Ports of entry like Kent and Croydon look after a disproportionate number of child asylum seekers, and government funding doesn’t cover all the costs, as I explain in a piece on the Guardian’s social care pages.
Many concerns were raised at the National Children’s and Adults Services Conference in Bournemouth in October, and are reflected in recent research from Brighton University. This describes “an extremely uneven distribution” of unaccompanied minors. A Freedom of Information request reveals that seven out of 150 English councils look after 43% of all unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.
In Kent, there are 1,384 unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people, including 982 under-18s; more than a third of all looked-after children.
Peter Oakford, cabinet member for specialist children’s services says: “It’s been the most difficult year Kent county council has ever experienced regarding unaccompanied asylum seeking children … This places enormous pressures on staff in services within the council, foster carers and education services as well as all our partner agencies like the police and health.”
Amid the debate about dispersal schemes and funding shortfalls, Kent’s latest figures reveal the human cost; 180 children do not have an allocated social worker and are still waiting for a full assessment.
Guest blogger Lesley Rogers is chairing the charity Sense’s inquiry, The Case for Play into the lack of access to play opportunities for under-fives with multiple needs. Lesley is involved alongside co chair David Blunkett, the former education secretary, and Julie Jennings from RNIB as an expert advisor.
Play is an important part of childhood, it’s where children learn about the world around them, build relationships and friendships. But I know from experience with my eight-year-old Ruby that children with multiple needs often don’t get the same opportunities to play as other children.
Ruby was born with a rare condition called CHARGE syndrome and is consequently deafblind, she also has a heart condition and feeding problems.
We struggled from the very beginning to find appropriate play opportunities for Ruby. From finding accessible play groups to swimming pools and play parks. Every activity and opportunity for play has to be checked it’s accessible and appropriate beforehand, if it’s not, I have to ask for adaptations – and if those can’t be made, we can’t go and Ruby misses out.
But for children like Ruby, play is even more important. It was through play that we learnt to communicate with each other through basic sign language, through play Ruby is developing her muscle tone and through play she’s learning to connect with others around her.
We initially struggled to find appropriate play and activity groups. When Ruby was younger I wouldn’t take her to regular toddler groups, I felt vulnerable and isolated. I didn’t want to explain Ruby’s condition to other parents, and I wanted to go to places where I could meet people who would understand.
When Ruby was 18 months we were introduced to the deafblind charity Sense, it was a lifeline. We started going to the Sense play group, Sparkles, in Barnet. It used to take me 40 minutes to get there, but it was worth it. You didn’t need to explain to anybody what was wrong; if you came along with a feeding pump and a suction machine, it was accepted. I found everything I needed there, support from other parents and expert knowledge from staff.
Over the years I have spent so much time researching activities and play opportunities on the internet. I don’t want Ruby to miss out so I have thoroughly explored my borough but nowhere fully meets her needs. I’ve learnt that you have to be very proactive; I approach establishments, tell them about Ruby and ask if they are willing to make adjustments.
I hope that the inquiry will raise awareness of the challenges families like ours face every day. I hope that the government listens to the evidence and the recommendations that Sense presents and that appropriate changes are made following this. I hope that families get more support, particularly in the early years when parents could be feeling overwhelmed and confused. The earlier they receive help, the sooner they can provide the right support to their children.
With the right support, Ruby has the chance to enjoy play and leisure activities. She loves swimming. She goes once a week with school. It’s a great achievement that Ruby is able to attend the sessions. Ruby doesn’t like cold water so together with the school we contacted the leisure centre to see if they would be willing to open the jacuzzi and smaller warmer pool for us, we also needed an extra life guard and extra time in the changing rooms which they agreed to.
Ruby goes to the pool with her intervenor, her intervenor is basically her eyes and ears, she shows Ruby how to do things in a way that she understands. The intervenor will take toys into the pool, she’ll flick a ball to Ruby and Ruby will flick it back. Through swimming Ruby is strengthening her muscle tone, she’s also learning to socialise with her classmates which is great to see.
The most common barriers in terms of access to play settings for children with multiple needs is that there just aren’t enough places that are accommodating to children with multiple needs so accessibility is a big one.
There is a lack of information about play groups and activities that are suitable. For example we got introduced to Sense when Ruby was 18 months, it was a lifeline for us and I wish we knew about them earlier. Quite often you find out about things through word of mouth, this shouldn’t be the way. Parents need support as much as the children. It’s vital, particularly in the beginning.
Also I don’t often have confidence in the staff to leave Ruby with them. For example, I need to know that the staff can feed her and that they can sign. The reality is these places are few and far between, I have fully explored my borough and there is nowhere that fully meets her needs, this means I have to go with her all the time. Or use an intervenor.
What more can be done to boost such opportunities? Parents should have better access to information and advice on how to play with their child. Disabled children and their families should be involved in the design of play spaces and sessions to ensure they meet their needs.
There should be better training of staff and management at play groups etc. Often parents of children with complex needs have to come in and train staff how to care for their child’s medical needs. Every local authority should provide accessible play opportunities that meet a range of needs, in both specialist and mainstream settings.
All children and their families should have early access to support from specialist workers. Local authorities should make early intervention through play a funding priority.
A focus on play just isn’t seen as a big priority in the current financial climate. It’s turned into a kind of post code lottery for families, local authorities can now make their own choices about whether to prioritise play – some local authorities still have a local play strategy and continue to invest in play whilst others do not. This is despite the fact that funding early intervention and development is the best way to make a saving in the long term.
* Sense is calling for evidence from parents of children with multiple needs, specialists from the disability sector and practitioners. Visit the Sense website to get involved. For more information about the inquiry, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The MBE recently won by Shaun Webster is, he says “two fingers” to the bullying colleagues who tormented him when he worked in a warehouse some years ago.
You can’t disagree with the 43-year-old’s use of frank language – his deeply unpleasant workmates once used sticky tape to bind Webster, who has a learning disability, and stuffed a rag in his mouth. This was done “as a joke”, he recalls in an interview I did for today’s Guardian. Little wonder he has devoted his life since then to fighting for inclusion and equality.
As explained in today’s piece, the international project worker for Leeds-based human rights charity Change is a sought-after speaker and trainer in the UK and overseas. His work includes advising government departments about inclusive employment, promoting access to sex and health education for learning disabled people and recent visits to Thailand and Croatia to train health, social care and charity professionals about independent living and disability rights.
Shaun talks passionately and persuasively about issues like employment rights and independent living for people with learning disabilities, making the point (usually missed by policy makers and politicians) that the two issues must be seen together; earning your own money and having a role and responsibility supports independence.
Shaun’s current work involves a partnership with children’s charity Lumos, supporting young people to leave institutions and gain independence, choice and control. Linked to that piece of work is the report Shaun wrote, Leaving Institutions, a really great example of a publication written with a clear focus on people (not targets or statistics, or a homogeneous mass) by authors who truly know about and have experience of what they’re talking about.
The entire interview can be read here and the film below is worth a watch too:
If you’ve been following the debate about turning the rhetoric of community integration into reality and the plans to tackle the failures in supporting people who have a learning disability, you’ll know there’s a massive gulf between what should happen and what actually happens; between what national policy sets out as “good practice” ideals and what takes place on the ground.
This was brought home to me not only through what I’ve been researching and writing recently, but when I was told of the experience of a group of young people with complex physical disabilities in south east London.
The group from Family Link, Bromley, a charity that offers supports outside school and at weekends, visited a computer store on a Saturday morning. They were looking forward to seeing the latest gadgets and testing some of the equipment on display.
But,they were barely there a few minutes when they were asked by a member of staff to “move on” if they weren’t actually buying anything – despite the fact that there were plenty of their (non-disabled, non-wheelchair using) peers browsing just as they were.
Computer says no.
In fact, the computer your face/body doesn’t fit – so get out.
The group leader protested but, clearly made to feel unwelcome, they left. The charity has since complained to the company, which has apparently noted its objection. Family Link is awaiting a reply. The organiser of the group says she still feels cross thinking about it several days after the event.
She’s not alone, it’s hard not to feel angry about incidents like this, where people with disabilities are made to feel inferior or unwelcome in public places – as I know and have blogged before. And how ironic that the charity had the misfortune to meet such a backward-thinking dinosaur in an evnironment championing the forward-moving digital world.
I won’t name the store here as I’ve not approached it for comment, so to point the finger at the company without offering a right to reply would be shoddy treatment (though, for the record, not as shoddy as the two fingers apparently flicked at the vulnerable young people simply enjoying a morning out).
Maybe there was a misunderstanding. Maybe it simply a rogue sales assistant who didn’t know his Disability Discrimination Act from his disk drive. Maybe there’s lax management at play that allows such attitudes to prevail.
Or maybe it’s because, as I’ve blogged before, despite years of good practice, policy and guidelines, the real pace of change out here in the real world for people with complex needs is slow.
The computer store incident is also regrettable, given what technology offers not only through its assistive form but through its educational benefits (in fact a new report today from the National Literacy Trust and Pearson underlines how touch-screen systems could tackle low literacy among boys and disadvantaged children). There’s the social aspect to technology too; something as simple as a smart phone allows easy use of text and email, for example, meaning my phone-call shunning youngest sister and I can stay in touch more easily.
This stark contrast between practice and possibility was underlined when I heard of an innovative new technology enabling disabled children to design and print objects in 3D – using only their eyes.
Disability charity Livability is currently using SHIVA (Sculpture for Health-care: Interaction and Virtual Art in 3D) at its Victoria Education Centre, a school for children with physical disabilities.
The ground breaking collaborative project was created by a group including Mark Moseley, assistive technologist at the school, the National Centre for Computer Animation at Bournemouth University and researchers from the University of Lille.
In a nutshell, “eye-gaze technology tracks where a user is looking and translates it into screen coordinates so that on screen cells or buttons can be selected”. Around 15 pupils with varying levels of disability have used the software and many models have already been produced.
The creators now hope that new funding can be found so that the software can be further developed and used by more young people.
I hope so.
More people with disabilities should – if they want to – be free to road test interesting existing and new technologies, trying out software in high street computer stores, for example, rather than being asked to leave them.
Women in Croxteth, Liverpool, discuss the impact of cuts on communities, part of the research for the new book, Austerity Bites
Do you know what austerity really means?
Here’s a definition from the Collins Dictionary, as quoted in Mary O’Hara’s commanding new book on the subject, Austerity Bites: “…difficult economic conditions created by government measures to reduce the budget deficit, especially by reducing public expenditure: a period of austerity/austerity measures.”
But that literal definition, and the words of politicians using the rhetoric of austerity to mask the harsh impact of public spending cuts, conveys nothing of the human cost of the unprecedented reform of the welfare state.
Austerity Bites redresses that imbalance. I don’t usually do reviews on this site, but this timely book demands attention.
Reading this book means you join the award-winning journalist O’Hara in her “journey to the sharp end of cuts in the UK”. Based on a 12-month trip around the country meeting diverse people affected by cuts as reforms were introduced in 2012 and 2013, O’Hara gives a platform to untold stories of hardship.
O’Hara’s book suggests, “austerity” has become an acceptable rhetoric, one that glosses over the harsh impact of welfare reform – as in “cuts hurt but in the age of austerity, what else can we do?” The creeping normalisation of food poverty and food banks, as explored in this book, is shameful.
While an intricate explanation is given of the political and economic context, it is the lives of those whose voices are rarely given a platform – the homeless, the disabled, the young among them – that are the focus here.
Crisscrossing the country, the picture is one of political classes living in a “bubble” untouched by the harsh reality of life on the front line of Austerity UK; a massive chasm between the people suffering from the impact of cuts and abolition of vital benefits and the people making the decisions to abolish that support.
People talk of “breaking point”, “existing not living”, their “desperate situation”; the book does much to explode the myth of benefit Britain. A fairly comprehensive catalogue of unfairness is chronicled in Austerity Bites – the disabled, for example, are shown to be bearing the brunt of cuts, the vulnerable are made more vulnerable and the poorer become poorer.
As one man, Dec, who O’Hara meets on a Luton estate tells the author: “Do I deserve better? Do other people deserve better? I think they do.”
Unsettling, but vital, reading, this book lays bare the real, true story of austerity.
More than one million people with learning disabilities are eligible to vote – so why are they ignored by politicians?
My interview with Gary Bourlet in today’s Guardian explains how the veteran disability campaigner wants to give people like himself, with learning disabilities, a greater voice and presence so they feature in places other than “secret footage on Panorama”, referring to Winterbourne View, where the abuse of patients with learning disabilities was exposed by the BBC in 2011. To this end, he has set up People First England, to encourage adults with learning disabilities, rather than care professionals, to participate in politics and appear on TV and radio discussing stories that affect them.
“We want people speaking for themselves about issues that concern them, rather than the professionals,” he says. “We want greater powers to be seen, to vote, to be included, have the same opportunities in social life, education and employment as everyone else.” Bourlet, 55, has launched the user-led charity with disability rights activist Kaliya Franklin.
Fresh questions are being asked about the government’s beleaguered post-Winterbourne drive to improve care for learning disabled people. An investigation is underway into “bullying accusations” at a special school run by a charity whose chief executive is trying to reinvigorate the flagging £2.86m government improvement scheme.
Bill Mumford, chief executive of MacIntyre which runs Womaston School and Children’s Home in Wales, offered to stand down as director of the Winterbourne improvement programme after allegations of mistreatment at Womaston. The government programme launched after the abuse of learning disabled patients at the Winterbourne View privately run unit in south Gloucestershire, abuse that was exposed by BBC’s Panorama in 2011. It aims to move individuals out of institutional, large-scale, long-stay units and into community-based accommodation.
Concerns about the behaviour of some staff towards children at MacIntyre’s specialist residential service were reported by a member of staff to the school principal in March and police and social services are investigating the claims. The school, home to students aged aged 10-19 with autism, complex behavioural needs and learning disabilities, will close in July with the young people moved to alternative placements. Staff have been suspended, other staff drafted in and, says MacIntyre in a statement, “the alleged behaviours are not occurring in the service now”.
The investigation into Womaston is expected to last several months and there are no more details about what the allegations involve. A BBC online story refers to “physical abuse”, a statement from MacIntyre describes “concerns” about the “behaviour of some other staff members” while a personal statement from Mumford mentions “a small group of my staff…suspended following accusations of bullying”.
The incident has sparked fresh criticism of the Winterbourne programme run jointly by the Local Government Association and NHS England. It aimed to move everyone out of such assessment and treatment units by 1 June 2014 but after little progress (3,250 people with learning disabilities and autism are still in private or NHS-run settings like Winterbourne View), its previous heads left and Mumford took over in January, on secondment from MacIntyre. New NHS figures show only 256 out of 2,615 in-patitents with learning disabilities or autism have dates for transfer into community settings and more are being admitted to NHS settings than moved out.
Mumford has issued a personal statement “re the investigation at MacIntyre and my continuing role in support of the Winterbourne prog” (that’s a statement taken from Twitter). In it, he accepts concerns that while he is charged with a national role to improve the care and support of learning disabled people, employees of the organisation he presides over were carrying out exactly kind of behaviour he’s trying to stamp out. He also addresses the fact the drive has been less than successful.
He says in his statement (the square brackets are mine): “It is a very real concern to me and the [Winterbourne improvement programme] partners that the trauma experienced by individuals and families at Winterbourne View and elsewhere should not be exacerbated by the thought that the person responsible for the programme [is] being tainted with serious problems in his own organisation. Indeed it is the unacceptable stories of individuals and families that motivate and challenge us all to step up and do better. Therefore my second decision was to contact the Joint Improvement Partners, including personal phone calls to the representatives of people with learning disabilities and families, to inform them of the situation and offered to voluntarily step down. This couldn’t come at a worse time for the programme partners as it is well know[n] that complexity of achieving the original concordat commitments has been a struggle.”
The MacIntyre chief executive adds that the charity took immediate action: “There has been no cover up, no prior issues of this nature have been raised before and the families and placing local authorities and alerting member of staff are all completely satisfied with MacIntyre’s actions to date. Therefore MacIntyre is dealing with a very serious situation exactly as they should – it is an example of how things should happen and maybe this is an important lesson for the programme to share.”
While the investigation by Powys social services and police continues, Mumford says he is “not only restricted about what I can say but actually what I know. However as soon as it is completed I will share what we have learnt regardless of how painful that might be.”
Discussion (so far mainly on social media) involves support for Mumford and the Winterbourne programme’s aims as well as criticism about why a statement was only made public this morning and why there was not more immediate public transparency after the claims were lodged with the relevant authorities.
*This post was updated this evening in an attempt to clarify “bullying accusations” and add figures and links relating to the number of in-patients with learning disabilities.
Hazrat Bilal from Narshingdi, Bangladesh, has been blind since birth, but it was only in 2008 at the age of 33, with support from Bangladeshi charity Action for Blind Children, that he was officially registered as permanently disabled. That led to more support from services for the visually impaired; Hazrat got to know other people with sight problems and began to gain confidence.
The 39-year-old now runs his own grocery shop and has helped form a self-help group. It was only after help from the local charity, a partner of international charity Sightsavers, that his life was transformed but if more international development and aid plans were disability-inclusive, there would be many more stories like Hazrat’s.
One billion people all over the world – 15 per cent of the population – have a disability, according to the World Health Organisation. Of that total, 80 per cent live in developing countries.
The report’s recommendations echoes some of the actions outlined in international charity Sightsavers’ Put Us in the Picture campaign. Launched last year, the campaign calls on policymakers and politicians to include disabled people in international aid and development plans, highlighting the links between disability and poverty.
Specifically, the campaign says the government must ensure people with disabilities participate in, and benefit from, international development programmes and must talk, listen to and work with people with disabilities and their families. It also argues that DFID staff should be trained to include people with disabilities in their work.
You can support the Put Us in the Picture campaign here or follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #InThePicture
Research from Goldsmiths University recently suggested that wealthier people are more musical. While it’s obvious that higher income families find it easier to stump for private piano lessons and expensive instruments, music has a place in boosting inclusion and there are some great community-based projects that not only make music more accessible, but aim for social impact in the process.
Take the Sage Gateshead, which is halfway through a four-year cultural exchange scheme with a Brazilian government programme called Santa Marcelina Cultura (Santa Marcelina Cultura manages São Paulo state government’s music education and cultural inclusion project – Projeto Guri). The project aims to improve arts education and boost social inclusion in both Sao Paulo and the North East.
The scheme is funded by the British Council’s transform arts and creativity programme. The Sage’s musicians and teachers have travelled to Sao Paulo to find out how music, learning and social inclusion are combined in Brazil, while a Brazilian team came to the North East last year. Below, two participants – one from each country – explain the benefits of their innovative musical scheme:
Kathryn Davidson, 29, from Fenham, Newcastle, folk strand leader, learning and participation, Sage Gateshead “We’re about to enter the second leg of the second year of the project. Each visit is around two weeks long and involves observing practice, learning from each other, sharing ideas around social pedagogy and music education, and teaching. The two weeks are incredibly intense and informative.
For me, the first leg in 2012 was about getting to know Guri and what they do and weighing that up next to what we do. There are many differences but also many similarities in our own teaching styles but there is always the underlying theme that everyone deserves high quality music education. I was very proud when the Guri team came to Gateshead, I was proud to ‘show off’ the Learning and Participation department. The second trip to Sao Paulo was where I really began to understand my role and understand how the music that I teach and that I love is relevant.
We had a ceilidh for over 200 Guri young people and in the run up, the Guri staff reflected that they don’t use much, if any, Brazilian folk music. Much of it disappeared when the Portuguese invaded, and the post Portuguese music is often full of religion. What some people said is that seeing how British folk music can be used to teach rhythm, pulse, work in choirs, to teach intervals, to be a story for no other reason than to sing a good story, will make them investigate further their own traditions.
The ceilidh was my most favourite moment of both my times in Sao Paulo. My Brazilian colleague Paulo and I co-led this ceilidh even though he has never ‘called’ ceilidh dancing before and I speak minimal Portuguese! We had a ceilidh band made up of Sage Gateshead musicians and we had guest spots from some of the youth groups that we’d been working with… a wind band of young Brazilian musicians on saxophone and horns playing traditional Northumbrian music. Over a cold beer afterwards we all reflected that our own traditions are so close that they are normal, they’re ordinary. Placing the ordinary in an extraordinary context allows it to be fresh again.
The main challenges are in the circumstances that the young people who come to Guri live in. The Guri social team, who are absolutely outstanding, work with each and every young person to enable them to get the best from their learning, to fully engage with the programme. Sometimes that means holding their place for them for a few weeks whilst they have time to deal with the outside world. Sometimes it can take the social team visiting their home and working with their family, and sometimes it can be as simple as making sure they’ve had a good meal in their stomachs so that they can concentrate.
Often these young people will travel three hours to Saturday rehearsals, their transport is paid for and they receive meals and snacks to sustain them. Sao Paulo is a wonderful city but like all cities it is full of contrast, of huge wealth and incomprehensible poverty.
My own personal learning was huge, from trusting the music that I am passionate about to my confidence in my own teaching. Lots of the wider learning is still on-going, ‘what is a democratic music education?’ has become the research question. Both Sage Gateshead and Guri Santa Marcelina promote social inclusion and help people from different background to mix. How many Brazilian teenagers get the chance to work with a group of musicians from the North of England?
How many teenagers from Gateshead get the chance to work with musicians from Brazil? But it’s more than social inclusion, it’s about the promotion of social mobility and the belief that if you seize the opportunities offered to you, and you work hard, then there is no reason that you can’t succeed. If we can instill that within music education, be that in the formal classroom or in an out of school club, then that learning stays with the young person and seeps in to their self belief in English or Maths and they believe that if they set their mind to it and work hard they can accomplish anything.”
Santa Marcelina student – Daniele de Almeida, 17
“I am currently enrolled as a music student at Guri Santa Marcelina (GuriSM) education programme and member of GuriSM Youth Choir, an auditioned choir in the institution. The Sage Gateshead team was invited to work with GuriSM Youth Choir in October last year.
The exchange project between GuriSM and Sage Gateshead is focused on “what is a democratic and inclusive music education?” and also involves many diverse activities like workshops, seminars and performances. A real highlight for me was when we held and took part in a Ceilidh dance. There were so many people and so many English tunes. I really felt as if I was over here in a traditional English Ceilidh.
During the exchange I have found the most challenging moments the discussions around democratic and inclusive music education, particularly around the questions of what it is and how to promote it? It is a very emotive subject and you can explore it very deeply. It was also the first times students had participated in discussions about education in Guri Santa Marcelina. The size of both projects (Guri Santa Marcelina and Sage Gateshead) means the subject and the work that goes on is much more complex than I thought. However, this complexity drives both institutions to look for solutions and not give up.
Projects like this foster the contact among people of different backgrounds. With such contact I believe the horizons broaden; and this encourages inclusion to take place.
I believe that this sort of music exchange between great partners brings about knowledge of culture from different places. I think collectively it can better inform citizens than if you are trying to do it by yourself. It is much more than just entertainment!
One of the moments that sticks in my head is that one day Ed Milner, head of music learning at Sage Gateshead, was on the bus with all of us students and we asked him what he had enjoyed the most. He answered “You all!”
It has been an amazing, life-changing experience.”