Whorlton Hall Tragedy - How many more avoidable tales of terror?

Hi Joe,

Thanks for the Whorlton Hall exposé. Hopefully a few more in the political and bureaucratic establishment will wake up to the reality of the misguided and ill-conceived systems and policies they impose? Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we’ll need to wait another eight years for another sequel – indeed you could start making more programmes this minute. And I don’t believe that those in power – in the governmental and service delivery systems – have either the will nor the capability to fix things because making the radical changes necessary will require acting against the policy direction of the last 3 decades as well as their pride and self-interests.

Your programme hinted powerfully, if briefly, on a better approach. That involves long term person-centred and relationship-based, problem-solving work with people and those who love them in the context of their friends and communities. It demands a commitment to secure as included and fulfilling life as possible. It requires a long term personal commitment from a named, coordinating and hands-on involved professional – that was once a brief job spec. for a social worker. It is imperative that the activity is distanced from the ‘medical model’ and psychiatry – surely it is clear by now that those disciplines have no part in the lives of people with a learning disability or ASD unless there is real evidence of illness in someone whose life would otherwise be OK. Equally, the new approach should start from the assumption that congregate living – placing groups of ‘service users’ in a specialist setting – sets the seeds for the growth of institutionalisation and abuse. Concurrently, we need to acknowledge that regulation and safe-guarding cannot be satisfactorily outsourced – as Andy McDonnell observed in the programme – visibility and safety go together and, I would assert, are best served by frequent contact with loving family, friends and community members organised as intentional advocacy networks.

These scandals are always with us – but have been exacerbated by the commodification and marketization of ‘care’. To serve this system, social and community focused professionals – the folk who, at their best, worked with people and families to problem solve and serve peoples’ best interests - have been converted from semi-autonomous practitioners into gate-keepers and bureaucrats serving and eligibility and placements process. Real change demands the reintroduction of skilled and empowered casework and a reversal of the market ideology. I can’t see the folk presently in charge truly committing to either. In the absence of this approach we see the tragedies continuing. It isn’t simply a matter of getting folk out of these places – the places just evolve by the way, often established by good people responding to the market demand for congregate care – it’s also about stopping the flow in.

So thanks again for this programme – as painful and angering it is to watch. Is there any possibility that it can be followed up with an expose on the causative system?

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