Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Winterbourne View: Deja-vu

In social care it seems to feel as if we were in a world of never ending change, departments and organisational structures come and go, shifting around, merging and splitting like amoebas. People come and go and new ways of doing things come in vogue before being replaced by the next big idea which older colleagues usually observe is the very idea which the last big idea was meant to replace.

Despite this continual flux some things seem to remain the same even when we don't want them to. This week I've been reminded of a course I attended, maybe as long as 6 or 7 years ago. The course was titled 'Adult Abuse Awareness' which perhaps dates it as the professional terminology has long since evolved so the course is now named 'Safeguarding Adults Awareness'. The course ran for three days and was attended by staff from across the authority; carers, social workers, care managers and people like me who at the time just answered the phone.

As part of the couse we watched part of a documentary which had been recently aired and where adults with a learning disability in a care home in a neighbouring authorities area had experienced abuse which had centered around the totally unjustified use of physical restraint. The footage also included a scene where one resident had had water thrown over them. I'm reminded of this by the reports of the abuse at Winterbourne View, where according to the Guardian article

The BBC's Panorama programme used an undercover reporter to film patients being pinned down, slapped, doused in cold water and repeatedly taunted.

Unfortunately dspite a google search I cannot find any details of the programme we saw on the course. Any Google search is foxed by the sheer weight of similar cases (just type in 'care home closed down' for a litany of cases), but the thing which troubles me is that despite the publicity and furore over that now forgotten case we are once again hearing the same story years later despite the best efforts of numerous professionals.

For the person running my awareness course, a former front-line Social Worker, the problem was the type of people attracted to jobs in care homes were those who 'enjoyed having power over other people'. Problems like the ones we've seen at Winterbourne were according to this view the result of something deeply embedded. I acually heard a similar kind of arguement made in a Radio 4 interview by the authour of a book 'scapegoat' who suggested that 'institutional violence' was a longstanding problem going back hundreds of years and for adults with a learning disability the stark choice is between abuse either in institutions or in the community.

The problem therefore is one which the whole of society needs to face. Our attitudes to disability, in particular to learning disability need to be transformed. My trainer all those years ago was optimistic about the prospects for the future beleiving that the greater incidences of adult abuse were the result not of increased prevelance, but of a greater willingness of staff and various others to report abuse which would previously have gone undetected. In other words attitudes had begun to change.

Hopefully this optimism wasn't misplaced.