The Simon Heng column

    I live in an area where the social services department makes
    enormous efforts to ensure that its policy documents are written in
    plain English. This department goes to great lengths to consult
    over the accessibility of its publicly available materials from
    every conceivable angle – large print, and Braille or tape for
    people with visual impairments, translations into commonly spoken
    languages for this area.

    Where there are proposed changes to services, users and carers are
    invited to open meetings to discuss plans and contribute new ideas,
    so that people don’t even have to read the documents before
    commenting upon the proposals.

    And yet, one of the common themes discussed in service user groups
    is the complaint that people feel that they are not kept adequately
    informed. There are times when the underlying attitude towards the
    statutory services is one of deep suspicion; the assumption seems
    to be that each initiative holds, in some way, an attempt to
    bamboozle the clientele.

    My experience of the department as an individual service user is
    that I have been kept reasonably well-informed and involved in
    planning my care and in service delivery. I have no reason to
    suspect that other service users are treated any differently.

    So how is it that so many of my service user colleagues are, and
    remain so suspicious of the people who are there to help them?

    Is it that service users and carers hope for more assistance than
    the department can offer, and so will always be disappointed? If
    this is true, does it mean that people’s anger is misplaced,
    thinking that their social services department can provide more
    than it is actually allowed to? Perhaps it is that they have been
    promised more help than has actually been delivered in the past?

    Is this the resentment that comes with learned helplessness, of
    suspicion that is part of a culture of dependency, which all of the
    consultation is meant to change?

    If it is, we need a different approach to engage people in the
    partnerships the professionals are trying to build.

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