Psychologist Beverley Drakes was highly critical of the mental
assessments of black children in the UK, writes Adam
She said that there was too much emphasis on psychotic disorders
when assessing black children, and a under-diagnosis of depression
and anxiety-related disorders stemming from their experience as an
Too often, said Drakes, teachers and psychologists in the UK
overlooked emotional problems caused by cultural dislocation.
She said black people in the UK were constantly having to
“justify their existence”, to prove themselves, whereas in the
Caribbean nations – Drakes now practises in her place of
birth, Barbados – nobody has preconceptions about your
occupation, interests and character.
Drakes’ presentation drew on the groundbreaking work of
black psychologist Bernard Cord, who challenged white assumptions
about black people’s mental health in the UK 30 years ago.
His research revealed that white psychologists totally ignored
traumatic stress and emotional disturbance when diagnosing mental
health problems in black children. These problems were caused by
removal from Caribbean culture.
Such conditions were viewed in the UK as permanent not temporary
because the trauma of immigration to a hostile culture was
overlooked. Drakes, who is black, referred to her own experience as
a 10-year-old attending school for the first time in London.
“I was called a monkey and told to go back home,” she said.
“Nobody said ‘good morning’ to you when you went in
shops or talked to you as they would in the Caribbean”, she
Drakes also said that teachers in the UK were not aware of
cultural differences. “In the Caribbean schoolchildren do not talk
back to teachers, and downcast eyes are a sign of respect. In the
UK these are misinterpreted as dullness or lack of respect,” she
Drakes worked until recently as a psychologist for the ministry
of education in Barbados. She used to work in the UK for Wandsworth
and Lambeth education authorities.
Long waits for assessments, lack of awareness of the needs of
disabled people and disjointed services are serious problems,
according to Mencap campaigns officer Rosemary Frazer,
writes Adam McCulloch.
She said training was a crucial issue because social workers
report not having any disability awareness training.
She added there was a ‘one solution fits all’ ethos at large.
“Service providers often say ‘here is the solution,
what’s your problem?’” she said.
In Belfast, where Frazer used to live, it is easier to obtain
services because social services, housing and benefits agencies are
under one roof. “I’ve never felt so disabled as I do in
London,” she said.
The level of support differed too much between London boroughs
as eligibility criteria varied so much. Also staff moved around too
much for service users to build consistent relationship, she
Managers at council departments were often unaware of disabled
people’s needs because the very buildings they used were not
physically accessible to clients. This led to a lack of complaints
and user involvement and a false impression among some directors
that services were meeting most needs.
Frazer said that while direct payments were most welcome,
charges were causing serious problems for disabled people.
Referring to the lack of joined up thinking between charging
policy and access to work policies, she said: “What’s the
point of having access to the building where you work when you
can’t afford to get someone to help you get out of bed?”
However, the government has “genuinely tried to make a
difference and seek out the advice of service users”, although,
Frazer added: “it sometimes doesn’t seem to take any notice
of that advice”.
Treating older people with respect means being honest with them
about the service they can realistically expect to get, according
to Counsel and Care’s chief executive Martin Green,
writes Frances Rickford.
Older people say they are tired of people asking them what they
want and not giving them to me, he said, quoting one who has asked,
“Why didn’t you just tell me the service I wanted had been cut. You
don’t spare my feelings by not telling me – you spare them by not
cutting the service!”
Green compared the needs and experiences of two older women,
both disabled by arthritis and both named Matha – one in Lambeth,
south London, and the other in Kigali, Uganda, where he worked for
an aid agency.
Although in the UK there is a much more developed service
infrastructure, services are not necessarily easy or even possible
for an individual to find out about them or access them.
Aids and adaptations can make an enormous difference to a
person’s independence and quality of life, he said, but sometimes
the most useful aids can be the simple and cheap things. In
Lambeth, he said, “It’s important that we ask people what they need
rather than assuming they want the expensive, high technology
Lambeth’s Matha who had a range of adaptations, said the stick
she had for picking up papers was the most useful of all her
Kigali Matha had difficulty getting about her house, so someone
locally built her a simple platform with wheels which solved the
Green also compared equality of access to services in Uganda and
the UK. In the UK he said, Matha was bottom of a long list of
professionals who controlled aspects of her life. Matha in Kigali
had more control, although he said the aid agency which was funding
the programme of support, also had its own agenda.
The fragmentation of local communities in London – and the sheer
pace of life – was threatening the informal community based support
that older people relied on. In Kigali, access to support depended
on your relationship with the local community leader, but in the UK
too social class and local connections made a difference to the
service you received.
Government departments and organisations impacting on
children’s lives were told to “walk your talk” on
children’s rights, writes Natalie
Moira Rayner, director of the office of the London
children’s rights commissioner, told delegates that
children’s rights should be at the heart of corporate and
“The greatest wrong we can do is feel good about talking about
children’s rights rather than confronting the difficulties.
Our sin is failing to take the rights of children as seriously as
we take the rights of other excluded minorities,” said Rayner. “Why
do we have committees to look at children’s participation
which don’t involve children?”
Rayner is leading the drive to persuade the government to bring
in a powerful, independent children’s rights commissioner in
England. Her office is non-government funded, but London mayor Ken
Livingstone has brought her in to develop his child’s
Patmalar Ambikapathy, appointed as Tasmania’s first
commissioner for children in 1999, advised those fighting for a
children’s rights commissioner here: “Don’t let party
politics meddle in the rights of children, it’s far too
She emphasised the importance of having a totally independent
commissioner that has the authority to go into every area affecting
children. Her contract stipulated that she would follow government
policy: “I put a line through it and sent it back. Very early on I
said I wasn’t going to be controlled, the only people that
were going to control me were the children of Tasmania.”
The dilemma now, she said, is to ensure that children’s
rights are accepted, promoted, upheld and enforced. “We have the
right words, but are we actually doing it, is the system
delivering? Put the child first, let it not be rhetoric, let it be
Sheltered housing has great potential for keeping people well
and independent, but its role is being hampered by ignorance among
professionals and the public, according to Imogen Parry, senior
policy manager at the Sanctuary Housing Association,
writes Frances Rickford.
Parry also chairs the Emerging Role of Social Housing, a
consortium of more than 160 organisations aiming to promote
sheltered housing. She was speaking at Wednesday’s session “Older
people: comparing experiences of long-term care”.
There are more people living in sheltered housing than in
residential and nursing home care put together, according to Parry.
Sheltered housing has an important preventive role in that it
reduces social isolation and with it, loneliness and depression. It
also reduces anxiety and through informal daily monitoring, makes
early intervention more likely which in turn can prevent people
having to move to high dependency settings.
Three per cent of the sheltered housing stock is “extra care”
housing – designed and built in partnership with social services
and offering 24 hour support, but also maximising people’s
But research has shown widespread misunderstandings among the
public about sheltered housing, with many people believing it is a
service for homeless people or children.
The challenge is to inform the public as well as key partner
agencies about what sheltered housing is and its potential for
promoting social inclusion, providing intermediate care services as
well as a venue for day care services, for streamlining home care
services and for increasing choice for older people, she said.