We are not all the same

Mabel Cooper says social work training should
involve getting to know more people with learning difficulties.

When I first came out of long-stay hospital in
1980 I had a social worker, but I think he was not able to do his
job. He did not know how to help me. He had worked with children
but never with people with a learning difficulty because he had not
come across people with a learning difficulty before – we were all
shut away in hospitals, not out in the community. He didn’t do
anything because he did not know how to go round it – he did not
know how I could get benefits, he did not know how to help me to
get housing, so all he did was meet with me and chat. I had to tell
him I would not see him any more as he could not do anything to

person who helped me was my friend Eva. She had been a nurse at my
long-stay hospital, St. Lawrence’s in Caterham, Surrey, and had
become a really good friend. When my social worker did not know how
to get benefits and whatever, Eva knew how to go about it. She knew
the contacts. I was very lucky to have a friend like her. Other
people were not so fortunate and were sent back to their own
boroughs, where they knew no one and lost contact with their
friends from the hospital. This is all wrong.

I hope
this would not happen now. Social workers should be able to talk to
and help people with learning difficulties to get what they are
entitled to. I have a social worker who looks after all the people
in the boarding-out scheme. She is lovely. She knows how to go
around the system. I know how to get hold of her and she treats me
with respect – as an adult. We need more like her.

think social workers should have better training by meeting people
with learning difficulties in day centres and in self-advocacy
groups. They should get to know people and what they need. I have
been in groups who have helped to train doctors and nurses to treat
people with learning difficulties better. And this training could
help social workers too.

In the
hospital everyone was treated as the same. They treated us like
children – we had to be in bed by 9pm and up at 6am before the day
staff arrived. We had to fit in with the system rather than staff
being there to help us.

But we
are not all the same and should not be treated as such. I like
going down the market but my friend does not like going. She needs
different kinds of support to me.

I like
the day centre I go to. I don’t go every day because I am busy
going to meetings and seeing friends. I think people with learning
difficulties should have the right to choose if they want to go to
a day centre. I think they should have the right to go to college
if they want to – they should have the right to do anything they
want to as long as it is within reason. They need their social
workers to support them to be able to do these things. Some people
need travel training or someone to go with them.

I need
help to go to new places and to read and to write. If I have the
right support I can do the things I want to do.

Mabel Cooper is a service user
with learning difficulties.

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