The wheels of change are grindingly slow in the area of learning disability/autistic support, health and social care. Static really. Talk, so much talk, and little in the way of discernible action. In the last few years, learning disability and autism have inched onto the NHS and social care attention platter which is something. It shouldn’t be noteworthy though given the various stats around life expectancy, employment and wide ranging impoverishment of life which too often extends into death. A blistering letter by Barbara MacArthur in the Guardian last week on the abject failings people continue to experience was widely shared, generating momentary outrage. I did a sort of cry-chuckle when I saw BBC coverage yesterday. Barbara was quoted as saying
“And, of course, I write my silly letters.”
I interviewed Barbara and her son Howard, who are both autistic, 13 years ago when she was 80 and he was 53. She was a veteran letter writer back then.This is what parents do. We act. We do stuff. We try to change stuff. We write silly letters. Meanwhile a new report about research led by Dr Andrew Power at Southampton University underlines the importance of self advocacy, member-led involvement and social interaction in generating good ‘self built’ lives for people with learning disabilities. So important. The report highlights the patchiness of self-advocacy across the UK and I was struck, again, at how My Life My Choice are an exemplar in this area.
The usual suspects
In the last week, the successful bidders for producing the Oliver MacGowan Mandatory Training have been announced. There was a strange moment, a bit like my cry-chuckle, in which despair, fear, bewilderment and resignation rippled across social media platforms.
A bunch of the usual suspects, with a carefully selected token autistic person loosely attached to the National Autistic Society (Autism) and a parent carer loosely to Mencrap, coated with a hefty dose of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) sprinkles via a third organisation, BILD. PBS can be experienced as an assault by those forced to endure it and yet is readily adopted as acceptable practice. A recent themed review which included 3 clinical trials of the use of PBS found no/negligible evidence it works.
Of the 27 odd groups across England which tendered for this work, it was awarded to the dodgy Mcdodge brigade with next to no involvement of the people whose lives the training will be aimed at improving. A brief foray into the CQC inspection archive (‘It didn’t smell of piss’ TICK) reveals Mencrap and Oughtism really need to get their own houses in order before designing mandatory training for others. The latter has only one domain judged as ‘outstanding’ across it’s entire offer.
Autism is also about to close a school ‘rife with bullying and safeguarding concerns‘. It’s extraordinary these failings and reputation issues (let’s not forget the sickening abuse at Mendip House or the death of Danny Tozer) didn’t factor into the selection process and I wonder how many excellent tenders were among those tossed aside.
An odd phenomenon
Questions instantly started being asked, as they should be, and an odd phenomenon occurred on social media. A bereaved mother (Oliver’s mum who the training is named after) weighed in and held up a grief card calling time on discussion. Odd because any mandatory training needs to start from a position of trust rather silencing. Odd because mandatory training has been a recommendation of various reports over the years and now seems to be ‘owned’ by a member of the public. Odd because it’s 2020 and we know that autistic people and people with learning disabilities should be at the centre of the process yet are barely visible. Odd because the silencing and accompanying blocking was selective. Ian Birrell (above), for example, came off unscathed while various autistic people came a cropper.
The plot thickened later that evening when a parent carer announced he was actually part of the Mencrap training consortium having earlier asked questions of it. His apparent lack of knowledge further highlights the risible public involvement in this process.
The oddness continued yesterday morning when I woke to a message from someone I’ve not come across before who shared a very lengthy DM unexpectedly sent to her. This was a litany of “Sara Ryan does this” “Sara Ryan does that…” “Sara Ryan ridicules the training…”. A cut and paste jobby the kindly tweeter thought and one I had a right to see. Wow. Is this really a thing? Drumming up support (or generating hate) behind the DM wall with grubby missives? [At this point I had a lump of poignancy in my throat thinking back to the joy, transparency and openness of the #JusticeforLB campaign. And how we collectively questioned, shouted, created, critiqued and unexpectedly laughed. I mentally added ‘absence of murk’ to the list of campaign qualities.]
I’m left with sadness about yet another wasted opportunity and more time lost for some people. The awarding of this work to two organisations which cherry pick a small number of heavily stage-managed people to work with, while presiding over failing services, is grim. Both demonstrate a wilful refusal to even start to understand or learn. The involvement of BILD is as chilling. Despite the protestations, it is impossible to believe that the training won’t involve PBS practices. Indeed, BILD have already advertised for a project manager to manage the training and a PBS pilot.
This training has been years in being called for and slow in coming to fruition. It effectively creates a giant empty tick box and a flag for the DHSC and others to wave under the noses of those who raise questions about continuing failings. A bit like the Leder project is described as a world leading investigatory process into the deaths of people with learning disabilities, the new training will be puffed up as something that bears little resemblance to what it actually does.
I hope those involved listen to the concerns raised by many and commit to being open and transparent with their developing work. To those who interpret questions and challenge as ‘bullying’, ‘attack’ and ‘sniping’, I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom from John Lewis.