Who cares for the carers?
There are many days where I feel like waving the white flag of surrender. I give up. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Substitute your own personal favourite motto for when the 💩💩 just keeps on coming and you really don’t want to face it anymore.
As a rule, I am not a woe is me kind of a gal but there are limits and even for the Queen of “the glass is half empty, therefore there’s always more room for wine” claimant, sometimes I just don’t want to play anymore.
So why today? It’s been a busy week – nothing new there. Multiple appointments – again lather, rinse, repeat. Certain “dark forces” (bear with me, having to be slightly obtuse so it’s not too outing; a story for another day!) have done their level best to floor us as family and put up barriers; as my Dad would say: “same sh*t different day.” Nothing especially jumps out as being out of our ‘norm.’
Actually, the straw that broke the camels back today is really rather ridiculous – especially since I’m a grown (loosely termed since I barely scrape 5ft 3″) woman.
I don’t know about you but for me, it’s often the little things that tip me over the edge and today was no exception: there were NO apricot danishes left in a certain food establishment that prides itself on offering not just any old danish…. and boy did I have my heart set on that danish.*
You could in fact say I had built that particular danish up to be the highlight of my week (I know I know, I need to get out more!) and I was relishing scarfing it down with my mid-morning latte whilst staring daggers at my ever-increasing piles of paperwork that needs to be
set light to dealt with and some of it rather urgently (anyone thinking I might be procrastinating by writing a blog post instead of dealing with said paperwork, that’s an affirmative!) particularly if I intend to throw my own kind of shade back at the dark forces. They might be putting up barriers but I’m packing TNT, a demolition ball and an AK47 to pulverize them. Ok perhaps I should STEP AWAY from the caffeine….my over active imagination, key-board-warrior-esque approach and twitchy eye suggest that caffeine, my drug of choice, has been consumed in too vast a quantity.
Whether it was the *slightly*
murderous deranged look in my eyes or the muttering sotto voce of curses questioning the parentage of all food halls connected with this particular establishment that caught the attention of the lovely man on the bakery counter, I can’t be sure but clearly sensing something was amiss from the plethora of delicacies in front of me, he tentatively asked if everything was all right.
Resisting the urge to scream out in the style of Ross from Friends a la “My Sandwich” sketch (you young things aren’t likely to be familiar with that gem so let me share it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tqmXTYa3Xw) and without resorting to tears either (the struggle was real people!) I managed to convey my deep disappointment that there were no danishes of the apricot variety to be seen.
And then, as if by divine intervention (ok, I’m waxing faaaaaaarr too literally, all that caffeine has really done for me today!) the dear, dear bakery man, (alas I did not find out your name in the ensuing rush of emotions that came over me!) uttered those most blessed of words: “not to worry, I’m just about to put some out!” Yes! Fist bump, air horns and angels singing the hallelujah chorus; the gods and goddesses and the high priestess of bakeries had smiled righteously upon me.
I must confess it felt like there was something in my eye. I’m thinking that as my salivary glands went into over-drive, some sort of neurological spill over occurred to cause watering?
But the thing is, I’m a firm believer in taking your pleasures where you find them (erm just to caveat, legal ones, I’m definitely not advocating lawlessness or reckless criminality!) because being a parent is at times bloody hard work.
Being a parent carer is even bloody harder, thankless work and as far as I can find, there’s no resignation clause and as for the pay? Well if you are “lucky” enough to qualify (there are certain criteria and the person you are caring for has to have significant needs taking up significant amounts of time) for carer’s allowance, do the maths – you don’t even get minimum wage for the hours you put in. Oh and no matter how many people you provide care for, you only get a single carer’s allowance.
When you multiply caring for 3 children and an 18-year-old who all have varying medical/social-emotional needs and complexities, there really aren’t enough hours in the day. I go to bed every night with a to-do-list that grows ever longer. For every 2 things I manage to tick off during the course of the day, I seem to have added at least another 5.
It plays on my mind that I have dropped the ball somewhere; have I requested everyone’s medications from the GP and arranged for them to be sent to the pharmacy? Do we have enough feed/containers/giving sets/dressings/lotions and potions in hand to get to the end of the month? Have I transposed all of the appointments that crop up into my phone calendar so I can plan everything round them in the weeks ahead? And woe betide if any of those appointments were only given to me over the phone and I don’t have an actual letter to cross reference and double-check with – will I get the right child to the right hospital/clinic/specialist on the right day and time?!
I’m not ashamed to say I take a concoction of various medications every day to help me manage one way or another; be that for my severe depression, anxiety and inability to sleep or for the acid reflux that plagues me and the dodgy back/neck/shoulders and most recently, excruciatingly painful sciatica (so many carers suffer with joint/muscle pain and problems as result of the physical demands of caring for a loved one with mobility difficulties) I’m acutely aware that these are a crutch for want of a better word. In an ideal world, it would be far better to tackle the sources of the problems permanently. Even better in some far off utopia, it would be to put provisions in place to be proactive instead of reactive. To prevent the aches and pains and feelings of isolation, despair and all the affiliated emotions and physicality’s that go along with being a carer.
I learned to my cost (and that of my families, not to mention the NHS etc) that if we carers don’t put protective measures in to fortify ourselves it all comes crashing down.
I am not unique. As a member of support groups such as SWAN UK – http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk I read far too many comments from parent-carers who face battles similar or even harder than my own.
On other forums I’m a part of in relation to education, health and social care there is a generalised resignation to the fact that accessing support, working WITH organisations or professionals instead of the THEM and US facade is a constantly uphill battle; at best a ‘sorry there’s no money in the system’ approach to outright horrific accounts of utterly despicable, underhand tactics designed to deprive the most vulnerable members of society from the most basic, fundamental human rights and discrediting, even slandering or making false allegations against those who have to pick up the mantle and strive on their loved ones behalf. Probably best I don’t get started. I can feel the vitriol rising and that won’t help the acid reflux!!
Next week from 11th June to 18th June inclusive is Carers Week in the UK. You can learn more here: https://www.carersweek.org It is estimated that in the UK there are 6.5 million carers and that figure is only certain to rise as we face an ageing population who are living longer, an NHS that is under resourced, over stretched and a welfare system that has been not so much stripped back as hacked to death and lord only knows what, if anything will be around in future times to help and support those most in need.
But for now anyway, I have taken care of myself by refuelling with a double shot, fully caffeinated (you don’t say?!) latte and a belly full of apricot danishso I’m
bouncing off the walls all fired up to tackle the paperwork and smite those dark forces with a mother’s wrath.
*If anyone suddenly feels the need to shower me in delicious pastries of the apricot kind, you know, I’ll happily take one for the team 😉 Or tell me your own personal sanity savers and maybe I’ll see what else I can try!
When you look a this picture, what do you see?
A smiling girl (admittedly that’s probably stretching the use of the word ‘girl’) and her dog? A woman who looks tired, definitely in need of a bit of slap (literally and figuratively?!) and probably some air brushing?
This picture is so bittersweet in so many ways that I *almost* can’t bear to even share it. My beautiful dog Buddy is in it and he’s no longer with us, departed over the rainbow bridge to be with other furry friends. It makes my heart ache all over again but he still brings warm thoughts and a semi smile to my face nonetheless. The power of canine love.
But what this picture represents is so much more than the image at face value.
Just over one year ago this picture was taken in the reception area of a psychiatric hospital. I was suicidal and had been admitted two days previously having reached crisis point and having made the decision to end my life.
Even trying to write that phrase feels unreal and melodramatic. Like a bad soap opera or overly prosaic novel. This stuff doesn’t happen in the ‘real’ world. Except it does.
I don’t know if it was a surprise when I eventually confided in some of my closest friends about what I had done and what at times, it feels like I still intend to do. In some ways reaching that point was a huge shock, even for me.
If there is such a thing as a poster girl for depression, I’m not certain mine would have been the picture used (hopefully not this one anyway…it’s not my best side!) I was and still am (usually) a glass half full type person – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a glass half full means there’s still plenty of room for more wine!
See, I crack jokes, talk a lot, especially when nervous, I smile, put make up on, clean clothes, prepare meals, answer phone calls etc etc so how can I be depressed? And therein I think lies the crux of it: what does a depressed person look like? What image does someone who has reached the end of their coping skills project?
I wouldn’t dream of speaking for others who have gone through and continue to battle their own demons. But in my experience, depression is such an insidious thing. So even if you seem to be the life and soul of the party, the one that is strong and capable, dependable and reliable, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the gnawing, dragging, emptiness. The feeling that it’s all too much, no way out, nowhere else to run to.
Too much effort, too much expectation, everything from getting up, dressed, one foot in front of the other a herculean effort. But it doesn’t mean you don’t keep DOING all those things. Sometimes the doing of all those very things is one of the ways you keep some kind of a handle on it, albeit a wonky one.
So it doesn’t in any way seem surprising to me when I read accounts of how someone has gone about their day-to-day life, seemingly taking it on the chin, even appearing to have a great time attending events, get togethers, nights out….and then they end it all.
The shock and grief to their nearest and dearest must be bitter, unpalatable and shrouded in disbelief. There must be soul-searching. What did they miss? What clues didn’t they pick up on? How could they let their friend/partner/family member down so unreservedly? Why couldn’t they be stopped from choosing this final absolution?
And anger, only natural too. Rage at their selfishness; that they left everyone in this mess, they stopped trying. Took the ‘easy’ way out.
All these things run through my mind regularly, over and over, like a fuzzy old-fashioned film negative.
I feel burdened by the weight of other people’s expectations of me and the damage that would ricochet through our family unit if I achieve my objective. I once had a crisis mental health worker give me the statistics of how many young people go on to take their own lives in the event that a parent ‘chooses’ to commit suicide. Harsh and horrifying and heaping on the guilt. Crafty, effective move that was.
Perhaps because so often my every day life involves meetings with professionals in relation to the needs of our 4 children, it is so important (to me) that my armour is in place. Keeping up appearances, stopping them from defining me as *that* mother, that weak, special snow flake.
The vast majority of professionals we deal with have been nothing but supportive and helpful, even sympathetic but there are always a few, (ironically the ones who in my view have most failed our wider family), who would like to define our ASD child’s difficulties by my ‘shortcomings.’
The fact of course that respite care was proffered but never organised, dangled like a mesmerising carrot for so long, just out of reach; the fact that our child required appropriate specialist schooling and wrap around care, the inevitable self harm, suicidal idealisations, violence against myself and our other children, the regular police involvement, ambulance call outs, CAMHS care and so forth, all accumulated into some persistent, momentous ball of hell unravelling at lightning speed had nothing to do with my break down at all. I’m *just* that sad and pathetic and attention seeking……
Mental health is still, despite the (much-needed) increase in awareness and highlighting by people like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and high-profile celebrities, radio presenters and such like, a taboo, a dirty little secret.
Admitting that you have mental health difficulties, at least to me, feels a bit like shouting out the word VAGINA (or other awkward word of your choosing that doesn’t tend to come up in day-to-day conversation!) on a megaphone, naked on stage to a silently packed out Wembley arena, being globally transmitted by multiple satellites……
I can only speak for myself but having chatted to other friends going through similar concerns, I know they too feel a sense of shame, being perceived as somehow weak and feeble, lessened.
One of the most crucifying experiences I had in the latter months of last year related to the ill-health of our youngest son. Due to severe gastrointestinal difficulties culminating in losing 5 Kilos in a 4 month period, an extended hospital stay and the insertion of a naso-gastric feeding tube, the lead paediatrician (also our regular consultant for both G-Man and Minx) called a multi-disciplinary meeting to discuss both children’s health concerns (they share many similar aspects) and a plan going forward.
Present at the meeting (in addition to the consultant) were an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Dietician, Speech and Language Therapist, Community Nurse, Student nurse, Ward Sister, Disability Children’s Team Social Worker, Paediatrician, myself and Mr DNTW’s and a few others I can’t recall. I think the only person who wasn’t there was Uncle Tom Cobley*
The consultant outlined the various medical difficulties, asked professionals for observations and then having brief knowledge of our background family situation asked for us parents to outline relevant events over the year.
It’s trite but during that account, it did feel like time stopped. There seemed to be a palpable and collective withholding of breath as I relayed the events of significance. I did my best to remain factual, honest, hiding nothing but not (at least I don’t think) boring them to slumber and derailing the topic with a pity party for one.
I couldn’t make eye contact. I didn’t dare look up. My attempt to be detached failed. I cried; big, fat, salty tears of shame. And of course that always brings on the snot. So as I crumpled tissues and wiped and snorted my way through this hideousness, it brought with it crippling anxiety; the awareness that I had laid myself especially vulnerable to the people I need to work with for my children’s sake on a regular basis and I was in their eyes, at least to my thinking, diminished, fallible.
I must take pains to clarify that not for one moment do I think the consultant was doing this to be unkind or humiliate me. His request came from a genuine place: to what impact psychologically were (are) G-Man’s difficulties related to what is going on in his life and how as a collective could we address this for the best patient care.
It’s an ongoing situation. G doesn’t have an eating disorder; his medical ‘foibles’ are complex and require further investigation (even as I type a referral to Minx’s gastro team at GOSH is on its way), interwoven with understandable anxiety around food , the pain it causes and the bigger picture. He’s also under CAMHS.
That there has been a fall out from my ‘situation’ on all the children, there can be no doubt. Even now, if I am unwell physically or seem low the children are hypersensitive to me, like little meerkats on guard. It will take time for that to subside and what I am beginning to realise, it may never go away entirely.
I’m still recovering if that’s the right word to use. I feel frustrated with myself and angry. There are too many should’s/would’s/could’s (which my mental health team would rap me over the wrists for) – unhelpful words those – and I suppose like the layers of an onion, or perhaps the facets of a diamond, (definitely preferable to root vegetables in my eyes!) are to be evolved and discovered in time.
Therefore, just as the 4 c’s in diamond terms are all important – cut, colour, clarity, carat weight – we know there is no such thing as a flawless diamond; technically speaking even those given a flawless classification have the tiniest of blemishes or imperfections – (bet you will sleep better knowing that hey 😉) Having a love of all things sparkly and glittery, I’ll happily compare myself to a flawed diamond (less of the rough diamond please).
Perfectly imperfect. Needing a bit of a spit and polish.
- Uncle Tom Cobley origin:
“Uncle Tom Cobley and all” is a well used British expression to define (in slight derision) a lot of people. It’s akin to the expression “the world and its wife” and comes from from a Devon folk ballad (Widdicombe Fair in case you are really interested!) Uncle Tom Cobley (and all) is named as the last of a long (long!) list of men with a chorus ending Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
For the avoidance of doubt or for those who may be unfamiliar with the UK and it’s education system in general, I will outline what an EHCP is supposed to do.
All children and young people who have a learning difficulty/disability which makes it difficult for them to access education and need more specialist help than a typical child or a child with educational needs over and above that which the school/college is usually expected to provide from their nominal budget, should be assessed for an EHCP.
As it stands, if a child has a relatively low-level learning based difficulty/disability/need, their school would be expected to fund specialist support out of their own budget before making an application to their local authority for additional top up funding.
The Governments own website outlines the EHCP in more detail: https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs/extra-SEN-help
Rather succinctly this little gem sums it all up in a very appropriate nutshell:
educational, health and social needs and set out the additional support to meet those needs
So there you have it!
Hopefully this makes things clearer to you than mud (please read that in an ironic tone) but the whole EHCP process is such a lengthy, demoralising fiasco, so forgive me if it’s still murky. Anyway, I digress….
EHCP stands for Education and health care plan. I’ll say it again and in bold, just in case and for the avoidance of doubt:
EDUCATION AndHEALTH AndCARE
Let’s take a moment for that to sink in.
Okay then. Got it?
If you saw those words at the top of an important document, with your child’s picture beaming out at you from the front page, what do you think you might expect to find reading on?
I may not be the sharpest tool in the box, no contender for Mastermind or MENSA but even I don’t need a dictionary or google translate to understand those 3 little but ever so important words.
I would expect a to-the-point, concise yet detailed report outlining what and how all my child’s EDUCATION, HEALTH and CARE needs could be best met.
I would assume (& yes my dad did teach me the adage about assume making an ass out of you and me) that such a document would clearly state what steps/methods/therapy or such like would be put in place to accomplish this and help the child achieve the best possible outcomes, uniquely tailored to their own specific requirements.
There would be bullet points stating identified needs. And to each of these there would be a response detailing how those needs can be met, who would provide the support and how. Quantifiable, specific. Defined.
As you may have guessed by now and if you have read my previous blog posts: (https://definitelynotthewaltons.com/2017/10/07/how-do-you-sleep-at-night-part-1/) and https://definitelynotthewaltons.com/2017/10/08/how-do-you-sleep-at-night-part-2-😡😡 we lost our educational tribunal case as the judge decided after hearing the evidence that we couldn’t prove a waking day curriculum (residential school mon-fri) was solely necessary on educational grounds, which is the ONLY aspect of the case he could rule on.
The judge however did stipulate verbally on the day of the tribunal hearing itself and in his subsequent summation that there is a clear, identified need for both the bodies representing children’s social care and health (ie CAMHS) to step up to the plate and that a tri-funded agreement would have been in our son’s best interests.
Regrettably because the latter 2 aspects are not enshrined under current legislation and despite the overhaul of the whole statementing process which took place in 2014, leading to the creation of EHCP’s, the judge was not able to rule on any other factor than education and he also had to balance his judgement with the best use of public funds.
We found all this out last October but there has been so much other assorted 💩going on in our lives that I’ve needed time to step back, lick my wounds, retreat, repair and decide what to do next. It is still an ongoing process.
So as it stands, it turns out I really should have listened to dear old Dad because assuming anything positive about the EHCP process really did make me an ass.
I naively thought the 3 very specific words of education, health and care would formulate the basis of MY child’s frame work of specialised education.
That those in authority and tasked with facilitating the EHCP would recognise not just his needs but his fundamental RIGHTS to access appropriate care and support to his emotional, social and educational needs as an entirety. Ha!
Essentially it seems MY child’s needs are pretty much irrelevant in the document that stands as HIS EHCP. Furthermore how his needs interplay and merge with those of ours as a family – because we are a functioning (debatable!) unit – seem totally irrelevant.
How egotistical of me to think all these things should be reflected and factored in as a holistic approach in his plan?! I think wishing for unicorns and rocking horse sh%t would have been more achievable.
As I was succinctly reminded the local authority do not have a duty to provide the best possible outcome for our son or our family, just an outcome. So let’s disregard what could have been a fantastic opportunity; a way forward that would promote his independence, resilience, friendships and enhance every aspect of his life.
Let’s ignore the fact he’s bright and potentially capable of achieving highly academically (as stated by an independent professional) Lets disregard the lack of ‘real’ life contemporaries, social skills and tasks pertaining to daily living that would best be achieved by supporting him in a residential school placement. In fact let’s knee cap him before we even start.
Because what we wanted for our son costs too much… and shame on me for appealing to the powers that be that providing the best possible support in EDUCATION HEALTH and CARE right now would reap dividends in the future.
I was told by “management” that long term goals/achievements aren’t even considered when looking at the costs right now!! So what the bloody hell is even the point????
Silly, silly old me! Bottom of the class for me. Do not pass go, do not collect £200 and straight to the jail!
Only we are not playing a fun game of Monoply (if the way you play Monoply is anything like the way my lot do, I accept I might be playing fast and loose with the word fun) I suppose if we are using paradigms as an example, we should choose The Game Of Life as a better synonym.
Forgive me if I’m coming across a little over zealous with the italic button. But the unhappy little fact is, we aren’t playing games and our story isn’t unique.
We are talking about REAL life, REAL children, REAL families being put through the mill and being spat back out again. Crushed, devastated, lost.
In fact those 3 words above would far better sum up the plan that is now recognised as the official EHCP document, prescriptive and responsible for shaping my child’s future.
Our legal representation has reviewed the decision made in law and reluctantly concluded there have been no errors in interpretation of the legal aspect. And just because we don’t like the decision, it doesn’t give us the right to appeal.
I’m still deciding what to do next and how best to proceed but in the interim if we refuse to accept and send him to the school stated in the plan, then we are in breach of the law and could face a fine and/or prison sentence. It saddens me beyond belief that legally I cannot do anything other than comply obediently in the interim.
The irony is not lost on me that on 24th October 2017, the Minister of State for Education department in the UK – Robert Goodwill – issued a statement advising that with effect from March 2018, every local authority in the county should ensure that all EHCP’s encompass the health and social care needs of the child in addition to those of education.
Whilst this is not mandated in law, a previously trialled scheme of 17 local authorities demonstrated an overwhelmingly positive response and therefore Robert Goodwill has announced that it should be adopted as best practice on a trial basis going forward for the next 2 years.
So, I can tell you and more importantly, the bean counters in their ivory towers: I won’t retreat, withdraw or go quietly. Of that you can be sure. One way or another I’m coming for you.
I’m a bit less ranty today but no less passionate so let’s get this done and written before I lose my impetus… never mind the will to live.
I like to think I’m currently channeling my inner Taylor Swift and her pals in the Bad Blood music video:
(*above image may be subject to copy-right)
But in reality I should be so lucky. I’ve spent far too much of the day with my youngest son on a hospital ward, wallowing, sat on my butt, scrolling social media and eating chocolate. Less Swift, more sloth; I can feel the helplessness wanting to swallow me up; shut me down again.
(sorry sloths everywhere who are probably outraged at the comparison)
I’ve been extremely touched how many people have commented/got in touch or shared my previous post. Thank you.
I wish what I had written didn’t resonate with so many but I am also grateful for the support and the sense of solidarity.
I recognise the issues facing my family are far from unique. Judging by support groups I belong to, friends, social media and so forth, this utterly deplorable battle for services to provide and protect those most in need, those who don’t have a voice of their own, those with the least ability and energy to fight are being waged up and down the county.
Whilst the difficulties faced may be slightly different, they all share a common denominator: the vulnerable, those in crisis, those society should be protecting and empowering.
Forgive my Whitney Houston moment but our children ARE the future and if we don’t invest in them and secure the best possible pathway, what hope is there for society moving forward?
I also know the elderly, infirm, mentally unwell and so on deserve their cause being championed in the same way.
I recognise on a deeper level my attitude is simplistic and that something policy-wise, fiscally, has to give or change dramatically going forward.
How do we achieve this? I don’t know; I never professed to have the answers as to what this should look like in terms of the bigger picture.
All I do know is a seismic shift is necessary, society is screaming out for it. How we approach this, how we can achieve it is for somebody/ies far more qualified than I. (Otherwise I probably should be standing for government….🤔)
The demands of a large, aging population who are living longer, the epidemic of obesity, drugs/alcohol/cigarettes, the advances in medical science meaning those who once would have met their maker because of cancers, heart disease, prematurity of birth and the terrifying increase in the so far unstoppable dementia are well documented. There can be no escaping the fact that expectations and demands for provision will increase year on year.
All the while the funding for front line services is being reduced or in some cases done away with all together. Departments asked to find millions in cost savings, balance the books and yet still pull it out of the bag, somehow.
Morale is at an all time low as evidenced by the mass exodus of Doctors, nurses, emergency services and so forth.
I’m not naive. I know the country is on its knees financially and floundering in uncertain times: Brexit, the future of the NHS and government but the refusal to engage, instead throwing up wall after wall, challenge after challenge means there’s less money in the pot to provide even the most basic of services.
Is it just me and people like me that can see the irony in money being spent on disputing and denying care instead of the care itself?
We are informed of cuts to services/benefits/ grants every time we switch on the tv, open a news paper. The effects of austerity on all aspects of social care, health and education (and of course the ripple effect on our police force, armed forces and such like) have been hiding in plain sight for many, many years
Why is it that the major political parties seem far more invested in scoring points at each other’s expense and plotting a coup to oust their leaders than implementing change and securing services for the greater good?
I want to believe the bean counters genuinely care, that there is an appetite for change but they have become so blinded in covering their backs, their departments and their funds, (actually the tax payers funds) they have forgotten their original purpose. The other alternative: that they enjoy the power trip, playing god and causing abject misery has to be some dystopian fantasy…. doesn’t it?…
I do know that continuing with this ostrich style approach, riding rough-shod over those of us trying to cope day in, day out and strangling us in a bureaucratic nightmare, (presumably in the hope that parents/Carers will give up) ISN’T helping.
If as much effort and emphasis was put into providing and fulfilling services, identifying and enabling children, parents and the wider family before they reached crisis point a great deal more would be achieved.
I can’t help thinking that in fact the overall financial outlay would ultimately be a lot less, nevermind the impact and fallout on the family which ultimately add to the spiralling costs.
How much do local authorities spend on retaining expensive legal council, defending cases and when challenged by parents on the attack, concede a case with moments to spare? The costs in such situations are not merely financial.
Whilst I cannot go into the ins and outs of our case in detail at the moment (until we receive the decision of the SEND tribunal I don’t want to prejudice any outcome) I can relate some of the damage and the wider implications the delays have caused us so far:
- Inability for autistic child to access mainstream education since March 2016 resulting in high levels of anxiety, depression leading to self harm and suicidal idealisations necessitating multiple in patient/out-patient hospital stays
- Provision of interim specialised education package with 1:1 staff ratio/on occasion 2:1 to provide up to 2 hours study per day (where possible round child’s anxiety)
- Child unable to access GCSE subjects/make option choices
- Involvement of multiple agencies on numerous occasions – police, accident & emergency, CAMHS, children’s social care, Young Carers, autism out reach, fostering team and foster carers
- Local authority (LA) assessment and review officers to prepare EHCP, take information to specialist information panel on multiple occasions, liaise between relevant parties, issue consultation paperwork to potential schools
- Assessment of child by educational psychologist for local authority
- School transport (single occupant) with escort to ensure autistic child safely taken to and from school
- Maternal mental health crisis triggered, medical intervention required, inpatient psychiatric care for 3 months, multiple medications and therapies
- Community care package to support maternal mental health, crisis team management, out of hours services
- Care package from disabled children’s team to provide direct payments in support of care for medically complex child thus enabling sole breadwinner to continue to work
- Emotional support to other children in the family necessitating pastoral support, teachers from 2 separate schools reporting back on children’s well-being and attending looked after children’s (LAC) team meetings, approximately every 6 weeks
- All children in family requiring support and intervention by CAMHS to address trauma and ongoing psychological fall-out
- Family engaging professional legal team and independent educational psychologist to prepare case for tribunal
- LA engaging in-house legal advice and support
- LA acquiring professional legal counsel to present at tribunal
- Convening of independent tribunal and panel member(s) in official court to hear evidence from family and LA surrounding case
How much does all of this add up to? This is not an exhaustive list and no doubt there are things I have unintentionally missed/forgotten but I think it is a fair representation. It’s pretty depressing reading isn’t it?
Has what I’ve detailed shocked you? We are just one family in a cast of thousands, dare I even say millions.
Unless you or a loved one need to avail yourself of services, you assume it happens to others; not to people like us.
We are now the others.
Heads up, a warning: I am enraged. White hot, scalding anger that is making me vitriolic and bitter.
I know it’s doing me no good and I should channel some inner zen but there’s no yin in my yang and frankly I need something else to focus on; some kind of drive to power forward instead of zoning out passively. Time to create a stink.
I don’t as a rule swear very much. Mainly because I have spent and continue to spend a great deal of time round small folk, be they my own or other people’s and the fact that mummy has a potty mouth is not the kind of accolade I want to be renowned for. It doesn’t mean I don’t think in creative Anglo-Saxon oaths but I try to restrain myself from actually launching into a tirade that would make a sailor blush.
Over the years, it’s been quite amusing to find substitute words for the things that have nearly slipped out & turn them into something socially acceptable before the offspring absorbed it as their latest word du jour.
Try to teach them please/thank you/hello/goodbye in polite company, you would think I was attempting to teach them the full works of William Shakespeare… in Flemish. Yet one *almost* expletive of a wangdoodling, cowbunkerling f-bomb amd such like and they have absorbed it by osmosis. 🙄
Tonight however. I make an exception. I am angry. So fucking angry. The fact that fucking just autocorrected to ducking as I typed it, has incensed me further still. 😡😡
I feel sweary. I feel ranty and shouty and full of words my Dad would get cross with me for using (even though he taught me most of them) I’m even tempted to use the ‘c’ one (& I don’t meant Christmas) – sharp intake of breath.
But I can’t have a good shout, unleash a stream of invective because yet again we are in-patient on Hotel NHS and there are a lot of very small people around whose parents would quite understandably be distinctly unimpressed.
So I’ll do my ranting, raving and effing and jeffing here on my blog; after all I did start my musings some years back in an effort to make sense of it all. Life that is. It’s been cathartic to brain fart away. Download and dump the crap (d’ya see what I did there?!)
Half the time I start a blog post with some vague notion of what I want to write about but no idea what will spout forth. I usually feel better by the end. I’d love to be all coy and twee and say I don’t care if people read it or not but actually that would be a lie. I do care. I suppose I need some validation.
Tonight however I REALLY need you to read it, share it, spread the word. Because I’m sick of the powers that be getting away with it. Letting down vulnerable children. Leaving families in crisis, drowning in despair and fracturing already fraught and taut relationships.
3 weeks ago today we took our local authority (LA) to a special educational needs tribunal in an effort to secure an appropriate, residential school placement for our high-functioning autistic son.
This was a culmination of 18 months of fighting and battling and relentlessly dealing with the stalling, the hoop jumping bureaucratic, bean-counting process.
Our 14 year old who should have chosen his GCSE options last school year and commenced this September term on the pathway forward to achieve his future potential has been entirely let down and cast aside by THE SYSTEM.
Would it shock and surprise you to learn he’s received less than 2 hours education per day since March 2016? I know it does me.
I also know if we personally elected he only attend school for this woefully inadequate amount of time, over such a long period, we would have been threatened with fines and imprisonment by the education department. But this situation is not of our making so apparently that makes it legal, ok, just tickety-boo and we can all smile sweetly, nod and wave because they are trying THEIR BEST. Except they are not.
The powers that be are far more concerned with covering their departments backside, zealously guarding their pot of funds so they don’t actually have to put it towards what’s in the best interests of the child.
I hasten to add this is NOT the fault of his current school who have done everything and then some to support him and us as a family in providing him with a suitable education whilst time ticks on relentlessly. But they don’t have the resources or specialist autism knowledge to support the style of learning and can’t provide the low-sensory low-stimulating environment he needs to facilitate his learning.
Even so his mainstream school have strived to do all they can; he has 1:1, sometimes even 2:1 sessions in an area well away from the hustle and bustle of the main school. They have come up with creative and thoughtful ways to stimulate him; to forge a kinesthetic approach that captures his imagination where they can. But it’s not working.
On that at least the LA are in agreement on. But that’s pretty much where it ends.
I knew I should have smelled a stinking, great dirty rat when the placement panel convened in October last year and agreed that our son did indeed require a specialised educational establishment.
Not for us the refusal to assess for an education health care plan (EHCP), not for us the refusal to grant such a plan and not for us the dispute over main stream or specialist placement. So I should have known. It had all come to us far too easily.
Having had the benefit and heartbreak of reading other parents accounts of the lengths they have had to go to even just to get their LA to agree to assess, I knew we had been extremely, for want of a better word, ‘lucky’
But really that’s where our luck ran out. It’s much harder than you think to find appropriate, specialist education. There are a myriad of schools out there meeting complex and varied needs but how do you narrow it down?
In actuality your LA are supposed to help you with this too. They paid lip service to it so I ended up resorting to google and a pick and mix approach, narrowed down by area of expertise and geographical location.
I’ll spare you the laborious ins and outs of the very lengthy and exhausting process. Suffice to say, after panel sat in January 2017, they decided they didn’t have enough information on our case to make a decision. Sigh.
In February 2017, although all the information from the 3 schools we had received provisional offers of placement from (we had approached more than 12 by this point who couldn’t meet our son’s needs) the panel asked to consult with yet another 3 schools. Of course if they had read the case notes properly they would have seen that 2 out of the 3 had already been approached by us and felt unable to offer a place. The remaining school was full and wasn’t suitable for reasons I’m not at liberty to go into. It would be an understatement to say I was fuming.
The assessment and review officer (ARO) acting for the LA tried her best and wanted to expedite matters instead of making us wait till the March sitting. She was new and fed duff information from people higher up the food chain who left her carrying the can after dangling false promises.
The people with THE POWER don’t like taking your phone calls. They are it seems unable to respond to email, even when you have their direct email address. Their phones must also be unable to make out going calls as they never call back and mysteriously all voicemails go awol. Or something.
Apparently they can reply to your local MP if he/she gets in touch after you have involved them and made them aware of your dissatisfaction but only with vague promises that matters are in hand and will be dealt with. A word to the wise: don’t hold your breath.
So March 2017: to our dismay, panel named a wholly inappropriate day-placement school some hour or so away from our home which they expected our son to travel to and fro on a twice daily basis.
Having previously viewed this particular school, I had submitted a lengthy explanation highlighting why the establishment, the cohort of students, the academic remit (or lack thereof) and lack of opportunity to promote our son’s social/emotional development in a holistic over-arching approach to his education were not just incompatible but potentially very damaging and in the worst case scenario likely to exacerbate his anxiety, self harm tendencies, suicidal idealisations and more extreme behavioural difficulties. These concerns were also backed up by his psychiatrist and psychologist from CAMHS (child adolescent mental health) in 2 separate letters.
It will hardly comes as a surprise that the school the LA had selected was the cheapest option.
I was swiftly reminded that the LA only have a duty to provide an education for my child and if they can prove that is enough, it doesn’t matter what we know to be in his best interest, what has already proved dividends in students with a similar make up, what’s in the best interest of society over the long term in aiding him to achieve his potential, thus ensuring he contributes economically, socially and attains independence; to negate relying on the state for benefits, or support services. The school we have found and the costs associated with it are ‘incompatible with the public purse’ and therefore they can refuse to provide it.
They accepted the school we had found is superior in every way; they accepted it could meet need and that like on like it would (based on past performance of students very like our son) offer him the best opportunity and chance of success going forward. Indeed The Judge at tribunal was very clear on all these points.
Yet the LA refused to concede. They have played dirty; suggested we have stalled the case by refusing to ask for an earlier tribunal date – although fully aware that the independent educational psychologist we had asked for input from couldn’t assess until the end of June. Paradoxically, once the extremely enlightening report had been shared with the LA and we suggested moving up court proceedings, they couldn’t accede to our request.
Although the statutory dates for submission of evidence were clearly set out in writing and which both parties agree to abide by, the LA suddenly found a pressing need for their own educational psychologist to assess our son, although they hadn’t deemed it necessary since the previous visit a year ago. Funnily enough they then asked for the revised report be admitted into late evidence.
Surprisingly they also suddenly discovered a letter that had been ‘misplaced’ from our son’s psychiatrist (and which we had never been party to even though we have always been copied into all other correspondence to date) which were counter to 2 previous letters she had written supporting the need for a residential specialist school and expressing her grave concerns to him being placed in an environment such as that outlined in the LA’s chosen school. How very curious indeed that all this information had only just come to light…..
I am cross!!
My nearest and dearest (and not so nearest/dearest!) will attest to the fact that this is not a good state to find me in.
I have been chatting to my friend Mrs Jones. Like most parents, she is lion-hearted when it comes to her children and their needs; her own.. not so much…. but cross her children or deny them their rights and be prepared to unleash a hell-beast…or at the very least a woman not to be taken lightly.
So what is my current vexation? Honestly, it’s more of a case where to start right now…. I could witter on about Brexit or The Donald; I could bemoan the ever-increasing fuel prices, electricity hike and the weather (how terribly British) but right now, it’s a little more ego-centric.
In the words of Catherine Tate’s Nan character (link below just in case you need a quick reference point) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joannie_Taylor “What a fu**in* liberty!!!!” I’m also quite partial to her teenager Lauren Cooper’s “ain’t even bovvered” except right now I am. Very.
Mrs J has been trying to sort out school for her son James since main stream education has been such a spectacular fail, in spite of the school doing their utmost to support him and his parents.
James has been out of full-time education since April last year. He’s a bright boy: capable, intelligent, insightful (as far as teenage boys, especially high functioning autistic ones go) but the intensity of secondary school, the 2000 odd students, the constant moving from class to class for different lessons, the noise of bells ringing, corridor chatter and the hustle and bustle of every day life in a large building are too much, too over-whelming for his sensory processing. The added influx of teenage hormones and puberty have made a difficult transition from primary school to secondary impossible.
James is currently year 9 but in order to reduce his stress levels, anxiety and depression and thereby the impact on his home life, he has only been doing core subjects of English, Maths and Science since last year; and to be honest, even getting him to attend those lessons is more miss than hit. Essentially his current school are baby-sitting him to ensure he maintains some form of eduction in the very loosest of terms.
Of course Mrs Jones is beside herself with worry; What will happen to James in the future? Will he be able to sit GCSE’S and if so, since he has missed so much schooling, how will he catch up to achieve passable results? Will he be able to continue to some form of higher education or vocational course? Whilst Mrs J is under no illusions that exam results are not the be all and end all in life, they do open doors for her son’s future.
Potential college courses, employers etc will need some kind of yard stick to measure against when James seeks independence later in life. For his own self-worth, self-esteem and satisfaction James will need to reach some kind of bench mark, especially with his contemporaries seeking careers, opportunities and embracing whatever life throws at them. James will need to prove his capabilities.
Although his 13-year-old self is quite happy to spend the majority of his time on the X-Box and achieving “Flawless” on Destiny (neither Mrs J or I are quite sure what the means but we know it makes James inordinately happy!!) James will need to exist in a society that is dictated by finances or the lack thereof. Frankly with the current economic state of the UK and its benefits system, who knows whether there will be anything available to support those in need? Not to mention, James should be a valued, contributing member of the work force; he is more than capable, at least academically, of achieving but his needs must be met in a very specific educational environment.
James now has an EHCP – Education and Health Care Plan – https://www.gov.uk/children-with-special-educational-needs/extra-SEN-help but frustratingly, in an already lengthy and drawn out process, Mrs J has reached a stale-mate with the local authority.
Back in September 2016, after assessing information from James’s existing school, James himself, his parents, CAMHs, Family support Team, Social Care and lord knows who else, a dedicated panel called APP (I can’t recall what the initials stand for) met to consider all the relevant details surrounding James education and what best meets his needs.
It was agreed that James needs to be educated in a specialist provision, preferably one that specialises in high functioning autism and social, emotional and behavioral needs. Both Social Care and CAMHs stated that a facility offering a residential setting would be in the best interests of James and his family to provide all parties with some form of consistency, routine and respite.
Whilst neither Mr or Mrs J had specifically entertained the idea of a residential placement, nor was it something they had ever wanted for any of their children (despite growing up with a lust and insatiable appetite for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s tales, boarding school and the likes there of was something of anathema to Mrs J in reality) James struggles with the disruption that comes as part of having a medically complex sibling and no immediate family as a support network in times of difficulty or crisis. Therefore a residential setting would provide consistency and routine, particularly at an already stressful times for James and his wider family.
The local education authority (LEA) advised Mrs J to look at schools of their choice, having agreed that there was nothing within county that could meet James’s needs. Whilst in theory this sounds fantastic, an open invitation to consider whatever was out there, it was actually quite difficult to know where to start. If you type “autism specialist schools in the UK” into google (other search engines are available!) you get more than 895,000 results.
Whilst you can narrow your search criteria discounting schools that focus on traditional autism rather than the more recently labelled “high functioning” (an expression I hate passionately since it does such a disservice to ANYONE on the autistic spectrum for a myriad of reasons) it is still akin to throwing a dart at a map of the UK and hoping it lands somewhere favourable.
Panel did suggest 3 schools to view and paperwork was duly submitted to these establishments by the LEA but very quickly 2 out of the 3 came back to advise they could not meet need.
For obvious reasons, the LEA, CAMHS etc are not allowed to “recommend” schools, although they can give suggestions of where to look and duly did so. Mrs J also consulted the oracle that is Facebook on various autism support sites, special needs etc. After all, real-life experiences of other parents is invaluable.
SENDIASS (http://www.sendiassleicester.org.uk/what-sendiass) suggested a web-site that offers a sort of “Pick ‘n’ Mix” (far less exciting than the sweetie stands in the fondly remembered Woolworths but I digress) option to schooling – type in your child’s needs/issues/support required and up pops a list of potential schools that *may*be suitable. Even so, this illicted over 200 establishments all over the country and with the constraints of time, family life, cost of getting there and physical distance, it was quite impossible to visit all on the list.
The Jones family decided to narrow down the search criteria to schools within a 2 hour distance and based on recommendations from people/parents who had actually utilised the facilities to make the task more manageable. They also discussed them with the assessment officer appointed by county.
After having previously had their fingers burned by a school they had submitted an application to detailing their sons needs, warts and all and upon visiting the Headmaster who had initially welcomed James warmly, promised he could help him achieve his potential and meet his needs, then when the LEA submitted formal paperwork being told no, the Jones’s decided they would only visit schools after paperwork had been sent by the LEA if they felt able to offer a placement, (subject to meeting James in person of course).
Needless to say, this entire process took considerable time but eventually various professionals indicated that subject to dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, James would be in placement before Christmas 2016!! However, best laid plans and all that…schools have 15 statutory days to respond to requests and as it happened, all replies exceeded the given time scale.
This period of time coincided with James’s sister having surgery in London and her recovery was delayed by infection and some additional complications so Mrs J spent considerable time away from the family and then trying to get things back on track when they returned home.
By this point, Christmas was fast approaching and once replies had been received from the various schools, it was decided to schedule visits for the first week of January 2017. Things were looking up!
Several visits later, the Jones’s had found 2 possible schools, one of which they felt particularly would be in their son’s best interests and both schools had capacity. The Headmaster of the preferred option came to the house together with an educational psychologist to speak to James and review his needs and offered him a place unconditionally.
James was taken to view both establishments and watching him relax, feel excitement, understanding and a desire to partake was all the affirmation his parents needed to know they had found the appropriate placements. The fact that the LEA had also named these establishments as possibilities felt like a sign and so the Jones’s were sure they were on the home stretch and there was a frisson of excitement and hope that James would be in placement before February half term.
Having previously been told that their case would be taken to an interim panel due to the length of time events had been ongoing, the LEA assessment officer came back to advise that her manager had declined to pursue this with the higher tier and they would have to wait until the February meeting (APP meet once a month) for their case to be considered.
A small set back but not unexpected (everything is about cost saving don’t you know!) the family waited on tenterhooks for the outcome of panel on Monday 6th February …..they waited…and waited….and waited. The assessment officer was great at trying to update even sending the family an e-mail just before she finished work for the day to let them know they had not been forgotten but she had heard nothing back.
Recognising that their son is not the only child with complex needs and that panel would have had many cases aside from their own to consider, the Jones’s remained quietly confident that Tuesday would bring them much-anticipated news. It did; but not the kind that had them doing a fist bump.
In spite of over-whelming support and evidence from the numerous services involved, James’s own opinions, in spite of pursuing some of the school options that panel had suggested, in spite of Mrs J having written a lengthy explanation as to why they had elected for one specific school as their first choice, incredibly, panel deferred their decision and asked that the family go back and look at 3 further schools not previously suggested!!! Furthermore, 2 of these schools have already been approached by the family and advised verbally they were unable to provide the kind of support James requires.
Mrs Jones veritably turned the air blue on hearing this news. It was indeed a good job all the kids were in school or their vocabulary may well have been “enhanced” – although it’s highly doubtful the teachers would have given the children star of the week for learning new and exciting terminology.
The family haven’t been given the courtesy of an explanation as to why their case has been deferred but it doesn’t take a genius to surmise it’s likely related to the costs of the schools involved – they would have been aware of indicative costings when first suggesting 2 of them back in October.
Whilst it is entirely correct and diligent that each authority can justify their expenditure, at what point in the scenario does this go beyond farcical??? What is to prevent panel from deferring the decision-making process again once these schools have been consulted? and potentially ad infinitum thereafter? It’s not so much that the goal posts have been moved, it’s more that the pitch itself has been demolished, bull dozed and the goal posts used to hang out washing.
It must be recognised that merely undertaking the EHCP process is costly to all parties involved – educational psychologists, paediatricians, local authority, any and all parties involved with the family need to contribute, visit the existing school, child and parents. Hours and hours of professionals time.
Whilst parents themselves do not financially contribute, (although indirectly in the form of taxes I suppose!!) the time factor alone is considerable and for working parents may necessitate them taking leave to attend meetings, file paperwork in appropriate time frames – multiple forms/questionnaires, do schools visits etc) and therefore it is in everyone’s interests to expedite the process.
First and foremost however, the needs of the young person missing out on their education must also be taken into account and on behalf of Mrs J I am vexed that panel are failing James. They are failing in their duty of care not only in respect of his educational needs but also his health and well-being and that of the wider family too.
It is fair to say this family are fragile; poised on the edge of exhaustion, stress and the relentless nature of 2 of their children having significant medical, mental health and emotional needs.
Ultimately, if James isn’t supported to achieve the very best of his potential, both academically and personally then the longer term costs to society in terms of benefits, mental health, NHS care generally, possible criminality to fund his lifestyle or because he is unable to control his moods, assaults someone in anger etc (an integral part of James’s education will support him in identifying his triggers and find ways to self-regulate and employ diversion tactics) then I fear the longer term costs could be far more substantial and not necessarily just financially…. 😦
Edvard Munch – The Scream