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.