Citizen action

I’ve been reading with interest a lot of the posts and stories from the Seven Days of Action campaign, which targets the urgent need to close assessment and treatment units and enable people with learning disabilities to be supported how they and their families believe is best for them.  I cannot agree more.  I’ve also been keenly following the Justice for LB campaign, and yesterday, of course, there was the Hillsborough inquest judgement. All of these stories are bound together with the common thread of ‘professionals’ knowing best, and denying dignity, respect, life itself.  Truth and justice denied, cover ups, blame, counter-accusations. Horrendous experiences for individuals and their families, who just want to live ordinary, decent lives.

Until very recently I worked as a Social Worker with adults who have learning disabilities.  For over 2 decades I worked in day centres, specialist hospitals, and community teams.  I worked closely with voluntary groups, I volunteered in music therapy groups. I led evening classes in basic education. In January I left social work, and since then I have set up a much needed local self advocacy group. I have also started volunteering with a local social enterprise which supports people with learning disabilities.

In my last job in a community team I was labelled as ‘difficult’ by managers who appeared to be more interested in that dubious concept ‘best value’ (read ‘cost cutting’) than people’s needs.  They would regularly try to ignore me, not answering e-mails, or delaying their replies to my requests for money and support for people, sometimes for months.  I always ‘won’ the arguments as I backed up my cases with legislation.  Managers can ignore moral arguments.  But they cannot ignore the law. Not for ever, anyway.

I decided to leave social work because I was bullied and falsely and maliciously accused of bad practice, after I had raised concerns about dangerous management practice.  The case against me, which had no evidence whatsoever,  was eventually dropped, with no hint of an apology,  after I involved a solicitor.  (The union, which I had paid into since 1990, was apparently powerless to effectively support me.) The managers attempted to gag me, and clearly persuaded my colleagues to ignore and isolate me.  Colleagues who had themselves complained in the office about management, and had previously been supportive of my attempts to complain about dangerous practice, suddenly found themselves unable to continue their support of me! Managers also refused to let me continue working the established flexible hours and insisted I return to full time work, despite being aware of my daughters’ additional needs.

I have mixed feelings about leaving social work. I put all of my efforts into it for 25 years. My sense of social justice enabled me to continue battling in those 25 years.  To the best of my ability I advocated for the people I worked with.  I got the best I could.  I never gave up. I prided myself on this. But when the system turned the full force of its horrendous power against me, I had no choice but to leave.

People with learning disabilities and their families do not have the luxury of this choice. They are totally dependent on this system, and I appreciate that from my perspective as an adoptive parent. Attempting to get what we believe is needed for our children is painful, frustrating, and slow.  As a family we appear to be heading in the right direction at the moment, but this has taken 3 years, written and verbal complaints, assessment after assessment, and still we wait for the necessary therapy. In that time I have seen the system fail my adopted niece, who in the last 21 months has had 11 – yes, 11 – different placements, and many more social workers.

The system ain’t working. It’s crap.  There’s good people working in it. And there’s bad. Leadership is lacking.  Management is lacking.  Human compassion is lacking. IT systems are lacking.  Money is lacking. The basics are being eroded. Service providers blame the local authorities, who blame the government, who blame us. Doesn’t look like it’s going to get better anytime soon, does it?  Even more reason then, that we as individuals stand up for the rights of vulnerable people in our society.

Last night in the first self advocacy group session a man told us how awful it felt for care staff to come into his home with files about him, writing things that he could not read, and spending time doing this rather than helping him prepare a meal or hoover.  And that was when they turned up on time, or even just turned up, whoever it was turning up – he never knows who to expect.  This man told us he did not think that he should have to feel like that in his own home. We all agreed with him. And the group will be helping him to do something about it.

My point? That the system does not work. It has no inherent interest in making things work.  Its only interest is in keeping the system going.   Citizen power does work though.  Indeed, as Margaret Mead said, it is the ‘only’ thing that does.

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’





Ping pong poo

OH and I have had a lovely 29 (yep! We were counting) hours away this weekend. We’ve seen some brilliant art: Barbara Hepworth, Martin Parr, Duncan Grant, Edward Weston, Anthony Devas, and lots Moore (see what I did there?).

And then there was the Hirst. It’s called ‘Relationships’ from 1991. It consists of a ping pong ball in a glass of water. This is standing on a rough sketch of rectangles and circles, and what could be a submarine/inverted hairdryer.


OH wondered if 18/125 was the mark Hirst’s primary school teacher had given the project!

I found myself very annoyed by this ‘piece’. I had laughed at the wine bottle (glass and paper) and even the empty pizza boxes amused me. Partly as they were situated near a pile of clipboards, which, on further investigation turned out to be indeed a pile of clipboards. But ‘Relationships’ really annoyed me. I still don’t know why. So I’ve written a small poem about it in an attempt to work it out.

(Clears throat) Ahem….

Ping Pong Poo

If you’re a famous artist
But you’re short of cash
Just chuck a ping pong ball
Into a cheap looking glass.

Sit it on a sketch
You got a 5 year old to draw
Put it in a case
And make 124 more.

Call it something ponderous
‘Relationships’ will suffice,
Then offer it to the Arts Council
Who’ll snap it up in a trice.

Sit back and lap up the adoration,
Laugh all the way to the bank.
Care not a jot for those who mock,
It was easier than a shark in a tank.

Oh dear. That didn’t help me work out why I felt so annoyed with it. Oh well. Answers on a twitter postcard please.

Seeds of hope

This week’s #waso theme is ‘finding inspiration’, and a jolly inspiring theme it is too! I’ve realised that a few months on from quitting the grim and grimy world of local authority social work, my brain has been freed up to take inspiration from a multitude of places, people, and things. One of the most nourishing sources of inspiration for me is nature.


The girls and I love being outside, busy pottering, growing stuff. OH likes to watch us, book in hand, from the relative comfort of a deck chair.

Bubble and I spent a glorious afternoon in the Easter holidays constructing a vegetable planter. Bubble made a sign for it, and I strung up old cd roms as bird scarers. Inspired by our efforts, we’re now turning a massive old row of wooden pigeon holes from a local church into another vegetable planter, and an old meat safe into a cold frame.

Bubble loves sanding and hammering. Squeak loves painting. And it is when we are engaged in these messy tasks in our garden, that joy and wisdom emerges, and thoughts and humour are shared. We’re making connections and memories.

We may even decide eventually what to do with a couple of old wooden ladders that belonged to my dad. Current thinking is that they could be the sides of an archway over steps up to the lawn. Runner beans and everlasting sweet peas would love it. I have visions of a ton of beans hanging down from the top. Bean bunting!


I’m not going to talk or think about ‘attachment’ for a while. I’m finding it too difficult: at the end of each day when I have a little reflection (you can take the girl out of social work, but… etc.) I’ve  been having various thoughts: that there’s a problem with my attachment with Bubble; that after 3.5 years we should be further on; etc and negative so forth.

So I’m going to stop thinking about ‘attachment’ and start thinking about ‘connections’. I’m going to really notice the little things. The moments when eye contact is made, when humour is shared, hugs are given. Very infrequently Bubble tells me she loves me. Instead of wishing she would say it more often, I’m going to treasure the times she does proclaim love. I’m going to store this all up in my memory banks. Snapshots of connection.


And maybe, just maybe, Bubble will be storing these memories too, and her connections will be getting stronger.