The Compassionate Society?

Dermod's daughter Katie is now 15

Dermod's daughter Katie is now 15

In this episode of the classic sitcom “Yes Minister”, the Minister, Jim Hacker, discovered that his Department had charge of a brand new hospital, with brand new beds, fully equipped operating theatres and everything else that a hospital could need including 342 administrative staff and 170 ancillary workers, but no doctors, no nurses and no patients.

I declare my interest as a father of a profoundly learning disabled child for whose care, support and upbringing, Parliament has legislated financial and other support. It is a good bargain for society if the disabled are cared for by their families. State support for a family placement amounts to a lot less than would be the case if they had to be looked after in publicly funded institutions. Don’t think for one moment that I or other parents in similar circumstances are pitching for unlimited funding, for we are not. We are grateful for public support. It makes our lives not just bearable but so much easier.

Caring for a disabled child is exhausting and draining. Whilst my reader is curled up in bed tonight, snoring the sleep of the just, we will be vigilant for a sudden onset of the epilepsy that threatens the life of our child. We care for her every need 24 hours a day, every day, without letup or break or pause or cessation. Our child is fifteen, going on three. She will age physically yet she will always be three. And we wouldn’t change it for the world. We are “illuminati,” privileged to have and to care for her and blessed by the special light that shines from her and enriches all who know and care for her and all of the disabled.

We have a great team of helpers on Katie’s staff. We work together to advance her well-being – doctors who advise on medication; nurses and therapists who provide necessary equipment and apply their particular expertise to further her life skills; teachers and classroom assistants who endeavour to instill learning and others too numerous to mention. They have earned our respect and are thereby entitled to our gratitude. We work as a team – we acknowledge their status as skilled professionals and they acknowledge us as experts on our child and as her parents who, by nature and the law, are charged with determining where her best interests lie.

Mandated by law to work in partnership with us is Social Services. The Children Order 1995, is the law that governs the relationship between family and state. It requires that Social Services and parents work in partnership for the well-being of children. It does not give Social Services the right to determine or dictate what is in the best interests of our children. Theirs is the least useful input for, as they constantly complain, they have no resources. If you deal with Social Services you soon discover why they have no resources.

Theirs is a parasitic position for, lacking expertise in disability issues (that for the most part are medical or educational), they can only be involved if they can leech the efforts of others to justify their place. Every six months Katie is reviewed by her Consultant Paediatrician – the appointment lasts about half an hour or so and she and we will be seen by the Consultant and a doctor in further training. Decisions, if any are needed, are made there and then and actioned immediately thereafter. Every six months a disabled child is subject to a “looked after child” review by Social Services. It will be attended by, de minimis, three Social Workers of increasing grade and seniority and every professional, foolish enough to accept the invitation to attend. When, eventually, having considered every report they have been able to acquire, it is decided that a decision will be made to recommend a service provision to support the disabled child, that recommendation then has to go to the “Panel” for further consideration and final determination.

The Panel is a mysterious entity – we have never met it but, we can be certain, it offers productive employment for its membership. The bureaucrats devour the resources that are meant for the child and the family.

Social Services are obsessed with “protection issues” yet are singularly ill-equipped to recognise or prevent abuse – the litany of failure, whose most recent victim was Baby P. Their only solution to these issues is to employ more social workers for they labour under the illusion that qualifications, in and of themselves and Dr Harold Shipman notwithstanding, are a guarantee against abuse.

They are fixated with their own importance and hooked on a need to be relevant. In our case that led to a documented stance that they required us to alter our lifestyle and re-arrange our dining hour so that they could reinstate a service provision that had been withdrawn, in somewhat mysterious and disputed circumstances, but which they had, undoubtedly, approved.

Lacking the sound academic base, intellectual rigour and professional independence that distinguishes the professions, Social Services is desperately seeking a niche in which it can be essential. Social Work developed as an altruistic, if entirely misguided, endeavour to make a science of charity. This has led it to the “standardisation” of social care into a series of “tick boxes” – where preset questions and pre-determined formulae are deemed to proffer the solution to every human problem and where success is measured by adherence thereto rather than any increase in human happiness, since that cannot be quantified. On one occasion a Social Worker earnestly informed me that the service provision for which she was responsible was “fully compliant” with every requirement laid down by the regulatory authority. My response of “So was the Titanic!” was met with what I can only describe as a “Duh!” moment … as if there was no life, or possibility thereof, beyond full compliance with the diktat of the “tick box”. Science cannot explain everything. Human beings are neither quantifiable nor predictable to the extent necessary to support a scientific hypothesis. Decades of failed social work theories from Cleveland to the Orkneys and a flow of repetitive “lessons to be learned” reviews of historic failures should force recognition of that basic fact. If social care is not based on respect and affection for its recipient no pseudo-scientific theory, based on compliance with artificial standards, can deliver a safe or effective system.

My reader can try this experiment for himself- approach any healthcare professional and slowly declaim “social worker.” Some snort derisively, some cast their eyes upwards, some wish you had never spoken and will be silent but, none, in my experience has ever expressed appreciation, far less admiration, of the Social Worker as an important, never mind integral, member of the team. Then mention Mother Teresa and the eyes will dew over in recognition of the fact that care offered without love, humility and respect for the dignity of its recipient is utterly worthless. If Social Services is to be of future relevance it has to find its historic roots and basis for being. In cruder terms it has to cultivate respect for itself among those with whom and for whom it has to work. Before it can do that however it has to learn that it is there to serve and not to be served. Unless or until it does this, it is an irrelevance in our lives.

So here’s a wild thought! What if we removed Social Services from the care of the disabled child and got Community Nursing to take over its role? And what if we reinstated Health Visitors as Child Protection Officers? The savings from not employing Social Workers would generate enough revenue to actually increase the essential frontline services for disabled children and have enough over to be applied elsewhere.

Alas, it will never be! When Hacker asked Sir Humphrey if he thought that “treating fewer and fewer patients so that we can employ more and more administrators is a proper use of the funds voted by Parliament and supplied by the taxpayer,” Sir Humphrey unflinchingly answered, “Certainly!”

And we all know that the Sir Humphreys are far better informed, more relevant, singularly more important and best suited to determine what is in all of our best interests, especially theirs!