I’ve worked within social services and health for 15 years and I
have always known that it is an inadequate and overstretched
service, but I recently had personal experience of the gaping holes
in the net.
My mother-in-law is informally caring for the children of her young
niece, who died in the past few weeks from cancer. She had been
caring for her niece and children for the last couple of weeks at
her own home, after she discovered the squalor they were living in.
The same squalor the nurses had not apparently brought to anyone’s
attention when they went in to check on her niece’s colostomy and
My mother-in-law received no financial help or any other support in
this task, which included regularly taking her niece to the
specialist cancer hospital, and she was at a loss as to how she
could access any help.
No one has even asked my mother-in-law if she can manage the
children or assessed whether she is a suitable and safe person. She
is a wonderful person, but she is a retired widow with little money
and a chronic health problem, and she shares the care for her frail
mother and a disabled grandchild.
I am trying to help because I know something about the way that
social services work. Otherwise how would things have ever been
sorted out – when a crisis arose? Apparently, the older child had
been missing school as his mother was too ill to make sure he
attended. Why did no one follow up on the care of the children?
Education and health were both involved, but never seemed to talk
to one another or social services.
Why was it so acceptable for a relative to take on the care of the
children? Surely the Victoria Climbi’ Report highlights the risks
of making assumptions about the safety and appropriateness of
In health and social services we are always talking about
improvements and changes, but we think from the inside-out, even
when we are consulting with users.
Professionals need to have enough space, training, supervision or
whatever it takes to be aware of those things that are beyond the
end of their nose. It is complicated and it takes more thought than
blanket “policy making”.
It obviously takes more resources too, but far less than allowing
unpaid carers to break down and do untold damage for generations to
The writer, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a project
manager for learning difficulties services in a social services