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Best Interests & Regards

March 8, 2014

I’ve just had a very full on three days. On Wednesday I travelled up to Halifax to speak at a forum for social workers on Thursday morning. On Thursday afternoon, I was whisked across the borough to meet a group of best interest assessors. Then I travelled to Birmingham to speak at a training event for BIAs yesterday morning.

I met some fantastic people. I’m always slightly nervous that I may meet some hostility, only because I was involved in a battle with the system and the audience is made up of people from the system. My anxiety is always unfounded. At these two events, like previous ones, I received a warm welcome and the feedback after was very heartening.

After the Halifax talk, I laid in bed on Thursday evening, trying to understand why I get the response that I do. It’s been 4 years now since the unlawful deprivation of liberty and three years since the High Court, so I guess that I am more emotionally distanced from the story. It feels weird to see the audience experience such a range of emotional responses to the speech. I see people crying when I talk about the night Steven used the return of Robbie Williams to Take That and escaped from the Unit in his pyjamas. A few minutes later, I see people laughing out loud when I tell them about Steven lobbing the risk assessment and daily log binders off the balcony and Hillingdon’s response that we didn’t have a risk assessment for the risk assessment folder. And I see people start to get angry when I talk about the “fake transition home plan” and how constantly disappointed Steven was by the ever shifting goalposts. The audience may go through the emotional wringer but I usually feel quite calm during the delivery.

Until yesterday. And I had to seek refuge in the garden as I became a blubbering wreck. In Birmingham, I shared the speakers platform with Justice Johnathon Baker. Since I’ve become a DoLs’ geek, I’ve read lots of his judgements and become a big fan. In his introduction he talked about why his work is important to him and for him it is because “people matter”. His humanity underpinned his whole talk. After my talk, he had to leave and we had a farewell chat. We shook hands and he said: “Peter sends his regards”. I was slightly confused – “Peter?” Then it became clear that he meant Justice Peter Jackson, the judge in our case. With that, he left and I crumbled. When I’m talking, I’m in control but that lovely warm comment came so unexpectedly, that it cut through all my self protection. Fortunately it was the lunch break and I hid in the garden to compose myself.

Changing the subject, I had a recurring thought during both events. It struck me how very alone and isolated the best interest assessors can be. They may have regular(ish) forums like the one I was attending and training days but neither of the groups seem to have the opportunity for immediate support. This wasn’t unusual – it’s been like that with every BIA team I have met across the country. In my world of counselling, I have weekly supervision and if I have a difficult session I can have immediate access to a peer to work through whatever is going on for me. Often it’s more about my stuff that is triggered off by the client’s material, or simply offloading the load of being with someone else’s pain. BIA’s must hear some terrible stories. The people I meet at these conferences are great decent people with endless humanity. Who supports them through the emotional side of a best interests assessment? It made me think of any of the BIAs in the Neary case. She’s just been and had a harrowing two hours with a distraught father and a persistent IMCA – how does she get her head together after she’s left our flat? It seems a big gaping hole in the process to me. And may possibly offer an explanation for bad assessments – the lack of support may grind the BIA down. They may be unwilling to stick their neck out, knowing that they could be in for a rough ride with the supervisory body. They may not be willing to go that extra step for P because that may require an emotional resource that they are drained of.

I often read people in the social care world on Twitter bemoaning the loss of “reflective practice” in their work. That seems a real shame to me if that door is now pretty much closed for people who genuinely want to do the best by their clients.

As Justice Baker said – “people matter”. And without the important matter of reflective practice, both worker and client must surely suffer.

Finally, thank you to Brian, Mark, Helen and Karen in Halifax and Wendy in Birmingham for looking after me and to all the pople who spoke to me during the breaks with really positive feedback.

From → Social Care

  1. swanarchie07 permalink

    Mark so you visited my home town of halifax hope you enjoyed your stay and you leave an impacted on the people you spoke to. I have followed you now for about 18 months and I think your a fantastic advocate for us familes

  2. Breaking down now and then is cathartic, and no surprise considering all you have on your plate. Big hug to you Mark x

  3. Sally permalink

    Mark-you’re in today’s Guardian…well done both of you

  4. The advantage of private health insurance is to coverage most of the expenses of treatments, when you are in hospital due to illness or some injury.

  5. anonymous permalink


    Please Mark share your thoughts on yesterday’s outcome?

    3 years my family member who is not LD was kept in a Perpetual State of iil Health and Psychiatrically Abused. All in the name of mental health, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.


    I thank you for your strength and all who support you and their strength, which is what has kept me going.

    • Its been a very full on week but I’m hoping for some time tonorrow night to put my thoughts down. I was sent a hard copy of the report today so can read it at leisure. Overall, I think it is astonishingly brilliant news

  6. Lorraine permalink

    I was in the audience at Birmingham University as I am training to be a best interest assessor. I thought your talk was the most useful training event I have ever attended (I have worked in social care for 28 years). What made it so compelling were the personal details which brought the story alive ( I loved the stories about your music nights!). I will never complete an assessment again (for DOLS or otherwise) without considering your experience and the impact of any proposed action on a person and their family. It’s reinforced to me how important it is to respect and take into account the views of family and carers. One of your talks is definitely a “must have” for any would be Best Interest Assessor.

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