Some people may think I’m disproportionately enraged by what I’m about to recount. They may raise their eyes to the ceiling and think ‘What a bligey old fuss about nothing. Get over yourself lady’.* Well sorry, but I think they are wrong. It is important. And the mundane context makes it all the more important because of what it reveals.
So. I went to collect LB from his after school club this evening. This is now run by the Guidepost Trust, a registered charity that supports a range of people. On their website they state;
In all our projects and services we start from the view point that every person is special and deserving of dignity and choice and this ethos runs through the Trust.
Now, I don’t have a particular beef with the Guidepost Trust at all. I don’t think (or I don’t know if) they are any better or any worse than any of the numerous charities that provide similar services. They all spout the same sort of stuff, about person centred planning, choice, autonomy, and so on. They all have the same sort of websites, leaflets and so on. It all becomes a bit interchangeable really.
But anyway, back to today. I rang through on the internal phone for someone to bring LB out. (Yep, you don’t get to go into the after school club to collect them, they are escorted out, but that’s another story). While I waited in the foyer, I looked at the new display that had gone up on the noticeboard, with various bits of information. The after school club laminated timetable stated;
3pm: Clients are brought across from the primary school.
Clients? Clients??? From the primary school??? I can’t convey how wrong, and crushingly depressing it was standing there, waiting for LB to appear, looking at that sentence.
Why am I so upset, angry, depressed, furious and outraged by such a tiny sentence? Because it demonstrates the shallow, meaningless, ultimately pointless attitude social care services (and broader) have towards learning disabled children and adults. It highlights the way in which disabled children are effectively institutionalised from such an early age. There have, on paper, been huge shifts in policy and provision since the 1970’s and the move from residential to ‘community care’. The introduction of the concept of person centred care, direct payments, Valuing People, etc, etc, etc, etc, etc. But for the bulk of learning disabled people, life remains pretty much as constrained, managed, exploited, abused, and perceived as worthless, as it was before the likes of the late Jim Mansell, and others, started to instigate change.
Ten years ago, David Race, in the introduction to his book – Learning Disability: A Social Approach – wrote;
I am struck by how many of the themes covered by the thesis cited at the beginning of this chapter [his PhD thesis on the historical development of service provision from the 1970’s] still remain. Congregation, segregation and devaluation even in the midst of community life all remain. Public fear of the ‘otherness’ of learning disability, stoked up further by a public media that seems unable to take a broad view on any issue, has left people in probably as vulnerable a position as thirty years ago when the scene was dominated by institutions.
Well, that still stands as far as I can see. And with the introduction of the Welfare Reform Bill, things can only get worse. Underlined by structures and processes that are steeped in meaningless rhetoric with no authentic engagement with the lives of learning disabled people or children. That no one involved in producing the after school club timetable could actually see outside of the learning disability fug of prejudice, lack of awareness and a carelessness (possibly created by attendance on relentless ‘professional’ courses) to suggest that perhaps ‘clients’ should be replaced with children or kids speaks volumes to me.
*I’ve left swears out of this post, even though they are pinging around my head, because my old ma keeps telling me to send these posts on to our MP (and he would be a bit put off by the colourful language).