For the Valentines I never knew – reblog

I loved this blog from Rob Mitchell and Elaine James’ Last Quango in Halifax. With author Rob’s permission, here is how it begins:

There’s a song by a band called the Wedding Present which like so many other songs is about falling in love.  It’s called A Million Miles.  It’s about that moment when you meet someone for the first time. The moment when your stomach spins. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep and yet despite this, as the song goes, you ‘can’t even remember the colour of her eyes’. The song connects with that first fleeting moment when a returned smile and a burst of shared laughter on the walk home together means everything. When your world is filled with subsequent endless telephone calls to each other (it was written in the mid 80s before text). It’s about that mad bit. The bit where the massive risk has paid off, even if it’s only momentarily.

I know it’s different for everybody but that song has always resonated with me because that’s how it feels when it happens. It’s a kind of prolonged Christmas Eve of anticipation. It’s mystifying, scary and the most exhilarating experience that you can have. Its the 1000-1 off-chance of a new human relationship that may lead to love and will involve lust and desire alongside, hopefully, some happiness on the journey. The risk you’ve taken was huge. The smile that might be unrequited, the humiliation of a misread signal, the shocking discomfort of a blind date from hell, the deeply personal hurt that comes from rejection if, as may be likely, a rejection is just around the corner. Yet despite that, despite all of that, we felt it was risk worth taking.

Love and falling in love. Seeing people fall in and out of love. Beginning and endings to relationships plays a huge part of our lives. I’ve completed two three year courses on issues around humanity and social care and I’ve completed countless additional training courses but I genuinely cannot recall ever being asked to write about love in any assignment that I competed. I have definitely never written the word love in an exam. I can’t remember a single lecture on love or certainly not one that didn’t medicalise it, or quickly move towards framing love in terms of ‘attachment’ or ‘obsession’. But love and relationships appear to be one clear thing that drives us. We don’t get to choose who we love or we can not prevent unrequited love. It is part of who we are, and can at times lead to terrible sadness. It is the essence of humanity. And yet, it is something that health and social care isn’t comfortable with.

As social workers you would think that our profession would be there when people needed help and support with love – it’s sort of in our job title. But in my career, I have found the most significant block in terms of our thinking about supporting people to experience the love, with all the risk it brings.  I can recall on one hand the number of conversations I have had with people where there has been a positive approach to helping someone with any aspect of having that ‘Wedding Present song’ feeling.

It is particularly stark when it comes to people with a learning disability. Instead of love, I hear about sex a lot.  Read the rest of the blog here.

Mother’s plea to judge to sterilise pregnant daughter

I blogged about parents with learning disabilities recently, so this case, reported in the Guardian, caught my eye:

The mother of a young woman with learning difficulties who is pregnant with her second child broke down in tears as she pleaded with a high court judge to allow her daughter to be forcibly sterilised for her own protection.

The mother, known as Mrs P, told the judge that while she and her family supported her daughter, 21, and helped bring up her children, they could not make a commitment to any future babies.

It’s rarely a good idea to comment from a distance on individual cases and this one seems genuinely troubling. It turns on the woman’s right to make decisions about her relationships and desire to be a parent, when there is a question mark over her ability to understand the consequences of those decisions. It’s being heard by the Court of Protection, set up to adjudicate in complex decisions like this when someone is deemed to lack the capacity to make the decision for themselves.

I was suprised to read that the court hears between 20 and 40 cases involving “serious medical treatment” every year. It would be interesting to know more about those cases: has any research been done into the court’s impact on decision making in this area?

Another case has been attracting controversy recently in the UK and international press, involving a young man with a low IQ who was banned by the court from having sex, due to its ruling that he didn’t understand the health and emotional consequences. In this case, there was no one else’s well being to consider: the man was in a sexual relationship with another man he lived with in supported accommodation and there do not appear to have been concerns about that other individual. The court’s ruling was that the man did not currently have the capacity to consent to sex, but that, given his expressed desire to have sexual relationships, his support workers should educate him about sex and relationships, in order that he might gain the capacity.

In some ways, this is a fairly reasonable judgement. Importantly, it recognises that mental capacity is not fixed: the man doesn’t understand the issue now, so should be supported to gain capacity to understand it. There is an implicit criticism in the judgement of support services concerned enough to take a case to court, but who were not capable of working out that the individual was in need of support with sex and relationships. There was some silliness in the proceedings: the individual’s lack of understanding of contraception and where babies come from were cited as reasons for concern, which don’t seem that relevant to his relationship with another man.

Most of all though, I can’t help being struck by this contrast: thousands of pounds was spent and a high court involved in a man’s sex life, because of his lack of understanding of the health and well being issues. If we applied those standards to everyone else, how many thousands of poorly informed teenagers, or for that matter, people who make decisions about sex whilst drunk, would find themselves and their mental capacity up before a court?

A pub solves a drinking problem….

In a blog last week, I talked about the need for us to find new ways of connecting people and suggested that the Big Society idea of street parties and re-creating the village in today’s city wasn’t going to work. I suggested we need to build communities helping people who are like-minded to find each other. In his comment, ‘Liam’ asked: “Where would that leave people with disabilities, or Alzheimer’s Disease, or others who do even speak perhaps?” Liam is interested in communities and isolation: I’m grateful to him for quoting Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, who describes isolation as ‘a taste of death’. That’s a powerful image.

Liam is right, I think, that the concept of “like-mindedness”, like “community” itself, can be exclusive as well as inclusive. Can you have belonging, without having people who don’t belong? Is a shared space only defined by its walls? One of the appeals of the work which our members does to me is that it makes links in unlikely places. People who have been assumed not to have anything in common with anyone, and to be “challenging”, turn out to have plenty in common with others, when they find the right place to call home.

Alison and Mark run a pub in a seaside town. Neil, who has a learning disability, spent a lot of time drinking in pubs around the town, and gradually spent more and more time at Alison’s pub. Alison and Mark were concerned about his drinking, his behaviour and increasingly, his safety. He even began sleeping rough on their doorstep. Continue reading

Happy or “appropriate”?

When I think back to my time working as a care assistant in a residential home, the word “appropriate” come s to mind. I was reminded of this by this post on the very well-used Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities “Choice Forum” ( Here’s an extract:

 “The care provider has enforced a no touch / hug policy into the house Continue reading

Social work Chief talks about Shared Lives

Thanks to the 90 odd members who joined us in a cold and occasionally snowy Newcastle for a very successful conference and the AGM. Our annual report is now on the website.

Richard Jones, President of ADASS, was our keynote speaker and met a group of attendees for a discussion session, as well as mingling at lunchtime. What Richard said about Shared Lives (condensed a little!) was very interesting: “Too often we fit people into services, when what they want are relationships. We need to see and treat people as citizens, not clients, customers or service users. Shared Lives levers in so many community resources. It is a win-win service for people, families and the public purse. It often offers something others can’t: you can’t specify love in a contract.”

It’s a brave professional who talks about love and social care in the same sentence Continue reading