Learn from our past mistakes

Henley believes there must be an informed debate before the Valuing People
strategy can be made to work.

noted with interest the question posed in the article concerning the
implementation of the Valuing People strategy: "Are the new structures and
guides sufficient to make the strategy work?" (page 28, 17 January).

the past 30 years I have watched the successive efforts of practitioners to
modernise day services, only to be defeated by bureaucrats and policy-makers
who have failed to learn from past mistakes.

research and vast human, financial and material resources have been
consistently wasted and inestimable deprivation inflicted on people with
learning difficulties as a consequence of radical philosophies being put into
practice without adequate research.

failure to develop a cohesive national day care strategy can be traced to a
prolonged debate concerning the basic elements of the "ordinary life"
philosophies that surfaced in the 1960s but came to a head in the 1980s.

question at that time was not whether greater community integration should be
pursued, but how best it could be achieved. The realist view was that an
evolutionary method that provided a specialist and structured range of
opportunities for users was preferable to that of the radical ordinary life

idealists considered that all specialist services and day centres could be
dispensed with and ordinary community resources could meet the needs of people
with learning difficulties, however severe, profound or complex the problems
might be. An influential lobby swung the debate in favour of the ordinary life
lobby by the mid-1980s and meaningful development of a realistic day service
policy was put into a state of suspension and has remained there ever since.

local authorities that followed the ordinary life proposals failed to
acknowledge that the assumptions on which they based their aspirations were
fundamentally flawed. Unless these flaws are taken into account, the outcome
for Valuing People will be bleak.

informed and rational debate is needed that truly explores the best methods by
which people with learning difficulties can be helped to maximise their use of
ordinary community resources, to expose some of the myths and misconceptions
left over from the denigration of traditional services, and to explore the
validity of the assumptions on which much current thinking depends. Only then
will the new structures and guides be sufficient to make the strategy work.

Henley is a former manager of an adult training centre for people with learning

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