Does “Them and Us” ever really become “We”?
This has been a week where I have despaired. A week of mixed messages. Katie attended a conference last week where lots of people were talking about working with families and she left feeling really positive as a result. Then in the same week, there have been some really disturbing blog posts and newspaper articles which make us sit and wonder if we will ever be able to move from “them and us” to truly working together with our child or young person reaping the benefits.
When I say disturbing, I am not in any way criticising the writers of the posts, I whole heartedly agree with them. I say disturbing because they are real and sadly, all too relatable.
We’ll start with the first post I read. It was entitled “Is it autism? Is it something else? Or is it all Mum’s fault?” from Yvonne Newbold (Special Parents Handbook)
It would be great to think that his parents have been supported every inch of the way by a team of people all wanting to do whatever they can to remove the very real pressures that this child’s behaviour places on his whole family.
Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth.
In her post, Yvonne refers to a piece on the BBC website about the sad case of Tania Clarence. A report has been published into the death of her three children, along with a list of recommendations.
The report recommended:
- Child-In-Need planning, involving multiple agencies, needs to be led by a social worker and not a health worker
- Parents should routinely be offered counselling and support information whenever a child is diagnosed with a disability
- Health practitioners should explore parents’ cultural background and their attitudes towards council services
- A system to ensure all case workers feel able to escalate concerns
- A clear system to flag up child protection referrals and ensure referral recommendations do not get lost when information is shared by different agencies
Where is the offer of respite? Throughout the case history, there is mention that this mum had not had a proper night’s sleep since the birth of her children. As many of us know, this is the one thing we often crave above any other service. A good night’s sleep.
However, instead of a decent night’s sleep, they are suggesting counselling and information. Now, a good counsellor can make a lot of difference. I had a great counsellor many years ago who helped me but since having the children, I have also seen one useless counsellor. As I explained to my GP (who had made the referral), if all I wanted was for someone to let me speak and just nod occasionally, I have a husband who does that everyday.
Then there is the “explore their attitudes towards council services”.
How about “explore their attitudes and then take the appropriate steps to ensure that council services do not meet their preconceived ideas”? Just a thought!
Our attitudes towards council services are not made more positive when we read of LB’s family’s experiences. This week LB’s mum has shared with us “The Birds eyes view from an Oxon Commissioner” and I found myself speechless with rage as I read it. Sadly, throughout LB’s hearing, I found myself speechless with rage and pure disbelief at the manner in which LB’s family were “dealt with” and I use that term because that is how it felt. They were dealt with! They were not a family who had lost a son, they were a problem that needing dealing with. Damage limitation was the phrase that sprang to mind. But the damage was done. LB is dead.
His mother and her friends tried to make the CPA meeting person centred and this was why vital things could have been missed. You can’t really have person centred planning fitting with clinical health processes.
Our attitudes towards council services are not made more positive when we read about the goings on in Hampshire Social Services.
Social services staff asked to make decisions about the future of five children were involved in an attempted ”cover-up”, a family court judge has said.
Judge Mark Horton said there had been a ”deliberate and calculated” alteration of a social worker’s report.
The judge said the report had been altered by another social worker and a team manager.
Over on Justice for Nico, Nico’s mum was asking where the staff who join the system with such high aspirations go to?
There must have been others and there must still be others to this day, who battle on, hoping to do good and to make a real difference from inside the system. But perhaps they feel overwhelmed and by now are physiologically scarred by their own inability to be a force for good, when prevented by the state. Perhaps it all seems so terrible that they simply cannot allow themselves to identify with families. Cannot let themselves hear the anguished and pleading voices because they know that if they do, they will only have to deny what they so desperately need.
So what is the problem?
Why is it still very much a “them and us” scenario when we all know what a difference it would make if we did genuinely work together as a team. We don’t mean just working our way through a check list of “how to work with families” but real, authentic, genuine working together.
Mark Neary put it best when he said “Love Baffles” in his post.
I think it’s about love. Or the complete incapacity to recognise and understand love.
After sitting in part of LB’s hearing, Mark said:
Every time Sara talked her love for Connor, and indeed her ability to love from a very deep place, came through very powerfully. This is extremely threatening. The minute professionals who build such a fragile façade are confronted with love, the entire edifice comes crumbling down. The ensuing exposure often results in aggressive attack.
As family, we bring Love to the table. We don’t see our child as a problem to be resolved, we don’t see a budgetary figure attached to their name, we don’t see which box we can fit our child into, we don’t think about the difficulty there may be in getting them approved for a service; no, we see our child with love.
We see the individual, we see the fun child who makes us laugh, we see the child we sit with during the night while they explain why a Lamborghini Gallado is better than an Aston Martin (his view, not mine), we see the child who breaks our heart when they ask if they will ever be able to see, we see the child who knows the whole discography of Pink Floyd and the Beatles by aged 9, we see the child who keeps trying even when you would have given up. We see how amazing they are.
Love is a very powerful tool. It is what gets us through the sleepless nights, the numerous appointments and the sometimes shockingly poor services.
Don’t lose that.
Maybe you need to find your way amidst the chaos by working together with other families. Other families are often the best resource and they are also the people who will understand when you need to let off steam. They come with love too.
Don’t forget, we still have tickets available for our Conference in January. Come and be inspired by other families to Find your Way. Meet providers who are not just talking about working with families or ticking boxes but genuinely listening to them and making the changes they need to.
Debs is one of the co-founders and Directors of Bringing Us Together. She is mum to three child with a variety of SEND and has a great husband.