If I were to summon up a David and Goliath analogy, not only would it point us in the direction of Cliché Crescent in record time, but it would also pamper the ego of the giant in question, making it out to be an admirable Superman, when in reality it’s Goofy dressed as a traffic warden – an inept Little Hitler revelling in the power to ruin lives. It’s the sheer Leviathan-like size of the system that makes it so overwhelming and intimidating to the individual rather than the dense dummies it employs, and its appetite for destruction needs no introduction.
Long-term readers will recall the sad saga of a child I called X, a child who is (to use a discredited, non-touchy/feely term) severely mentally handicapped. Having devoted a decade of her life to raising a child with needs so special that perhaps only a lion-tamer would require a similar level of training to cope with the child’s regularly violent behaviour, her mother handed her over to the care of the local authority almost a year ago. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds, for the local authority (who can only boast a solitary specialist care unit in the entire county it covers) wasn’t exactly willing and eager to help. It took various desperate measures for it to finally accept X, though this was done via what is known as a Section 20 care order; the local authority keeps X under its roof, but that arrangement doesn’t remove parental rights from her mother whilst it acts as surrogate parent – although the woman who oversees the care unit is referred to as a ‘corporate parent’, if you can believe that.
With the heavy daily demands of X no longer dominating her mother’s schedule, her mother slowly began to piece together a life for herself after ten years out of the social loop. X’s antisocial nature left her mother’s ordinary interaction with other people severely limited, but now her mother could receive visitors at home without fear of a screaming naked child running around and lashing out with her fists or defecating on the floor; she could also return to the workplace. She kept in touch with X through thrice-weekly visits to the care unit and would then take her out for several hours before dropping her off again. Contact was therefore maintained and her mother kept a close watch on the care X was receiving.
Unfortunately, the competence of this care rarely rose above a barely adequate level and regularly slid into outright negligence. Self-harming on X’s part was once witnessed by her mother when turning up early to collect her from the unit one day; unaware her mother was peering through the window, the fat staff were content to sit and sip their cuppas as X repeatedly punched herself in the head. Self-inflicted bites and bruises were, on one occasion, compounded by carpet burns on the child’s back that could only have been inflicted by a member of staff dragging her along the floor; there were also several other occasions in which a fellow resident/inmate was able to hit X hard when said child was supposed to have at least one member of staff shadowing him at all times.
A catalogue of such incidents, when coupled with the failure of the staff to provide X with the required amount of outdoor excursions and activities, persuaded X’s mother to take her back home in anger, so dissatisfied was she with the service being provided. Successive meetings with patronising Diane Abbott types boasting imaginary job titles had achieved nothing and X’s mother had resorted to the only option open to her. Alas, X was even less suited to the domestic environment a year after being removed from it than she had been before, and a week or so of relative calmness was suddenly superseded by an outburst of physical assaults on her mother that left her black and blue. Essentially in an abusive relationship, X’s battered mother could also no longer recruit the kind of paid assistance that was easier when X had been a smaller, cuter child, and she was left to her own devices; the local authority also didn’t respond to requests for the reinstatement of X’s former care package that had enabled her to remain at home before.
Everyone has their breaking point, however, and if X’s mother couldn’t cope after ten years’ experience, nobody could. She reluctantly had to hand X back into the careless care of a system that had repeatedly failed her. The social workers and their superiors higher up the chain of command ticked a few boxes, issued a few lectures, and smugly settled their overweight arses on the moral high-ground. Platitudes straight from the social care manual were delivered bereft of common sense and with a frightening absence of intelligence; we all have our moments when firing off correspondence, but the litany of spelling mistakes in official letters to X’s mother and confusing the respective names of child and mother suggest IQ tests rank fairly low on the list of the system’s priorities when it comes to employees.
The system will treat parents with contempt regardless, but it still prefers dealing with those either too exhausted by looking after a difficult child or too trusting in the system’s facade of authority to question it. However, why play ball when it will trample all over you, anyway? May as well speak your mind and confront the system’s failings by saying them out loud. The system reacts by essentially sticking its fingers in its ears and babbling incoherently whilst the parent tells it where it is going wrong; then when the parent has finished, the system responds by holding a Star Chamber conference behind closed doors to strip the parents of their rights over their child.
X’s mother hasn’t made herself very popular with the shits she had no alternative but to entrust her child to; even the frontline troops have refused to engage with her at X’s care unit; one physically prevented her from entering it a couple of weeks ago when she was dropping X off after a few hours away. Presented with an uncomfortable truth that contradicts and shatters the sham of social care, this Goliath simply breaks its David by inflicting its ineptitude upon him so that David is eventually worn down not by one big fight, but a succession of endless little battles that are never won.
Each chapter of this saga is more wearisome than its predecessor; everything X’s mother now turns her attention to seems to be a consequence of the system’s negligence. The system is shortly taking X’s mother to court in round one of a legal soap opera that is destined to drag on as long as ‘The Archers’. X’s mother wanted to relocate to another county with better facilities and place X there; the local authority wants to keep X captive in its ‘care’ and is building a smear case against the mother despite the fact that all of X’s injuries have occurred on its watch. Their behaviour has pushed X’s mother to the edge as much as X ever had; but X has an excuse. She can’t help it.
To put it bluntly, the State is not the friend of those with disabilities; the case today in which a male nurse who’d worked at the notorious Winterbourne View care home was cleared of punching a resident of another care home in the face (breaking his jaw) and allowed to continue in the job speaks volumes. And volumes could indeed be penned on this topic, though I shall spare you it. Most of us have the luxury to be spared it.
© The Editor