Category Archives: Safeguarding

‘Old age,more feared than death’…… have we ever cared about older people?

Has there ever been a ‘golden age’ where older people were consistently valued, respected and protected by family and the institutions that make up wider society?

The World Health Organisation suggests the abuse of older people occurs in many parts of the world with little recognition or response. This serious social problem is often downplayed or hidden from the public view, and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, the abuse of older people continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. However, evidence is accumulating to indicate that the abuse of older people in the UK is an important public health and societal problem.

The full extent of abuse is unknown, however, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands an active response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons, and a change in our perspective on whom, and what, we value in society.

Although representations of old age and societal responses to older people have differed over time it could be argued old age has always been viewed as negative.

In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad, with the Greeks love of beauty marginalising the old. Although some commentators suggest the reality was more complex with the portrayal of older people in the classics as ‘both pejorative and complimentary’ (Thane, p.32). For Plato reverence toward old people was a guarantee of social and political stability, whereas Aristotle disagreed with such positive images. Cicero’s work De Senectute, written in 44 BC, points to the variety in individual experiences of ageing, acknowledging that for those who are poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable, however, suggesting older people need to strive throughout their life to remain intellectually and physically able.

Arguably this belief still underpins social care legislation and policy today in respect of older people.

It has been suggested older people’s status in society is linked to their ability to participate in society from an economic perspective, especially in terms of activity in paid employment. Historically where older people have been unable to participate in paid employment, help and support has been provided through a mixture of family and state support, with an emphasis by government on the former rather than the latter. However, commentators suggest, post industrial revolution, another victim of change were older people. The old did not merely lose power, they also lost respect. The rise of the alms-houses, and institutionalised poor-relief, may indicate their children were increasingly shedding responsibility for their support and transferring it to the community.

Although Thane  argued, this may have been due to families own depths of poverty, rather than lack of care or a shedding of responsibility.

The abuse of older people was not something government identified as a problem throughout this period, although, self-neglect was identified as an issue which government sought to address in the 1948 National Assistance Act.

This is not to say it did not occur, for example, the 1942 Exceptional Needs Enquiry found most older people living with families were there under sufferance. They were often less well off than those who lived with strangers, and lacked essential items of clothing, bedding or household equipment as families used any provision, such as clothing coupons, for personal use. Whether this constituted abuse is not clear as many families who cared for older relatives were often living in poverty themselves and older people often willingly gave their families any support they could, even if this meant going without themselves. Of course, records do not exist to either confirm or deny whether such relationships were abusive or mutually supportive, however, it might suggest in terms of individual worth and personal identity, a cultural norm existed where the welfare of the younger generation was prioritised over that of the old by both young and old.

However, Peter Townsend’s landmark study  of long-stay institutional care for older people in 1950’s Britain, provides a little more insight into the experiences of older people receiving care. One of the interviews he recorded was with a matron of a small private residential home in Greater London, which Townsend suggested was by far the worst home he had visited, was clearly describing abuse, as defined in legislation today.

This suggests the abuse of older people has been going on for a long time. It is increasingly clear the abuse of older people exists, and as a society we cannot ignore it any longer.

CQC, older people & funding cuts:It’s not just about the money….

As CQC yet again bring to government and wider societies attention the poor levels of care some older people experience, one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue?

The latest report suggests cuts to social care,  mental health and public health mean “the NHS is being stretched to the limit,” said Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals. “Relying on political rhetoric that promises to protect the NHS but fails to acknowledge that a cut in social care results in a cost to the NHS, is an economic deception.”

Arguably, the discussion  needs to go beyond financial issues  to consider the greater deception of successive governments who have consistently ignored their failure to develop an ethically sustainable approach to the care and support of older people.

Let’s be honest, growing old in the UK is not for the faint hearted when we consider research and inquiries over the last decade.

In 2007 The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested older people in hospital and residential care routinely receive inhumane and degrading treatment, whilst an analysis of outcomes for patients commissioned by the Royal Medical Colleges in 2010 concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemned many to death.  The Health Service Ombudsman review of complaints, in 2011, suggested the National Health Service (NHS) is inflicting pain and suffering on patients, citing examples of older patients leaving hospital with numerous physical injuries, mentally confused, soaked in urine wearing other people’s clothes held together with paper clips.  Sadly the report suggested the individuals discussed are ‘not exceptional or isolated cases’ and clearly indicates the attitude of staff was indifferent to those older people for whom they were supposed to care.    Then in 2012 the Royal College of Surgeons found older people were discriminated against when being assessed for surgical treatment, with decisions being based on chronological age rather than clinical need, whilst Bingham   suggested the treatment of older people in care was so bad that in many cases it met the legal definition of torture. The  scandalous mistreatment of older people in Mid Staffordshire was exposed in the Francis Report in 2013, whilst in 2015 CQC reported on the continuing poor care older people received in care homes …. and so it goes on.

When we move away from  hospital and residential settings things are often not much better with Action on Elder Abuse consistently highlighting the prevalence of abuse older people experience in the community,  leading in 2016 to the publishing of  a ‘dossier of shame’ which outlines how crimes against older people frequently go unpunished.

From a European perspective research findings suggest older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of its European counterparts, with the UK performing most poorly on indicators such as income, poverty and age discrimination (WRVS,2012).  The report states “the UK faces multiple challenges in providing older people with a positive experience of ageing, scoring poorly (although not always the worst) across every theme of the matrix” (WRVS, 2012, p.8).

This all provides a troubling vision of older people’s experience of ageing in the UK.

Older people’s experience of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try and achieve this.  However, we first need a coherent strategy to bring about the change desired by many who work with older people.  Government in the UK tend to address issues associated with an ageing population in individual ‘silos’.  Research from Europe suggests those countries taking a joined up approach, where government consider how factors such as income, health, age discrimination and inclusion interact, the more successful policy approaches are likely to be to improve the experience of ageing.

However, any action needs first to take a long term approach and have a strong ethical, rather than financial, foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promote older peoples equality and human rights across the political divide.

Why it matters who controls the curriculum in social work education ….

Change is the life blood of social work. Supporting people to adopt changes which might improve lives is fundamental to social work. Change is also fundamental in government, although , in my experience over the the last 5 years it does not always deliver improvement in a way which is helpful to social work, or those who require services.

Far too often, it feels to me, governments drive for change is ideological and rooted in making changes which ignore issues related to failure in government, especially in respect of their unshakable belief in neo-liberal ideology as the foundation of everything.

As an ideology, neoliberalism perpetuates the belief that the market cannot only solve all problems but also serves as a model for structuring all social relations. It is steeped in the language of self-help and individual responsibility,   purposely ignoring the effects of  inequalities in power, wealth and income and how these shape individuals and families lives. As such, it supports a society which cruelly ‘others’ those who require support, and is scornful of a critical and politicised social work profession founded on compassion and notions of equality and respect.

It appears to me our current government would prefer potential social workers to be ignorant of the political and structural forces which impact on individuals lives. Back in 2013 Michael Gove, then education secretary, claimed too many social workers had been filled with “idealistic” dogma that viewed people as victims of social injustice. Gove vowed to “strip this sort of thinking out of the profession”.

For example Gove and Co would seemingly prefer the consequences of government policy on those who require social work services in areas such as  housing, benefits sanctions and  zero hours contracts were ignored , ensuring the increasing levels of  poverty and insecurity individuals experience is accompanied by a culture of blame,   leading social workers to deliver individualised solutions to what are structural issues.

The Children and Social Work Bill is the latest ‘change’ causing many in the profession concern. Whilst some, such as Andy Elvin from Frontline, see the Bill as a positive step forward, many others within the profession highlight real issues, yet government appears set on ignoring these  concerns.  As a social work educator I have serious concerns, yes, around the potential privatisation of  children’s services, but also around who will provide social work education and what a future curriculum might look like.

It appears to me Government would like to ‘strip’ ‘idealistic dogma’  out of higher education as well. Instead preferring a depoliticised social work curriculum, a painting by numbers programme of training, rather than an education that prepares potential social workers to support, and challenge, change at an individual and structural level.

I believe a depoliticised education and social work profession, along with an ideologically driven clauses within the Bill would be a disaster for the children it seeks to protect.

A strong social work profession needs an educational system underpinned by critique and analysis, challenge rather than acceptance of the political status quo.  As Henry Giroux eloquently states

“At a time of increased repression, it is all the more crucial for educators to reject the notion that public and higher education are simply sites for training students for the workforce, and that the culture of education is synonymous with the culture of business. At issue here is the need for educators to recognize the power of education in creating the formative cultures necessary to challenge the various threats being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy, while also fighting for those public spheres, ideals, values, and policies that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking, social relations, and politics.

Pedagogy is always about power, because it cannot be separated from how subjectivities are formed or desires mobilized, how some experiences are legitimated and others are not, or how some knowledge is considered acceptable while other forms are excluded from the curriculum.”

Will the proposed changes improve life outcomes for children?  No one knows. I just hope the next reading of the Bill on the 18th October  is not reduced to ideological dogma because none of us who  debate the Bill will have to live with the direct consequences of the decisions made, nor any potentially negative consequences that might flow from this Bill if passed in its current form. ….

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-changes
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it

(Changes, David Bowie)

Social workers to learn how to earn ‘public trust’ from Politicians … Really!

Politicians to lead task force that will guide social workers in earning back public trust …… Really!

Forgive me, I almost choked on my coffee whilst reading a piece entitled ‘Social work needs to earn back public trust‘ on the Guardians Social Care Network.

The government has set up a task force to guide the social work profession on how to earn public trust. A stellar line up of politicians which include Michael Gove, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, those well-known advocates of social work and those they work with. When did Politicians earn the right to pontificate on how a profession might earn public trust I wonder? I must have missed this whilst reading about the numerous promises this government has reneged on since the general election, and which clearly must have enhanced the publics trust in them …..

I am a tad perturbed the government seems to have ditched the comprehensive Munro Review, which provided a very balanced approach to reform that focused not just on social workers and their education but also the political and organisational contexts which also shape social work practice, and arguably go some way to explaining the current problems that bedevil the profession.

The piece suggests the new task force will focus on robust assessment of qualifying social workers involving employers, academics and those who use services …. ummm sorry to mention this, but I do not know of a qualifying social work programme that does not already do this. Social work programmes across the land expect students to pass a number of academic theory assignments and law based exams alongside practice based assessments which involve numerous observations of practice and a plethora of meetings and reports provided by employers, those who use services and academics commenting on the student’s performance and fitness for practice over a 2 or 3 year period.

The article goes onto suggest the social work profession needs to ask itself ‘why the college failed’ and ‘why the public mood’ supports changes in the law where social workers can be prosecuted for wilful neglect. In response to the first question, from my perspective, the reason I did not join the college is that I felt it represented the voice of the government not social workers. To the second comment I would hazard a guess that 30 years of inaccurate reporting in the media, oft-repeated by politicians, and flawed serious case reviews have played a part in the general publics perception of the profession.

Just read the book by Prof Ray Jones which looks at why politicians and the media were so keen to blame and vilify social workers and Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s then children’s services in the case of Baby P, to gain some insight into why the profession is held in such low esteem by the public, aided and abetted by the media and government I would suggest.

I was surprised the piece did not mention the problems with inadequate IT systems, how social work now operates in a call centre environment where workers hot desk and have limited contact with their peers, or how workers work in their cars, making phone calls in lay-bys on their mobiles because they cannot access secure office space. Nor does it mention the failing court system, or the outmoded model of fostering and adoption which is no longer fit for purpose and in many cases just adds to the trauma of already traumatised children’s lives, it fails to mention the knock on effect of welfare reform, the lack of affordable good quality housing or the deterioration in mental health support services to both adults and children, it does not dig deep into the effect on frontline service provision of high levels of stress related sickness and social work vacancies, or the impact of temporary agency workers in providing important continuity when working with children and families.

I have worked with hundreds of hard-working social work students, many of whom are accruing debts of up to £40,000 to become a social worker in children and family services. Despite public and government distrust, and potential imprisonment, they are committed to being the best social workers they can possibly be …. because of this I believe in social work. Time for another coffee I think …..

The ‘McDonaldlisation’ approach to reform in health and social care is as unhealthy as a triple whatever with cheese and fries….

A couple of years ago a social work student suggested government policy wanted to make us all ‘beige’. I know what she means.

Of course commentators might suggest we are seeing a radical shift in emphasis across health and social care under the coalition resulting in an ideologically driven reshaping in our understanding of legitimate nature, and limits, of the state in individuals lives. However, how radical is an agenda premised on ‘consumerism’ and ‘consumer choice’? Policy designed to create a society of depoliticised consumers is hardly going to address the very real issues around equality and social justice that exist in Britain today.

In ‘Cameron & Co dream world’ delegating care provision to corporate providers is really about delegating power to places where there is limited protection for consumers, ‘choice’ takes precedence over ‘voice’. The McDonaldlisation of care is really a watered down version of consumer choice, and some believe by engaging with it you are living the neoliberal dream.

I have nothing against beige, or McDonalds, really, but a bit of colour and a change of diet would not go amiss in the current debates around the future of health and social care, and social work is well placed to provide the colour needed to create greater vibrancy in how we meet future challenges.

As government concerns itself with winning the next election we need to keep the debate going, we need tasty morsels to stimulate a much better quality of debate and deeper thinking about how to address current, and future, issues.

‘Over 50’s more scared of dementia than cancer’: I’m more terrified of the ‘harrowing neglect’ in our care system ……

As The Telegraph report people over 50 are more scared of dementia than cancer, I have to say I am terrified of any condition which might mean I need to rely on our care system when I get older.

As someone over 50, and who is currently spending every weekend at the hospital bedside and my mother in law because I’m so scared that without family around she will be seen as nothing more than ‘care home fodder’, the thought of requiring care, either in hospital or outside of hospital, once you hit the post 80 mark is a terrifying prospect to me.

There has been too many high profile inquiries to suggest these are anomalies in the care system, for example, following the inquest into care at Orchard View the Serous Case Review into the deaths of 5 older people has been published. The coroner has heavily criticised the quality of care at the Southern Cross home, and expressed incredulity that many staff were still working in the care industry, stating that “there could be another Orchid View operating somewhere else”.

The Daily Mail reports

‘Britain’s worst care home’: Damning report into ‘harrowing neglect’ at £3,000-a-month home aims to stop ‘institutionalised abuse’ of the elderly: Serious Case Review has made 34 recommendations after examining failings at Orchid View care home in Copthorne, West SussexRead more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2652709/Orchid-View-care-home-receive-damning-report-published-today.html#ixzz34ELlbfW6
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I’m afraid the type of ‘care’ received by those at Orchard View is not confined to Orchard View.

In 2010 the Royal Medical Colleges concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemned many to death. In 2011 The Health Service Ombudsman suggested the NHS was inflicting pain and suffering on older people, and was indifferent to older people. In 2012 Bingham suggested the treatment of older people in care is now so bad in many cases it meets the definition of ‘torture’.

Just for clarity Amnesty International has outlined the techniques used in ‘torture’, these include isolation, enforced trivial demands, degradation, threats, displays of power (i.e. controlling food and hydration, physical assault).

For some older people in care today, whether in the public or private sector, that is their care, torture.

No wonder from a European perspective research suggests older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of it’s European counterparts (WRVS,2012).

Older people’s experience of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try to achieve this. However, we first need a coherent strategy to bring about the change desired by many who work with older people. Government in the UK tend to address issues associated with an ageing population in individual ‘silos’. Research from Europe suggests those countries taking a joined up approach where government consider how factors such as income, health, age discrimination and inclusion interact , the more successful policy approaches are likely to be to improve the experience of ageing. However, any policy needs first to have a strong ethical foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promoting older people’s equality and human rights.

There is clear evidence in the UK that poor levels of care, in both the private and public sector, is far to prevalent in our care system. Whilst the focus currently is on the leaders and professionals charged with developing and delivering care, wider society too has a role in ensuring compassion in care is the ‘norm’ and not the exception, as The Independent suggests

‘For a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…but they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly’

Whilst many older people receive good quality care, the majority provided by friends and family, far too big a proportion of those requiring higher levels of care are failed by care providers in our system. It is not good enough to keep using the same old rhetoric, better training (what type and where from?), minimum standards (we have these), ‘big society’ need to take more responsibility. We have heard all of this before, and still the abuse continues.

Both my mother (82yrs) and mother-in-law (86yrs) have made clear to me this weekend they do not want to end up in residential care, the very thought fills them with horror. They remind me of the older people I worked with two decades ago who used to equate a stay in hospital with the workhouse and its associated horrors.

It struck me, it must feel terrifying being an older person requiring care today.

Re-think on outsourcing: Mr Gove, privatisation and the ‘missing shade of blue’ …..

Academics and experts have expressed their concerns in a letter to the Guardian following the Department of Educations announcement that it is considering outsourcing children’s services to private firms.

Professor Eileen Munro rightly highlights the ‘fickleness and failings’ of the market, suggesting caution in establishing a market in child protection which could create perverse incentives for private companies. A recent headline highlights the less savoury side of outsourcing – ‘Now troubled children are an investment opportunity: 18% return on the most disturbed and needy children in care homes is the extreme end of Britain’s outsourcing culture’ (Polly Toynbee)

A poll in the Guardian found 95% of respondents felt private firms should not be allowed to run children’s services.

However, the outsourcing/privatisation of children’s services is already here, and it’s extension into child protection is the next target for this government.

The letter has achieved its’ purpose in highlighting the issue and stimulating debate, the question is where do we go from here? I agree with my learned peers, we have to move beyond the ‘outsourcing’ of child protection and focus on our primary concern that vulnerable children will be exploited for profit, not unlike the vulnerable patients of Winterbourne View Hospital. A hospital set up by a Swiss equity company who primarily saw it as an investment opportunity and when the abuse of its’ patients was exposed promptly closed it down, probably moving onto the next investment opportunity provided by this government in the outsourcing of services.

Sadly government chooses to ignore this aspect of outsourcing. However, they do not ignore the opportunity to expose the failure of ‘social workers’ whenever possible. Although, they are less than explicit about the serious structural issues that prevent social workers delivering good services. The Munro Review provided a blue print for change which was universally accepted, however, it has been quietly watered down by the present government, a massive mistake in my opinion, but not unexpected as it really does not fit their ideological agenda and the dichotomous thinking of Mr Gove and co i.e. public sector bad, private sector good.

The issue is not about ‘outsourcing’, it is about the principles, values and ethics of those we outsource to. It is really about profit being made from the lives of those most vulnerable in society which feels abhorrent. Personally I feel the time is right to abandon the notion there is only one way of constructing the world of safeguarding, whether child or adult, if we are to move forward in this debate.

In a famous passage in his Treatise of Human Nature the political philosopher Hume writes about ‘the missing shade of blue’. According to Hume, if we are shown samples of two different shades of blue we can conjure up in our minds a third shade that fits between the two: the missing shade of blue.

The point of interest in Hume’s writing is not that we can invent a new shade of blue but that we can invent new ideas which connect to existing ideas.

Those working daily on the frontline of child protection I feel sure are more than able to achieve this, however, I have little faith, or trust, in those in government to move beyond their preferred shade of Tory blue.