Victims should not pay

Victim Support strongly sympathises with the
calls being made by Irish child abuse victims that welfare benefits
should not be affected by the award of compensation (News, page 14,
23 May). Sadly, many other victims of crime are similarly

Each year we help more than 20,000 people make
claims for criminal injuries. Many of these people are receiving
means-tested benefits and we have to tell them that if they are
successful their benefits may be reduced or stopped altogether.
This is because a compensation payment is treated as capital for
the purposes of assessing the victim’s entitlement to
income-related benefits.

The response of the Benefits Agency to victims
in this situation is that they can set up a discretionary trust.
However, this is too expensive for all but the largest awards.
Moreover, there are severe restrictions on the amount, and on the
purpose for which payments out of the trust can be made. This has
implications for the victim’s ability to regain control of their
lives after the crime, and limits how effective the compensation is
in terms of helping to overcome the effects of the crime.

Victim Support believes that an award of
criminal injury compensation, which is paid to acknowledge the
suffering of the victim, should be completely disregarded in
assessing the capital allowance.

Anthony Forsyth
Policy officer
Victim Support

Schools offer protection

Your article about the role of schools in
child protection (“Off the curriculum”, 30 May) makes no mention of
guidance from the Department for Education and Skills, currently
being revised, which adds considerably to Working Together
and greatly informs day-to-day practice, along with guidance from
local area child protection committees. Practice is infinitely
better than it used to be, and local education authorities and
schools have considerably raised the quality of both policy and
procedures in recent years.

Schools frequently report that they would like
to share more information with colleagues in other agencies, but
confusion over having to obtain parental consent has seriously
inhibited them. Teachers cannot be expected to know in advance that
an issue is one of child protection rather than a child “in need” –
that would require them to conduct an investigation prior to
referral, which is not appropriate. This is not a problem with
schools but a confusion in the assessment framework, which is being
interpreted inconsistently by social workers and has disempowered
teachers in feeling confident about sharing their concerns.

Education welfare officers should not be seen
as the conduit for referrals. They are not necessarily any better
trained or qualified in child protection than an experienced
designated teacher, and there is no need for duplication or the
risk of delay. Much of what your article asks for already exists,
as schools take on increasing responsibility for dealing with their
own problems without needing to rely on expertise from outside.

Ben Whitney
Training and development officer
Social Inclusion Unit
Staffordshire Education Department

Drugs have a role to play

Peter Beresford’s comments about a “silent
drug menace” (Perspectives, 11 April) are understandable given the
role that drugs play in our society. Looked at from the other end
of the couch, so to speak, the dilemma for doctors is the constant
demand for quick solutions, for prescriptions and for “something to
be done”.

It is often thought that somehow counselling
or psychotherapy are more effective or more valuable than
medication, but the quality of counselling must be carefully
monitored and its effectiveness remains extremely difficult to
clarify. Every psychiatrist and GP regularly sees individuals who
have already sought alternative treatments, despite being in states
of considerable distress, and have subsequently found great benefit
in appropriate prescribed medication.

It is questionable whether psychoactive drugs
are a means of “social control”. This suggests that people are
conned or bullied into having medication, and cannot understand
what is being done. My experience is that individuals are aware of
their choices, using the excellent input of organisations such as
Mind and various user groups to improve treatment effects. The
notion of what the world would look like if “convenience chemicals”
were not an option denies the benefits of effective treatment of
some conditions, such as schizophrenia or manic-depressive

When effective treatments weren’t available,
tens of thousands of people were banged up in asylums, their lives
put on hold for many years. Social utopias sound great, but the
real task is to destigmatise public attitudes to mental

Trevor Turner
Consultant psychiatrist and clinical director
East London and the City Mental Health NHS Trust

Listen to the people

I was interested but disappointed to read the
case study of a young woman with learning difficulties (Practice
Panel, 23 May). Valuing People has been published for over a year,
yet practice and attitudes continue to be slow to change.

Why are we still charging forth as health and
social care professionals with plans, services and
multi-disciplinary assessments? It seems we continue to jump into
solutions before asking what individuals want and need; before
offering advocacy support if needed; and before thinking about the
needs of someone with learning difficulties as we would those of
any other young adult.

In Norfolk, we recognise that if services are
to move forward we have to completely change the way we approach
support for people, raise our expectations of people with learning
difficulties, and realise that people with learning difficulties
and their advocacy organisations often have a clearer idea of the
approaches and support people need than the professionals do – as
demonstrated in your case study.

Amanda Reynolds
Joint director of learning disabilities
Norwich primary care trust/Norfolk social services

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