The Safeguarding Dance

This morning I tweeted the following thought:

“Whenever I mention our encounter with Community DoLS, I can guarantee that I’ll get at least 1 reply that feels I need reminding that disabled people need safeguarding from their families too”.

The ensuing discussion went in several directions and Mark Brown joined in the conversation and posted a link to the most recent set of NHS Digital stats on the issue of safeguarding reporting. The link is below but the key figures for me are 23% of harm was caused by family and 32% by social care staff.

For me it posed the question, how many cases of abuse or neglect or exploitation by the State are referred by the State. If they are the perpetrators then I would imagine them less likely to refer themselves than if the abuse came from other sources (including family).

I wish to state (like I did on Twitter) that I’m not interested in setting up a Them vs Us battle here. But I am interested in trying to find a way to equalise the power dynamic that exists that will lead, inevitably, to more families being referred for a safeguarding investigations than the State itself.

One tweeter challenged me to give examples where the State financially exploits learning disabled people. I kept my reply to my own personal experience (which thankfully doesn’t include the familiar horror stories of benefit sanctions, fitness to work assessments etc). I came up with quite a list:

  1. When Steven was in the ATU, I received a monthly invoice for £118.80 for his contribution towards the cost of his deprivation of his liberty. He didn’t want to be there. The detention was subsequently found to be unlawful. No account was taken of Steven’s expenditure.
  2. Last year, Steven received a bill in April for £185.00 as a financial contribution towards his care costs. This threw me because the previous year it had been zero. When I checked it out I was told that it is not their policy to carry out a financial reassessment every year but it is their policy to “reset” the expenditure figures to “zero” thereby triggering off a full charge. A committee at the council signed off this policy which can have no other motive than to try and trick their clients into paying for something they may be exempt from.
  3. In the same month last year I received Steven’s council tax bill. It was much higher than normal. I checked it out and exactly the same thing had happened as I mentioned in (2). The LA has a policy to remove the “disability marker” each year and therefore the disability discount is removed leading to a full charge. Once again, a committee agreed this policy.
  4. The whole point of being a court appointed financial deputy is to have someone who safeguards the person’s income and outgoings. Yet the disabled person is charged for this service by the Office of the Public Guardian. Before anyone says it, I know that if the State is the financial deputy, the charge still applies but the point is the incapacitated person has to cough up an annual sum in order to be safeguarded against financial abuse.

Those are just four examples of financial exploitation. It needed me (or someone concerned with preventing Steven being ripped off) to stop that happening. If I hadn’t challenged the care charges, the council would have pursued him for a hefty charge that he cannot afford to pay.

Of course, there are other forms of abuse and two personal experiences that still chill me many years later are glaring examples in the disparity in the power dynamic between the State and the family.

Steven was about 13. At the time I was working one night a week teaching counselling at a local college. We asked for and were given five support hours so that someone would help Julie whilst I was out. This was our very first experience of having support staff in our home. Over a period of four weeks a succession of agency staff came for induction and to get to know Steven. One morning after an induction evening the night before we were visited by the social worker. She said that she had received a safeguarding referral from the agency over an “incident” that had happened the previous evening. As had been his routine since he was about 5, Steven used to collect his Toy Story duvet from his bedroom and bring it downstairs to lie under on the sofas as he watched the evening soaps. He would ask Julie or I to sit at the end of the sofa, so his feet were resting on our lap. This was the safeguarding issue. It took ages for the penny to drop. In fact the social worker had to spell it out to us. Even though the support worker had said that nothing was going on, the safeguarding team felt that his evening routine set up the possibility for some sort of sexual activity going on under the duvet.  I remember going to the kitchen to wretch into the sink. The safeguarding investigation went on for about five months. It was terrifying. We had to stop Steven’s favourite, calming evening routine. We had to convince the team that we had learned the error of our ways and were able to set boundaries around sexual activity. In the beginning we tried to put the case that there wasn’t and never had been any “sexual activity” under the duvet but that only led to grave concerns about our parenting and threats of removal. It was one of the most frightening experiences ever.

Compare that to the experience we had when Steven was a “day client” at the positive behaviour unit five years later. One day Steven was assaulted by a member of staff. He was kicked three times in the leg and had a cup of hot coffee thrown over him. You’d have thought there would have been an immediate safeguarding alert raised. Far from it. When the social worker came to inform us of the incident later that day, she led us to believe that it had been another service user that had carried out the assault. It was only by chance the following day that we discovered it was the shift leader. I’m not sure if we’d have ever known the truth if it hadn’t been for someone letting the cat out of the bag. The LA did promise to carry out an internal investigation. They might have done. We were told that we weren’t entitled to know the outcome of any investigation for two reasons: (1) Because it was an internal matter, and (2) because Steven had just turned 18, we, as his parents, had no legal status to warrant being informed. I’m cynical but I’m not sure they even carried out a safeguarding inquiry. It was very hush hush if they did. Steven was lucky because one of the agency staff whistleblew and informed the police and in the end the CPS decided to prosecute. Nobody from the council, apart from the perpetrator, turned up in court that day.

Somebody suggested that I apply to join the local safeguarding board. I could but that misses the point. I might hear stories like our duvet story but I don’t think I would hear stories like the staff assault or the charges for the ATU admission. They wouldn’t get within sniffing distance of the safeguarding board. We know shamefully through Connor Sparrowhawk’s death and Richard Handley’s inquest that the State isn’t very good at recognising neglect they have brought about. Even if they notice it, experience shows that they’re going to pull out all the stops to avoid holding their hands up to it.

I don’t know the answer. I’m not saying for one moment that families never exploit their disabled relatives. I’m not calling to people living in their own homes or with their families to be exempt from safeguarding investigations.

All I’m asking for is an equality of power. Far too easy to paint the family as the villain of the piece and the State as the benign rescuer.


8 thoughts on “The Safeguarding Dance”

  1. well as a family member who has been (wrongly accused) by my LA of paynig shock horror £8.50ph without permission to the PAs (which there was) and knowing the implication of this I am skeptical of the figures quoted very skeptical indeed :0((

  2. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “The ensuing discussion went in several directions and Mark Brown joined in the conversation and posted a link to the most recent set of NHS Digital stats on the issue of safeguarding reporting. The link is below but the key figures for me are 23% of harm was caused by family and 32% by social care staff.

    For me it posed the question, how many cases of abuse or neglect or exploitation by the State are referred by the State. If they are the perpetrators then I would imagine them less likely to refer themselves than if the abuse came from other sources (including family).”

  3. My son’s LA overruled the EPA I hold, told the DWP that I was withholding some of Martin’s benefits (untrue), stated that he lacked capacity to deal with his financial affairs, asked the DWP to make them appointee for my son, and then had his benefits paid directy to them, in direct contravention of the EPA. They then only paid the DLA part of the benefits (my son has still not been assessed) and failed to pay his lower mobility allowance. It is now over four years since this happened. The LA denies any liability and continues to insist that my son lacks capacity to manage his financial affairs. Any request for safeguarding has been totally ignored. My son is very articulate, and when he states that the LA owe him money they deny it. When I took this to the small claims court I was not allowed to use the EPA to make the claim on my son’s account, as the judge said he had to do it himself. The EPA allows me “general authority to act on my son’s behalf in relation to all proerty and affairs. As I write this reply my mind doesn’t boggle – it goes into free fall.

  4. I know exact what you mean Mark. My son was given lorazapam by staff on the respite unit after he left hospital. It wasn’t even prescribed and it had been given more than once, lots of times in fact. The first I knew of it was when my son fell out of transport on arriving home from the unit. A regular meeting was held just a general one. The matter was brought up and admitted by the manager of the unit in front of the psychiatrist, social care, psychologist, advocate and just dismissed as a misdemeanour. You can guarantee if I have done the same thing as to give my son medication not prescribed there would be an arrest and safeguarding and many other consequences. One rule for carers and one for ‘professionals’.

  5. We parents can all give examples of the gut wrenching fear of…and real… hurt done, to our sons and daughters, by managers, disinterested or worse care staff and other workers. It starts at the top with illegal, mercyless cuts in community support – and the commissioning of enclosed total instituitons – many are called ‘Charities’..but some are anything but charitable..and built to profit only the share holders,

    Danger and fear is in every such ‘Care’ corner – always out of sight…. sanctioned by silence and the bullying of fearful familes.

    The statistics are total bonkers – families vary in resilience, ability or wilingness to care – but our sons and daughters are safer at home…by far.

    1. It’s age old wisdom. Laws of nature we all understand – family protect each other – our parents suffer for us and care for us for as long as possible even worry about us when we’re adults, as others aren’t programmed to. Why are some professionals pretending they know better? It’s a trick.
      It’s like the time when I saw speech therapy posters in local buses saying ‘talk to your child’ – mothers have never needed speech therapists (except wrt disorders, and even then the parent can be the biggest expert), and SLTs were taught language by their mothers, not by other SLTs..
      These them and us attacks serve no one.

    2. Yesterday – at long last – justice – and judgement on Connor (Sparrowhawk’s) avoidable death in Southern Health NHS Trust. And the exposure of the lies, and viscerly brutal treatment of Connors grieving family.

      This behaviour by a neglectful family would have seen a charge of manslaughter – at least – 5 years ago.

      This Power, accountability and justice imbalance, is huge.

      An upside down world of the abuse of Power – and empty statistics.

      It is to be hoped that the judgements and fines of yesterday, will force some light:

      – into the only too common practice of aggressively applying Publicly paid for power, to hide failure – and to intimidate and silence vulnerable people and their families..

      ….and the equally common practice – of quietly swopping failed Public Service leaders – with a pay off – into a chums organisation – with salary and pension intact.

      Only when this shady window is pushed wide open, will it be possible to honestly identify, measure and reward competence, and safeguarding…..

      ……and ensure real accountability and learning – where it is absent.

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