Positive without discrimination

I spent a good part of my previous working life as a social worker trying to get adults with learning disabilities a better deal. But you know how it is; ‘they’ are recipients of care, funding and a pat on the back when the local MP visits the day centre churning out toys that go with a McDonald’s kids’ meal. But the times may be a changing thanks to a very progressive combination of the Down’s Syndrome Association, caring parents and local authorities who are committed to a combination of the words ‘social’ and ‘service’.

James at workEnter James, a young man with Down’s syndrome and a future more interesting and creative than an occasional foray to a shopping mall after a hard day doing mind-numbing nonsense. Today we did a really cool shoot with James in a W1 creative agency packed to the rafters with designers, copywriters and people who do interesting things between 9 and 5. You see, James works in this media company five days a week and has a travel buddy to help him get there and back.

While watching James at work in the post room and at other administrative chores I couldn’t help thinking that most of the creatives on the shop floor are around the same age as James and even five years ago the idea that they would have been on the same payroll as a person with a learning disability was as remote as my beloved Leyton Orient reaching the Champions League final (it will happen one day). James is their equal, he reports to a line manager, he has his daily quota of work to fulfill and he uses public transport to get to and from the office. And at the weekend he follows a certain football club in west London.

Getting James onto that shop floor is a logistical exercise of considerable complexity involving the Down’s Syndrome Association, James’ mother, local authority, transport organisations and of course the company who have given James this opportunity. And it will never be reported by the same media outlets baying for the blood of social services who have failed vulnerable people.

John Smithies, Press Officer of the Down’s Syndrome Association, tells me: “For James to have the opportunity to work in such an environment is unusual – but it needn’t be. We’re working to improve the awareness of what people with Down’s syndrome are capable of. We’ve achieved mainstream education for those that want it and we’re just starting to see the positive effects of this. Now let’s see how progressive employers – like James’s – can effect real change for people with Down’s syndrome.”

It’s with great pride that we publish these images taken by Sheena Kelliher, a new photographer on the Care Images roster. And we take great pride in having James as a model.

Using grandparents as cheap labour; is this what the govern-ment?

What do you do when there’s no-one around to look after the kids? Jackie Ashley has it spot on, you go to the grandparents.

Guardian: On grandparents, Whitehall is woefully old-fashioned

and we’re not talking babysitting in the short or mid-term. We’re talking caring for the grandchildren on a long-term basis. Having been involved with the Grandparents’ Association for a number of years I can show you evidence of hundreds of real-life stories of couples in their 50s, 60s and 70s who, for a range of reasons, are thrust into a second spell of parenting without guaranteed financial or emotional support.

Grandparent and grandchildCare is not a sexy vote-winner, particularly when the care is being carried out by people who may not be physically or emotionally in tune with modern youth culture. The government is happy to lean on grandparents – indeed there is almost an expectation that if an extended family is available, then they have a duty to undertake the care of grandchildren if the alternative option is for the child/ren to be taken into the care of the local authority. You never hear a word of complaint from the grandparents involved but Ashley hits the point home with this observation: “A parent, a foster parent, or someone looking after a disabled adult for 20 hours or more a week gets National Insurance credits. A grandparent doesn’t. This seems unfair, and mildly barmy. Grandparents get no flexible working help, or special leave. Parents can’t claim childcare tax credits for care by grandparents. Nine out of 10 grandparents do all the caring for free.”

Is this the kind of image of care the government really wants?

For more information on the Grandparents Association, please go to www.grandparents-association.org.uk

All the news that’s unfit to print

There are two things the UK media are obsessed with; s-e-x, and having a go at the care sector. Hence, no surprise that this ‘usual suspect’ appeared today in the Daily Mail:

‘Will anyone sleep with my Down’s syndrome son?’

The ubiquitous Daily Mail is clearly not a newspaper that lets the truth get in the way of a good story (the article describes Mencap as a ‘mental health’ charity which it is not – it is a charity that supports people with learning disabilities). And to pump up the volume of sales, this shabby piece of journalism is riddled with sensationalist references to s-e-x: “‘I’m on a mission to find a girlfriend/ My reason is I want to have sex/ There was Jackie – she was a sexy bird, she was gorgeous.”

Underneath these layers of the Daily Mail’s pulp fiction lies an issue that requires an educated debate; do people with learning disabilities have adequate opportunity to fulfill themselves emotionally and physically? Lucy Baxter’s approach to helping her adopted son Otto come to terms with these issues may be contentious but I admire the way she is using an icon of the 21st century (Bebo) to come to terms with a problem whose solution many people believe lies in the 19th century (asylums).

Of course, there is no reason why people with a learning disability should not be able to find a fulfilling relationship. But the Daily Mail’s knee-jerk approach to enlightening middle England is not the way to go about reporting or discussing it. There was a different way to deal with this ‘story’ and would you believe, that way involved not writing about it at all. Would there be a ‘story’ if a Daily Mail journalist had put an ad on an online dating agency looking for a partner? Would there be a ‘story’ if a group of Daily Male (sic) journalists went on a stag weekend of booze and prostitutes (yes, reader, that kind of behaviour has been associated with newsrooms)? Maybe the whole piece was part of a PR stunt by the BBC to get people to watch a programme which is being shown on Thursday about Lucy and Otto.

The answer of course is blowing in the wind of ‘for the public good’ of which the Daily Mail is the self-appointed leader of the pack. Mum Lucy and son Otto are getting on with their lives; we really don’t need to know if they, or the editor of the Daily Mail, choose to use Bebo for the intimate parts.

The man from the ministry of disinformation

Interesting article on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’:

I’ve written before on the Care Images blog about Baby P and I think this Guardian piece by Andy Sawford is a tad ‘stating the obvious’, as in:
"At the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) we believe the key is to speed up the integration of children’s services so that children don’t fall through the cracks in the system. We must stop playing pass the parcel between agencies and instead make sure there is shared responsibility and clear decision-making, so that urgent interventions are made”.

Violence in the homeAll well and good, but people who abuse children are very savvy in getting round ‘shared responsibility’ and intercepting the parcels. Good practice in social work goes unreported and you can be sure that many thousands of children who would have suffered the same fate as Baby P are alive and well because of the skills and expertise of social workers. But in this kind of case, collective bad practice led to tragedy and the press lynch mob.

I’m getting tired of the platitudes and buzzwords spouted from ministers and public body representatives. They are mere puppets under the controls of media-training companies hired by local authorities and government agencies who need to quickly react to a crisis.

Mr Sawford believes the government have in some ways failed the social work profession. But nowhere in his piece does he explain how the profession let down Baby P. Maybe Mr Sawford needs to get better information from his interestingly named Local Government Information Unit.

Behind the lens with Julio Etchart

Julio EtchartJulio Etchart is a renowned photo journalist with an impressive portfolio of social, development and conflict issues around the world for international development agencies and the press. Julio has done a number of commissions with Care Images and is blogging for us. Here is the first of his occasional blogs.

My work in photo journalism has taken me to war zones as well as areas of resolution and development. When I was approached by Care Images to work with them I imagined it to be an ‘easier ride’. I was wrong. The brief from Care Images is to provide realistic images of care as experienced by service users and carers and covering disability and community is a real challenge. I may not be running for cover for fear of being hit by bullets of shrapnel, or witness the misery of refugee camps, but I am fighting against a misguided perception of disability. Through my lens I try to confront prejudice and stereotypes about the way disabled people are seen, literally.

Working for Care Images has given me the opportunity to visit places where elderly and less able members of our society spend their lives, whether it be in a care home or their own home; they are dependant on receiving care. I have focused on documenting the minutiae of tasks of the carers – the parents, relatives and professionals whose work is essential to service users to live with dignity and reach their ability. The main challenge when you are working in this field is to earn the trust of the people whose lives you are documenting. Only by portraying people in a positive and dignified light can this be achieved. That does not mean I always accentuate the positive, rather that I try not to enforce a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’d be interested to hear feedback, both positive and negative on my work for Care images.


Why ‘inhumanity’ is part of the image of care

Last week we published a set of images taken recently at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. These photos serve as a stark reminder inhumanity makes no differentation between race, creed, culture and lifestyle; the concept starts by labelling Jews, gays, gypsies and political activists as second class and ends by herding these people into gas chambers. And we should remember that the imprisonment, brutalisation and ultimate annihilation of millions of people by the most evil regime in history started with a smaller-scale mass murder experimentation on people with learning and physical disabilities (the first crude gassings were carried out with car exhausts extended into old-style institutions).

Auschwitz: Iconic imageThe iconic image of the administration block in Birkenau with its infamous railway line is firmly embedded in our consciousness, and we have that image. But I was particularly struck by what might be described as a fairly innocuous image of a row of broken toilets (P9990 on careimages.com) from one of the men’s barracks. It was not a dissimilar image that has remained in my conscience for many years. In 1982, just starting out as a rookie social worker, I went to St Lawrence’s Hospital for adults with learning disabilities in Caterham, Surrey, to visit a client who had been placed there by a local authority many years previously. I was directed to a large ward and when I asked for my client I was taken to a row of toilet cubicles with no doors where my client was sitting down relieving himself. St Lawrence’s has long gone, the ‘patients’ were relocated as part of community care but 1982 is not so long ago.

The term ‘care’ is meaningless in isolation. Only by ensuring that the practice of care is carried out appropriately for the benefit of service users and not service providers (the explanation offered by the nurse in St Lawrence’s was that ‘patients’ had to be monitored at all times), will the image of care improve.

Care homes are getting cool

This gem of an article from communitycare.co.uk caught my eye today:

Care home residents console themselves with Wii

Aside from the very cute headline which could grant the sub-editor a 52-week season on a red-top back page, the piece itself made me think just how much the young and aging have in common. While those of us aged around 16-61 (for the purpose of symmetry) have to worry about studies, jobs, making ends meet, you know, all the stuff at the bottom of the Maslow pyramid, young and old people in our society are generally free of responsibilities.

At first glance it seemed a tad odd to me that residents in a care home could get pleasure from Wii’s stimulating Rafael Nadal’s serve or Tiger Woods’ swing – but on reflection, why not? The Wii is proactive, you get back what you put in – rather than wait for the home’s fortnightly visit from Uncle Henry’s Magic World, care homes are showing that the gizmos of modern life are not exclusively for kids.

It cannot be easy to adapt to life in a care home, the very nature of a total institution (remember Goffman?) relegates individual choice enjoyed at home to the book of remembrance. And hard as the good care homes try – and many do – they cannot replicate the choices that come with living at home. The Wii initiative (sorry for the pun but the homes that are using the consoles ARE in Scotland!) is to be applauded. And Nintendo have an array of options for game development. They could start with David Lean’s cult Brief Encounter; can you make Celia Johnson catch the train? Help Trevor Howard get that spec of dust from Celia’s eye.