Campaign

Parents and Friends of the Eric Robert’s Centre – Charity Number 1044313

The charity was formed in 1995; we provide leisure and social activities for people with learning difficulties in the Cannock Chase and surrounding area. We are also a point of contact and a community that provides self help to other families.
Following a number of meetings and a subsequent public meeting on the 16th October 2013 attended by 80 people where we expressed our views of day services, we are making this formal submission to be included in the consultation process on behalf of the parent/carers and people with learning difficulties in the Cannock Chase area we represent.

Consultation Submission

The service previously offered at the Eric Robert’s centre was:-

The centre was awarded a Kite Mark for Excellence some years ago, it offered service users Education, training, recreation and opportunities to express talents and students loved it. The range of activities included Pottery, Gardening, Computers, Woodwork, Metalwork, Cooking, Fishing, Golf, Drama, Ti Chi, Leatherwork, Pool Table, to the gym at Featherstone Prison, direct links to College Courses, plus many others, which service users could choose which to participate in.

It was a safe environment that offered the opportunity for social interaction with peers and the formation of lifelong friendships, so vitally important and something we can all relate to in our working lives.

It was a reliable service that offered stability in their lives and that of their families, so that work and a career were possible for parent/carers, also giving much needed respite.

A local service that has professionally trained and experienced staff, who formed relationships and understanding of both the person with learning difficulties and their families, enabling them to connect to other services in an easy and seamless manner. The day centre is a place where service users look forward to attending and were happy to be there.

The service now:-

The numbers of students and staff has been constructively reduced and activities and options reduced. Hiring ill equipped community centres and church halls and moving groups to them, totally isolating students and yet the Centre building is under used, economically unsound. A trend has been created to use community buildings, but this doesn’t mean integration within the community.

The instability of the day centres’ future has resulted in staff leaving the service and not being replaced. Activities have been reduced because of the failure to maintain staffing levels

Changes to the day service have already impacted on the users and their carers – disruption to routines, not spending time at the day centre, only mixing in smaller groups. The interruption to these constants has left users more isolated and confused. Carers have to deal with the behavioural issues caused by these changes – not all are welcome.

However, every family wishes to acknowledge the efforts of current front line staff at Chase Day Services, who in tremendously challenging and uncertain time have continued to provide a first class service.

How was the reduction in students achieved?

It is clear that vulnerable adults, with little or no parental support are open to exploitation and can be persuaded into a positive response if the options are presented in an appealing manner. They are not able to assess the consequences of their choices and what the outcome will be in the longer term.
The strategies used have been, manipulative, controlling, financially driven and with a lack of basic conscience.

The Consultation

Option 1            No Change. – As an authority you should be proud of the existing service, not trying to close it. Unfortunately, it’s has been made clear from the start of the consultation that this is not an option.

Option 2            All private providers. – In the Cannock area demand exceeds supply there are very limited choices on offer and at prices that are unaffordable. Staff in the private sector will no doubt be paid close to the minimum wage, as staffs doing similar work already tell us, they will be inexperienced, have little or no training and not have the guidance of experienced staff; this is a major cause for concern for us as it should be for county.
By definition a private provider will be concerned with their business profit and are unlikely to invest in adequate training and would gain nothing from extending their interest to the whole picture to fulfil a person’s needs.
A life of isolation with few real friends is inevitable for people with learning disabilities. Isolation will bring family stress, possibly breakdown and then substantial future costs to county picking up the pieces

Option 3           Mixed in house and private providers Council’s preferred option medium term. What is medium term?
It’s not clear if the intention is to continue providing in house service for older/more severely disabled users, but it must be remembered that there will always be an older generation of users, younger parents aren’t there yet.

The consultation is like jumping from an aircraft without a parachute and hoping for a soft landing somewhere in the ‘medium term’. They cannot guarantee availability of services in the future so how can we make a reasoned choice? For the consultation to be of value there must be viable options; this consultation certainly doesn’t meet this criteria.

Myths and Misrepresentation

Social Service says younger parents don’t want in house day services.
The reality is that the day service has been constructively under populated for years and is being manipulated by the council in order to escape providing them.
This has been achieved by the reduction of feeder schools and social services not signposting post 16 to it; they are not made aware of in house service, refused referral, even refused the reason why they can’t be referred.
Unguarded quote from an officer
We would be swamped if we offered it to school leavers’
The Council need to answer the question about referral.
On what grounds do they believe that younger people no longer want to use the service? The question of transparency and real choice to prove that every disabled adult who required a package of provision was offered a visit to a day centre and had the opportunity to be referred if they chose to in the last six years. If those figures don’t exist, what figures are they using to evidence their public statement about decreasing interest? If the Council have suppressed referral they are now making false claims of disinterest.

Money
We‘ve been repeatedly told by the previous labour council and under Matthew Ellis’s term of office that county can no longer afford to fund in house day services, but they now say it’s not about money! This is county putting a positive spin on the cuts to the quality and quantity of service and is an offence to people’s intelligence. For the consultation to be of value County must be truly honest and open.
To date no figures have been suggested on the costs for any of the alternatives proposed. Given the rates that private providers are quoting this needs addressing before closing existing services.

Nothing has been decided

The Chase Day Services building is clearly being emptied by county and obvious to any observer, prepared for a different use.
We were told at meeting in 2011 that the building must be better utilised, a bit rich when county created the under use! The implication being, people with learning disabilities aren’t good enough to use it. Perhaps they didn’t intend this as an insult. No, clearly they already had plans for the building and were trying to shift blame for its underuse, they fooled no one, but it was a salutary lesson for all who attended the meeting that these people can’t be trusted. The fact that the building was purpose built to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities seemed to have escaped their minds.

We now appear to be already entering the final phase of “modernisation strategy” whereby the building will shut to people with learning disabilities, experienced staff will be lost and the disabled and their families will become isolated, stressed and face breakdown, huge cost to county will follow as more families enter a crisis.

Nothing has been decided has a hollow ring from our stand point.

Heroics

The inclusion agenda being put forward by county implies that to take part in society on equal terms people with learning difficulties will somehow heroically rise above the impairment and join in a conspiracy to deny that their intellectual limitations matter. We live in the real world where these people will always face some form of prejudice and be at risk.

Inclusion
The fact that County have cynically used ‘Inclusion’ as a vehicle to denigrate the value of day centres is in itself degrading and, ironically, the council’s insistence that the disabled be forced to join “community-based activity” whether they want to or not is discriminatory.
Day centres are places where there is sense of belonging, where everyone is accepted no matter what their disability. The modernisation strategy uses the term “segregation” in a degrading way. It implies day centres are in some way imprisoning disabled people; that their lives are limited by the building and that just because they receive support and expert care from a dedicated base they are somehow being discriminated against

Being patronised by the inclusion-at-all-costs brigade will only strengthen the belief in many that “community-based activity” is in effect isolation and an abdication of responsibility by the council for its most vulnerable citizens.

Day centres don’t segregate and limit life experiences of vulnerable adults. They receive support and care and have a sense of belonging, they’re with friends and carers are given peace of mind and some respite. They are safe and happy with their lives, have good circle of friends, what more can any of us ask in life.

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) are the one of drivers behind the inclusion agenda, which in a Utopian world has excellent values to aspire to, but requires major planning and investment to make these ideals work, something not apparent in the county’s initiatives to date. SCIE can only point to 3 minor projects on their website; we as small charity have created as much.

Attempts to integrate users into the community do not work and there is no evidence to suggest that it does in the long term or with those who are older or have medical needs. Points to consider
a) they cannot stay at college forever
b) independence without extensive planning and resources carries risk because they are vulnerable in the community. This is a lifelong commitment needing the resources to match.
c) socialisation only really takes place with their own friends as society does not understand how to integrate with vulnerable adults
d) vulnerable adults in the community have smaller friendship groups
d) vulnerable adults need the stability and security of the day centre as a base from which they can access the community if they want to, but still maintain a larger circle of friends and be cared for by qualified staff
e) those with specific medical/caring needs want continuity of care.

Building-based provision is an essential service for the support and care of people with complex disabilities. Society has to accept not every citizen has the ability or desire to integrate into mainstream activity. Respecting that difference is true inclusion.

The future without in house day services

  • FE College courses don’t last indefinitely, what safety net is in place after they finish?
  • Residential Colleges       2 – 3 years. Unlikely to ever be offered again.
  • Direct Payments –Hard to get, means tested and not for life
  • Personal Budgets – You become an employer with all the responsibilities associated with it, stress on top of stress
  • Work – Finding a job for someone is not the end of the process it requires ongoing intense support for life, which is expensive.
  • Personal assistants – poorly paid and as lone person support, if there ill, etc. not good if you work.
  • Private providers – Unaffordable, poorly paid staff, not enough to meet demand, add on costs for transport, activities, etc.
  • Stay at home – Isolation and family stress.

Independent Futures

Independent Futures has been set up to procure and monitor services for people with learning disabilities. Given the current austerity and county’s drive to save money this really is an insult, 200 staff, and 8 layers of paperwork to the top.

The document presented to council in February is largely plagiarised from a Government White paper called Valuing People in 2000 and the mountain of material that followed. The Valuing People website is no longer available, but there’s an archive document available. This really is old hat, whilst it had wonderful ideas everyone quickly realised it was financially unworkable, nirvana if money was no object.
Unfortunately what we have is an Independent Futures ‘soviet style’ management structure with obscene salaries consuming the money to provide services, by implication nothing for them to manage!
County are hoping eventually to make this a social enterprise or private company, can you imagine any private company with a client base of approximately 3000 people with learning disability in the county running with this management overhead. That’s one management job per 15 people with learning disabilities and this client base will dramatically reduce, because families will not be able to afford the cost of private services.

County need to address this management burden, as austerity only seems to apply to people with learning disabilities.

Option 4

We have been accused of not wanting change, the reverse is true. The consultation options were disappointing, lacking any innovation and new ideas, merely perpetuating the status quo for management.

Our Proposal

The day centre itself should be the cornerstone of strategy to improve choice and control.
They say the funds tied up in maintaining buildings could better be used elsewhere, but that pretty much sounds like putting all county officers in church halls and community centres and selling the new county building in Stafford, not an option. Any business will tell you their major cost is staffing.

One Local Centre Manager – reporting to director or other, but essentially one decision level.

One point of referral for all people with learning disabilities in the area and all alternatives made available, work, college, personal assistants, in house, direct payments, etc. using existing experienced staff.

Front line staff salary structure rewarded for quality and expertise in delivering service, not lost to management roles in order to advance salaries

All staff should be directly involved in providing service to people with learning difficulties, for all or some of their time. This sharply focuses what is provided and this knowledge is of great relevance when private providers offer a service that needs assessing, using college courses, work etc.
Disengage any member of staff from providing a service and that person becomes remote and out of touch.
What is suggested is not dissimilar to schools, where even the head has a teaching commitment.

The current key worker system works well. Staff at present understands the people for whom they are key workers, not some stranger from Independent Futures, who will want to fill in your personal details for the umpteenth time on paper work that is just a tick box exercise to be filed away, then walk away without responsibility for their decisions. Ask yourself, if someone had to decide an option in your future life, would you want an hour’s interview with a stranger or a friend helping you.

You have in place experienced key workers, build on their existing skills. Extend this system to everyone in the area with learning disabilities, a whole life approach requires liaison with schools

Bring the community to the day services, recruit volunteers with expertise to offer; great potential could be unlocked. Utilise the building in the evening and at weekends, it has great facilities, maximise the use of all the specialist equipment it has.

A governing body along the lines of schools, with parent/carer, outside professionals, students, etc., representatives would bring innovation, new ideas and give parent/carers confidence in the system.

As parent/carers who have experienced an excellent service in an era when accepting responsibility for your family was the norm, supported and encouraged by county who they took the long view and supported people with rock solid services, many families have continued to care for their disabled family member at home, saving millions in residential placements.

Your officers are between a rock and a hard place; their attempt to use modern initiatives to put a positive spin on changes, against the need to meet financial targets does them no credit, and will do everyone a disservice.
Life with a disabled family member brings stress, but you’d be amazed how simple things can be if only we were truly listened to, no philosophies shackle us.

We would be pleased to discuss anything in this document with you.