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The Max Wall Effect

August 9, 2015

max wall

I’ve been in a very sad Facebook conversation since yesterday. Eden Evans has been in an ATU for the past six years. Every fortnight, his mum Debs sets out on the 320 mile round trip to visit Eden. She is accompanied by Eden’s beloved but elderly dog. Every now and then, Debs will post a heartbreaking photo of herself and the dog sitting on the train station before setting off on a four and a half hour journey. Yesterday, Debs posted that she was in tears on her journey back home. She was upset to find that Eden “was not clean”. It seems that nobody is attending to his personal care. Despite the huge sums the Unit gets paid for providing Eden’s care, this basic and respectful aspect of his care is not happening.

Debs’ post prompted Lynne to join in the conversation. Lynne is the mother of Chris (“The Boy in the Blue Room”) who has been in an ATU for roughly the same length of time. Here is Chris’s story – Chris is now in another ATU. Lynne commented that when she visits Chris, his clothes are either shrunk or creased or both. Staff at the Unit told her that they don’t have an iron. When Lynne offered to iron Chris’s clothes, she was prevented from doing this.

I find this aspect of “care” so distressing. When Steven was in the ATU, his clothes were regularly shrunk, damaged or lost. He would arrive for a home visit in a top that had been shrunk to about three sizes too small. Sometimes he would turn up in someone else’s top. His tracksuit bottoms would be falling down because the elastic had been removed. The laces were missing from his trainers. The socks he was wearing (not his) would be full of holes. I would be upset and frightened. Frightened because I imagined Steven encountering somebody when he was out and about who might see the way Steven was dressed as good sport and start mocking him. That would lead to Steven reacting and then Steven would be blamed. Plus of course, it was a terrible knock to his dignity.

When Steven came home with his belongings in a black bin bag (they lost his holdall), 50% of the clothes weren’t his. I sent them back. Of the other 50%, I threw them all away as they were either shrunk too small or ruined.

These things don’t seem to matter in institutional care. Why do they go in for those industrial sized washes where all the clothes are boiled to within an inch of their lives. Then they (the clothes) are finished off with two hours in an industrial tumble drier that are set at the sort of temperatures you would use when cooking a roast.

The other day I saw one of the residents from the time Steven was in the ATU. He is now in one of the LA’s supported living flats. He was out window shopping with a support worker. His tracksuit bottoms were up under his armpits and his t-shirt was about four sizes too small. A couple of teenage girls outside Burger King were creased up laughing at him.

I’m afraid we’re back to the “not quite human” syndrome again. There is nothing person centred in this nothing care. This is sneering, mocking centred care.

The above picture is of Max Wall. His variety act was built on his ill fitting clothes. To the best of my knowledge, Mr wall wasn’t a resident in an ATU or institution.


From → Social Care

  1. Deb permalink

    So upsetting – and once again “human rights” ?

  2. Everything needs to be reimagined. You can’t mitigate dysfunctional systems effectively and our systems of social care and health are dysfunctional. This is the result. I suspect we need to throw our models and knowledge of social work into the bin.

    Nor does appealing to Law help as it cannot act as a panopticon nor should we want it do as creating inhuman conditions to enable human interactions is doomed to failure.

    Instead, start with a simple question: what does human look like?

  3. Sally permalink

    I am very upset to read this. Being clean, wearing clothes which fit, being well presented, these are all vital. Without them we have no dignity and as you do rightly say are targets for mockery. (What horrible teenage girls, by the way. )
    How would the care workers like it if, every time they came to work, their clothes were all lumped together, boil washed, shredded and then handed out at random no matter how laughably mismatched?
    Surely this needs to be written into the remit for all care providers-that the person keeps their posessions and is assisted to be clean and well presented. If their clothes are outgrown or coming apart this should be immediately noted and new clothes purchased.
    For the money these places cost they coul dry clean all the clothes!

  4. Liz permalink

    It’s all so shocking but the worst thing for me was that Lynne was ‘prevented’ from ironing her son’s clothes. The general lack of care and respect is bad enough but what is that about?!

  5. Carole Cliffe permalink

    you can’t mitigate dysfunctional people their is a code of practice for social care workers and if I worked in that unit I would personally go out and buy an iron and start the process of reporting to CQC the lack of dignity being afforded. Apathy is the issue everything else are symptoms of that apathy …….Christ if they can’t do the most basic of personal care what hope is there……….

    • Deb permalink

      I have to agree with you Carole – CQC need to be involved, although I cant believe this has not already been done by someone before.?

  6. This, sadly, is endemic in the system, and not just in ATUs, but care homes for older people too. The one my mum was in before I moved her out, not only shredded her clothes and inappropriately dressed her in other people’s stuff, they constantly gave her too few of the wrong size incontinence pads, and lost her wheelchair. Yes her own wheelchair. We had to buy a new one for her.

    I made a fuss, but the company who ran the private home managed to keep it all hushed up. Two reports to safeguarding came to nothing. That was the point when I decided there was no point in fighting that battle any more, and knuckled down trying to keep mum safe elsewhere.

    It has left me with a huge distrust of the systems meant to protect vulnerable people, and a dread that I will one day need to rely on them myself. They are not fit for purpose.

  7. Why are personal garments being washed collectively? Doing family members’ laundry together at home is one thing, but lumping the personal laundry of unrelated people together is gross. It wouldn’t happen in a launderette service wash, so why in an institution? This disgusting practice also explains the shrinkages: If you’re going to chuck everyone’s knickers in together, then a 90 degree wash, as a nod towards the hygienic practice that you can’t be bothered to do properly, is inevitable. Doubtless it will be said that individualised laundry is too expensive, even though it’s necessary to maintain the person’s dignity and for compassionate care. Someone tell the DoH, they say compassion and dignity cost nothing…

  8. Diffusion of responsibility – in a big institution it’s easy to shrug and say it’s someone else’s fault; it’s how it’s always been done; it’s a better use of resources…
    It takes someone with a vested interest in the quality of care to point out the glaring errors.

  9. Even bigger questions than clothes.

    Why are they in ATU for six years. When will they get out. Why are they there. What is the treatment. Will it work. Why does it have to be 320 miles from family. And why does it cost 4,000 per week ?

    Answers-Because its illegally allowed, to make huge private profit, see my post on St Andrews, and all tax free, as charity, and, unaccountable..

  10. Lisa permalink

    Oh yes the same here. My son has come home in someone elses underpants. Someone elses shoes. Unbrushed teeth is another one I really hate.
    Thank god it was only respite.

    • Only respite! In a perverse way, I’d expect them to be more attentive when on respite because the lack of care would be immediately visible.

  11. Lisa permalink

    I agree Mark. I was thankful they sent the right person home.

  12. thewoodsbeyondthetrees permalink

    This is so heartbreaking Mark. Clothing is all about expressing one’s identity, and familiar items can be quite comforting – who doesn’t have a favourite weekend jumper, or something that one associates with happy times. It would be so upsetting to see it being worn by someone else, or damaged in the wash. In addition, what about the SS mantras of ‘choice’ and ‘independent living skills’ – the latter must surely must be part of the raison d’etre of ATUs.

    Should not laundry skills be part of the daily living programme of each ‘client’ (is that the correct current lingo – can’t keep up)? I can see that perhaps a key worker might have to be responsible for the ironing, or to closely supervise, but most clients must be able to pop their clothes into the washing machine and then into the dryer or, dare I imagine it, peg them onto a washing line.

    Happily, my son – about the same age as Steven, I think – still lives at home with me, and naturally can express which clothes he would prefer to wear, carefully selecting his favourites or deciding whether it is a shorts kind of day or rather a snuggling up in baggy jeans kind of day – and rejecting anything that he considers uncomfy – definitely NO wool, too itchy! As he is a creative kind of guy, with a very busy life, all his clothing tends to be a little ‘distressed’ from the minute any garment comes out of its packet – a liberal coating of glue, paint and, less problematic, mud. However, at least he can have his own expressive style and individual ‘look’.

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