The media may have difficulty in finding good news, but that shouldn’t deter services from focusing on the positives, writes Mark Drinkwater (pictured )
Social care services have come in for flak from newspapers in the past year. It was ever thus. But just recently, one local south London newspaper ran a more considered story about poor practice in a day service for people with learning disabilities. It was not the one-sided account of social care failings we have come to expect from our national tabloids, but was a much more thought-provoking piece of investigative journalism.
The article arose from a tip-off from a member of the public who had witnessed two staff members regularly driving a bus full of people with learning disabilities to a cul-de-sac, parking up and then falling asleep with their charges in the back in various states of agitation. The concerned resident had rung the police to report the matter. When they failed to turn up, they contacted the local newspaper.
It prompted a quick response from the charity’s chief executive, who outlined how the allegations were being followed up; they have dealt with the dozing duo by suspending them, pending a full investigation. The newspaper also printed a letter of support for the charity from the parent of a service user. These were dignified responses to a difficult situation.
No one likes to hear bad news stories about social care, but highlighting this case has had its upsides. For the charity, this has been a wake-up call, a chance to re-evaluate its services.
It has also created a healthy debate locally about service provision – cropping up in several conferences I have attended since. The discussions it has generated have been much more open and sophisticated than one might have expected.
I won’t mention the name of the charity concerned as they have a good reputation for service provision elsewhere. Also, I’m conscious that I only know the details of this incident through second-hand accounts in the press; never a good way of ascertaining the “facts”.
Focus on achievements
All this has made me think about the importance of focusing on achievements, rather than deficiencies. So, if I’m going to mention names, it’s far better that I name a charity doing good work.
In south London, there are plenty of great charities working with people with learning disabilities, but I’ve been particularly impressed by In Touch. One initiative they have supported is a user-led project called Friday Friends. This group of people with learning disabilities meet up once a week to socialise, go on trips to the theatre and visit galleries.
What is different about Friday Friends is that while, initially, the project was set up by In Touch, the service users now run the organisation. They wanted to be the trustees to prove that people with learning disabilities can control their own project.
In Touch has also set up other notable services, including a DIY course that helps people with learning disabilities learn how to do simple repairs in their own homes. Both of these user-led initiatives at In Touch have made a huge impact in promoting the independence of people with learning disabilities.
Not so long ago people with learning disabilities were confined to impersonal services in long-stay hospitals. Yet while service provision outside these settings has its own problems, the overall quality of care in the community is much better.
Services need to have the confidence to face up to acknowledging deficiencies in services, dealing with them by learning from good practice elsewhere. Most of all, they need to take the time to celebrate their positive achievements.
Social care is difficult enough to work in. Without optimism, it can seem impossible.
Published in Community Care 14 May 2009 in the On Reflection slot under the headline ‘The Good News is Out There’