Louise Casey, Problem Tsar

Louise Casey, who calls herself Director General, Troubled Families, published a report this week; ‘Listening to troubled families’. This report generated headlines and television news coverage across the UK. There has been some criticism. Zoe Williams provides a good summary here.

So why am I bothering to write anything? I suppose because I feel incensed. Because I’m a researcher and I hate to see fake ‘research’. Especially published fake ‘research’. Especially in a government publication. And most importantly, because this sort of toxic bile sticks. I can imagine how it’s been reported in the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Middle class people across the country turning their noses up at these ‘feral families’ over their breakfast tea and toast. It’s wrong.

So, where shall I start? Well, Casey’s certainly overstretched herself with the report. It’s poorly written, repetitive and drips with judgemental statements. Even the foreword (written by herself) is rambling, repetitive nonsense. I keep coming back to ‘why did she do it’? She ain’t no researcher. There’s a ton of up to the minute, well researched studies the government could have drawn on. I can only think she was given the ‘problem families’ gig (why?) and took it upon herself (in a self important way) to go and ‘interview’ some families, select extracts from the interviews (bypassing the essential stage of analysis) and vomit text around them. Text that reeks of her own fears,anxieties, assumptions and prejudice. The random referencing of academic study underlines a woeful lack of engagement in this area.

A bug bear of mine when providing student feedback is meaningless, throwaway statements. Louise has got a real handle on these;

In some cases there are clearly negative consequences for children growing up in these structurally unstable families, especially where the instability is accompanied by violence. [You don’t say..]

She also shines at lobbing in unsubstantiated, judgemental statements;

Some of the families reported being able to cope with the children when they were younger but as they got older found it more difficult, as they often started to display more challenging behaviour – often borne of their early experiences.

Many of the people interviewed were just not very good at relationships –  unsurprising perhaps in light of their own upbringing.

There is a leaning towards a Mills and Boon type style of writing. Not your usual government report lingo;

For example, as soon as the relationship between the parents breaks down, the father disappears from the family never to be heard of again.

But mostly it’s meaningless nonsense, again openly framed by Casey’s view of ‘good’ (middle class) parenting;

In some cases the mother’s idea of protecting their children seemed extremely far away from what most would consider acceptable. “Yeah so Owen left and then I think Clare must have been probably the age of going up to secondary school herself and she was fine in her first year. She got to 12 and I don’t know what happened. She changed completely. Horrible child…she basically took over the house…” Jill

In the next extract, Louise seems to equate living in the same area for a long time as isolating. But I think she probably means living in the kind of area these families live in means they don’t mix with ‘normal’ people and this leads to some sort of interbreeding and more problems.

The impression of families’ isolation from more ‘normal’ or positive friends or networks came across strongly. While many families moved around from one place to another fleeing violence, others had never left the area they had grown up in. Their partners came from the same street or moved between women in the area. They tended to stick within a network of other dysfunctional peers.

She gets herself in a bit of a mess in the next section. When it comes to parents blaming services, she suddenly tries to inject some objectivity into the report and spouts gibberish;

Many of the families complained about professionals or agencies involved with them, and in particular, social services. However it would not be fair to always lay the blame there when looked at dispassionately [???]. Undoubtedly, some families have reason to feel let down. But there were often unwarranted feelings that their problems were not of their making, and that they had no control over the problem or its solution; that it was they that had highlighted problems, with services simply failing to intervene and do what they were entitled to expect of them.

She manages to slip in that some families want larger council houses and makes it clear that while the mothers raise challenges they face, such as overcrowding, unsupportive schooling and a lack of effective support, the problem is firmly located within the family. To the extent that she refuses to acknowledge that some of the kids had learning difficulties. This is kind of hilarious in a way. But of course it’s not.

In certain cases there were undoubtedly problems with children that any parent would find difficult to deal with. But for many it was clear that the reasons for that behaviour had come from the household itself – the poor parenting skills, the constant changes in the home, family and partners, and the ongoing verbal and physical violence (among many other factors no doubt).

Yep, she actually added that last bit in brackets..

The conclusion is firmly within Mills and Boon territory with “starkest messages” about these dysfunctional families “who are not beyond help and hope”. I am not going to even repeat any of her nonsense conclusions because they ain’t worth the paper they are written on.

I’m left with a few questions really;

  • How can this piece of billy bullshit (or bileshit) be presented as a government report?
  • Why is Louise Casey Director General of Troubled Families and what does this mean?
  • Are there any other Director Generals and if so, who are they?

The spreading of such toxic bile is deeply alarming, but so is what it demonstrates about this bunch of chocolate teapots running this country.

Clients. And the learning disability fug

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).