of the staff supporting him was a non swimmer. Three weeks after accepting the contract, the agency pulled out with immediate effect.
Eventually, that led us to Agency number four, who were brilliant. Their staff looked out for Steven during his year at the unit and continued to provide his support after he came home. Then in March 2011, the manager left the agency and most of her staff followed her to a new agency. Obviously, we wanted to follow them too but the new agency weren’t on the LA’s list of registered suppliers and here co-production suffered a hiccup as it took weeks before I could persuade the LA to commission their services. Thankfully they did and we are still with that agency to this day.
Before anyone mentions it – direct payments/personal budgets aren’t an option for us. Some of Steven’s support package is met through direct payments but the LA have their own local ceiling on how many direct payment hours can be awarded – Steven’s package exceeds that limit. Even though it would be cheaper for the LA to cover the whole package with direct payments, they refuse to do so – something about “an equitable service for all”. I’m not fussed. It’s their loss. I couldn’t give a monkeys whether the support comes from an agency or direct payments – it’s the quality of the support that is the most important thing.
And that is the Neary’s experience of co-production. Most of the time, we are sat in the audience taking no part whatsoever. Occasionally, we are allowed a small walk on part.