The Day Cowley Became A Gilded Cage
Oh irony of ironies.
The other day, I resumed my blog after my self indulgent break with a post about the Law Commission’s report on their new Liberty Protection Safeguards – the scheme to replace the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
After I pressed “publish”, I mooched about on the computer for a little while and into my inbox pinged an email from Steven’s new social worker. She has been on the case since last November, although we haven’t met her yet. In the email she was proposing a visit to assess Steven to see if he is “subject to a Community DoL”. Oh dear. We’re back down that road again. It was first mooted back in 2015 but successive social workers have never actually got round to doing it.
I have to say there is not one single moment of one single day as I observe Steven going about his business in his own home where it occurs to me that he might be being deprived of his liberty. Having been through the DoLS process when Steven was in the ATU, there isn’t any comparison between his life then and his life now. The doors aren’t alarmed. He isn’t subjected to face down restraint (or any kind of restraint for that matter). He isn’t given bucket loads of anti psychotics to make our job easier. He isn’t prevented from going out for three months whilst we risk assess all the venues he goes to. He no longer lives an institutionalized life.
So, do the deciding factors in Lady Hale’s Acid Test apply to Steven in his Cowley home? Is he free to leave at any time? Is he under constant supervision? Immediately, I hit a problem because that is not the sort of language we use in his home. Steven’s life isn’t framed that way anymore. In the ATU, Steven was always trying to escape. In the six years since he’s been home, he’s never once attempted to escape. If he wants to go and get some Chewits, he’ll say to me or the support worker, “Want to go to Jay’s sweet shop to get some sweets”. And off we go. I suppose the DoLS assessor will concentrate on the “we” in the previous sentence. Why is it “off we go” rather than “off he goes”? There are a number of reasons. Steven has poor road sense. Steven struggles with money, so would have difficulty paying for his Chewits. If a barking dog was to pass him along the street, Steven will become anxious and possibly kick the dog. That’s why someone accompanies Steven to the shop. We don’t see that as not being free to leave.
The second factor is “constant supervision”. Steven needs someone with him 24/7. This is to support him with those things he cannot do and to prevent him from coming to harm if he becomes anxious. I’ve never once heard the support staff say that they are “supervising” Steven. It isn’t the language of home life but it is the language of the institution. Steven has just put his Carry On Doctor DVD on. There are eight DVDs in the boxed set and he needed my help in selecting the right disc. As the menu is pictorial, Steven was able to select the correct movie from the drop down list. Was my input there supervision? Or helping? Now that Steven has settled into watching the film, I am typing this blog in my room and the support worker is doing the ironing in Steven’s bedroom. Neither of us are directly supervising him.
Graham Enderby, who should know more about DoLS than most, said to me recently: “DoLs were meant to be about getting people back into their homes. Now they are about keeping people from their homes”. He’s spot on. And this ridiculous attempt to assess for a deprivation of liberty in one’s own home has been shoehorned into legislation that wasn’t written with that purpose.
I’ve no idea what is going to happen at the social worker’s visit on Thursday. I’ve no idea of the questions that will be asked. I’m already feeling mightily resistant to Steven’s life being reduced to something that it clearly isn’t. To compound the nonsense of this, if the assessor decides that Steven is being deprived of his liberty in Cowley, the DoL can only be authorised by the Court of Protection. A supervisory body authorisation doesn’t apply in Community DoLS cases. Just think of the time and the cost involved in that exercise. I imagine the social worker leaving on Thursday; Steven and I will get on with living our lives exactly as we were doing immediately before the visit. But a whole team of professionals will burst into action to follow through the bureaucratic process. Once again, another process that is nothing to do with Steven’s life.
Roll on LPS. Perhaps a more sensible approach will be adopted.