Reduced to tears: A social work review during lockdown

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I write this blog a day short of three months in self isolation.  I focus on the impact of an ongoing social work review for Fran during this time.  It is written with Fran’s permission.  To be clear at the outset, the purposes of this blog are to document the impact of such a review, carried out in the way it has been, at this particular point in time.  In summary, the nature, timing and conduct of the review has been unacceptable and inappropriate in numerous ways from the outset.

I also write it because I have the ability to do so.  Between us, Fran and I have 7 degrees. Fran has a degree in social policy and has written on personalisation.  Yet still we find these processes mindbogglingly complex, inaccessible and emotionally draining.  My worry is for those who do not have the means to articulate these experiences, and the very real risk of them being worse off as a result.

As with all I write, our experiences are just one story of hundreds of thousands of disabled people who go through processes like this every day.

Setting the scene

 It is fair to say that Fran has been engaged in an attritional relationship with social work for several years.  Her care package, which we are grateful to receive, is fundamental to how she lives her life.  She used to use her care package in a holistic and person centered way, to enable a full set of social, professional and personal needs to be met.

Then it got cut.  the first things to go were the social and professional aspects.  No longer could Fran use her Personal Assistants to do things like drive her to see friends when she was too tired, or attend work functions because performing effectively at a meeting as well as the return drive was too physically draining.

Over the years, I have watched with great sadness as Fran’s life has got smaller and smaller as a result of these cuts.

A previous review began to cut away at the personal aspects.  The PA’s do things like cook, wash and iron that Fran cannot do.  They also mean that Fran can work.  The alternative would be to not work, and be dependent on the state for support.  There is nothing wrong with this, but with support it is a matter of pride for Fran that she can work and make a contribution to society as she does so.  We have been told that we are the only couple that social workers are aware of who are both disabled, and who are both able to work.

We were able to reverse some of these cuts to the most basic aspects to Fran’s care plan after a previous review, but only after the intervention of our MP, whose timely and dedicated intervention was appreciated.

In summary, the support received has a fundamental impact on the safety, nature and quality of Fran’s life. This support has become more significant in recent times as Fran’s physical health has significantly deteriorated.

Social Work reviews

Given the above context dear reader, you’ll understand why social care reviews are the subject of angst.  Sadly, as a result of years of previous experiences, there is little trust in the social work team anymore.  What started out as a relationship with social workers which facilitated access to independence, has deteriorated into an adversarial one. The focus of reviews centres on how support can be reduced.

Despite deterioration in Frans health, she had not had a review for three years. They are supposed to take place on an annual basis.    That there is such a significant delay is a worry.

Quite why there is a need to undertake a review when it has been three years, and we are in the middle of a difficult period of self-isolation, is beyond me.

Yesterday, I woke up to find Fran in tears as a result of another insensitive request from her Social Worker. This is when I stepped in.

There have been so many ways in which the conduct of this review has been woeful that outlining them in detail would take longer than I have energy to go into now.  Some examples include:

 

  • A lack of attention to being person centered and to understanding Fran’s needs. Conducting a review when Fran cannot be physically seen is inappropriate

 

  • Setting arbitrary deadlines without understanding Fran’s current circumstances e.g. saying if there is nothing heard from Fran in 7 days it will be assumed that the care is no longer needed. This is not conducive to obtaining quality information and has been a cause of distress to Fran.

 

  • Repeated requests for information that had already been provided. There have been at least six requests for information over a period of less than 4 weeks.  At the outset to this review Fran took a day to completely rewrite her Care Plan with reference to the Care Act, which was 12 pages in length.

 

  • Asking inappropriate questions e.g. asking for the ‘rationale behind the need’ for support to maintain a habitable home

 

  • When a complaint form had been requested, supplying an inaccessible PDF form which doesn’t allow space for the complaint to be detailed

 

These are but a few of the problems which have been experienced.

 

As with previous reviews, the focus appears to be on looking at ways to reduce an already reduced care package.

 

The review is still in progress.  For me it raises so many questions. What is clear though is that it feels like the antithesis of what social work should be about.  Where is the support?  Where is the care?  Not once has Fran actually been asked how she is.

 

Is this really the best we can do?

 

We will fight on.  We will keep shining a light on these issues.  Thank you for reading.

 

Please Note: I am grateful for the solidarity and support we have received so far.  We have had kind offers of legal advice, requests for media interviews, and other generous offers of help.  I write this blog partly in response to those requests.  At the moment though, we don’t wish to take any more formal steps.


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About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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