Some stories just make you want to weep. This very public story is unfortunately the tip of the iceberg and we can only hope that some good comes from this case. The reality is that even though arrests have been made and the private operator has apologised, the wheels of justice and change will grind slowly. I only have to mention the notorious Fiona Pilkington case as an example of how badly wrong these situations go and how little and late is the response. In the meantime, people with learning disabilities will suffer, with the result being mental/emotional anguish, injury and even death. Bear in mind that the whistle-blower went through all the appropriate channels to register his concerns and was rebuffed before turning to Panorama as a last resort.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but this is simply down to poor practice evidenced by a lack of training. As long as people are put into situations in close contact with people with severe learning difficulties this will continue unless the cycle is broken and comprehensive training and awareness is put in place. As the clinical psychologist Mr McDonnell says, this was supposed to be a theraputic environment – where is the therapy?
I would go further – this was supposed to be a caring and supportive environment – where was the care and support? Only a full investigation will bear out the true scope of the failings. But at the fundamental level, if care workers don’t have a proper awareness training programme to give them knowledge of how to successfully deal with developmentally delayed people who have challenging behaviour, they will lapse into a reactive mode which can only lead to the kind of situation that occurred at Winterborne View. Make no mistake, this is happening across the UK.
The saddest part is that the young woman, Simone, tried to alert her family and even they did not believe her. Think of the thousands of learning disabled people who cannot even do that much – the ones with no speech or language.
Care workers are just one class of workers who need this very fundamental training. The same can be said of any profession that has this close contact – doctors, nurses, ambulance staff, police, fire and rescue personnel – all must be taught an awareness of how the learning/developmentally disabled person views and reacts to the world and how to successfully interact with them. Sometimes the simplest thing is the one that puts the most stress on them – and it is important to understand what triggers are present. Communication is a huge piece of the puzzle.
People with learning/developmental disabilities are just that – people first. They have rights as well as desires and likes and dislikes. They don’t always understand what others want from them and some awareness and communication training can go a long way to creating a more harmonious environment, not only for them but for the staff that work with them. But it is up to the responsible bodies, public and private, to make sure that this is on offer – and not on a voluntary basis. If a professional in any field has significant dealings with learning disabled people they must as part of their professional training be required to take some awareness and best practice training in order to be effective and successful.
The alternative will be more and more cases like Winterborne View.