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A Little Bit Of Pamela

June 24, 2018

One of the support workers was asking me yesterday for a day off because he has to attend some refresher training for one of the leading charities that he also does some work for. As well as the work he does with Steven, he is also part of the bank staff at a residential unit for up to 8 people with autism and learning disabilities. The only day that clashes with when he is due to be with Steven is for his annual refresher training in “assessing risk behaviours”. He doesn’t want to go but knows that he has to if he wants to remain on their payroll. We talked about the irony of that particular charity running a “assessing risk behaviours” course because they have no insight into how their practices and compromised position as a provider probably creates the greatest risk to the resident’s well being. He regularly turns up for work there to find just one other member of staff on duty. Trying to keep 8 people safe under such threadbare resources means that whole shift is spent firefighting. As he said, boredom is the greatest risk for the residents and their whole lives are determined by it.

This attitude was mirrored this week as both Ray James and John Trevains issued blogs, 7 weeks after the Leder report was sneaked out. Both pieces of writing are too depressing to go into but one thing that struck me was the complete absence of any ownership. The solutions to the problem (when a solution is even mentioned) are always out there. For someone else. No recognition of the part they might be playing in the problem existing. Worse, no recognition that their tawdry response actually accentuates the problem. No person with a learning disability or their families could have read either blog post and been reassured by the content. The palpable fear that has been expressed since Leder would surely have been cranked up a notch or two after their wet responses.

I don’t think taking ownership has to be that hard. I’m not talking about Jeremy Hunt and his obsession with a “no blame” culture. Blame only becomes a factor because people are unwilling to take ownership. Whenever we have an “incident” in the Cowley house, we sit down and the first question is always “what part did I play in that happening?” It’s not about flaying someone alive: It’s about trying to prevent it happening again. I like to think that I’ve created an atmosphere among the support staff so that we can talk honestly when things go wrong. For example, I’m going to a client’s wedding on Tuesday morning and it’ll mean that I’ll be an hour late for my normal visit to Steven. I can prepare him for this but the change to routine is likely to prompt anxiety. I’m not going to do anything differently but it’s important for me to acknowledge that my decision may have a negative reaction. Likewise, tomorrow’s support worker is looking forward to decorating the bathroom. I didn’t even ask him! That positive moment could backfire if it means curtailing some of the interaction he would normally have with Steven on a Monday afternoon. Blame is inevitably associated with doing something wrong. Risk behaviours, for what they are worth, can also occur when we are doing something right.

The title of this post is a nod to two people. Pre personal budget, Steven’s support came from an agency run by a woman called Pamela. She had the sort of stuff I’ve been writing about spot on. She knew that she had to do mandatory refresher training but the most valuable time of the month was our Thursday evening meetings. All the staff had to attend and so did me and Steven. She created a space where it was relatively comfortable to talk about any shit that had gone down in the previous month. It used to be interesting watching new staff adapt to this approach. Initially defensive and wary, they soon realised that for her (and me) nothing bad would happen to you if you are totally honest. I don’t think blame or no blame ever came into the equation.

It’s also a nod to Lou Bega. I mentioned recently that Steven loves to forensically examine a photo with me each visit. Once we’ve gone into what everyone is wearing, what dvds are on the shelf in the background and what music is playing at the time, Steven will end the conversation by throwing in a name of someone who is totally incongruous to the subject matter of the photo. Yesterday, we were looking at a picture of me swinging Steven upside down when he was about six. You can see that Fawlty Towers is playing on the telly in the background. After a long discussion about Sybil Fawlty driving over to Babbacoombe, Steven threw in the curve ball. “Lou Bega” he shouted. I’m expected to run away with his joke and have to say things like “Did Mark Neary swing Lou Bega upside down in the Hillingdon house?” “Did Lou Bega fall off the ladder when he was looking in the girl’s room?” Steven falls about laughing at his own joke and it marks the end of the photo discussion.

So, just throwing this one out there. The way we often deal with assessing risk behaviours in the Cowley house is to have a bloody good laugh. I’m no PBS expert but it seems to work.


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  1. Pauline Thomas permalink

    “Nothing bad will happen to you if you are totally honest’ is the key. If everybody working in the care system can be assured of that, I think we will have a truly transparent system with no coverups or witch hunts. Most of us learn by our mistakes, but if we are pressured into denying them for fear of reprisals, then nobody wins, least of all the poor sods receiving care.

  2. weary mother permalink

    You are right Pauline.

    But, where ‘weak’ Governance is the issue – excellent and brave staff will continue to be intimidated and incompetent or abusive people will keep their job.

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