Time for some straight speaking. Time to “get our language back”. Time for some direct Steven Neary talking.
Today, I heard of a young autistic man who has been held away from his home for over three years. The place is run by one of the leading private providers (Think little swans). He has just had a six monthly review (why only every six months?) and the decision makers decided that he needed to stay there for at least another six months. An all too familiar story. What was different to me was how the place was described in the paperwork. The man is “living in a safeguarding placement”. It reminded me of the story I received from a parent during the second 7 Days of Action campaign. Her son was under a DoLS in an assessment and treatment unit. Only it was described in the DoLS paperwork as “a risk managed home”.
These are lies. This is fancy language designed to obscure the real purpose. Cloud the real truth. Like many people in assessment and treatment units neither of these two guys wanted to be there. Both were being kept there against their will and are not free to leave. They are detained.
Social care has always had a problem with the term “deprivation of liberty”. I’ve heard lots of professionals complain about the “negative connotations”. True, the Safeguards bit is meant to protect people from unlawful detentions. But lawful or not, a detention is still a detention.
Prisoners are detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure after committing a crime. We’re used to that. If you break the rules at school you are likely to be given a detention as your punishment. We know what that means. But health and social care have differing perspectives on the word “detention” to such an extent that it makes the calls to integrate health and social care seem a complete folly. In health, you can be detained under the mental health act because you are ill. No crime but you are considered a danger to yourself or others.
Social care, on the other hand, doesn’t know its arse from its elbow when it comes to the use of the word “detention”. It feels like an unspoken rule to avoid the word at all costs even though a detention is precisely what is happening. On the contrary, social care often gives things names or a language that suggests a positive experience which is in direct contradiction to the person having the experience.
An assessment and treatment unit suggests something positive. Assessment suggests getting to the bottom of something troubling whilst the treatment bit suggests putting the troubling problem right. In the past eight years I could count the number of positive stories emerging from assessment and treatment units on the fingers of one hand. For most of the 3000+ people currently detained in these units, no assessment is taking place. Treatment? Nope, not a lot of that either. People are detained for “assessment and treatment” because they have autism and/or learning disabilities. No crime. No illness. But a punishment nonetheless for being disabled.
The chap that I mentioned at the start of this post isn’t ill. He didn’t go away because he needed assessment or treatment. He went away, and is still away, because the LA and the CCG can’t agree who finds the care for him to live in his own home. He had a home once. That is long gone. His home went after the previous care provider went bust and they couldn’t find a suitable replacement. He’s not living in a safeguarding placement. He is being detained in an ATU because the commissioners are committing a crime (Article 8 HRA, anyone? The MCA?)
We mustn’t get sucked into this language. We’re sunk if we do. No sugar coating. No sparing a professional’s blushes. No fear of rocking a boat.
We must call it for what it is. A detention is a detention.