Celtic Illumination, part 377, Responsibility is the price of freedom.
I am going to ask you to imagine a square. On the bottom right hand corner was the house that I managed where two people, Jimmy and Andrew, were supported to live in the community. It always annoyed me that such a phrase was used, ‘supported to live in the community,’ because we couldn’t really let either of them out into the community unsupervised. It truly was a misnomer and it did make me constantly question what was going on. The only logical explanation I could come up with was that it was a small part of the government’s bigger plan to close down the NHS. They could get rid of a huge lump of the NHS without too much resistance, especially by constantly claiming that these people had the right to live in their community.
Anyway, back to the square. If the house that I managed was the bottom right hand corner then at the bottom left hand corner was another house managed by our company. At this house four people were supported to live in the community. Both houses were lovely red bricked middle class residences, solid and respectable. Now look at the top right hand corner of the square and there you will find a secondary school. This is a school where children between the ages of eleven and eighteen will attend. One of the guys who lived at the other house was Gordon and Gordon would patrol outside the house that I managed, when the school had closed for the day, warning passing children that, “You don’t drink ink.”
I don’t know why Gordon warned people not to drink ink, but this is the first thing he would say to you upon meeting you. The school children would not be as understanding, or as polite, as most adults and would fire back their own warning to Gordon and even sing to him. Unfortunately when they sang they would choose lines from the Jilted John song, stating that ‘Gordon is a moron.’ I knew Gordon, as he would come over most Friday evenings and sit with Jimmy and watch a film on the television, so to hear him outside getting involved in what could be quite aggressive banter, was concerning to say the least. The social workers would say that Gordon had the right to involve himself in such shenanigans and that we should try to get involved with the school and educate the children.
The interaction happened almost every school day and if I was around I would ask Gordon to come in and have a cup of tea with his friend Jimmy. The confrontations would agitate Gordon and someone could end up getting hurt. I felt it was better that he was safe and calm, drinking tea and eating biscuits rather than working himself up into a frenzy. But then what did I know. It was a pretty exciting time as we all knew we might be given more responsibility. NCWS were busy picking up contracts left right and centre. There were a lot of people who had been given houses to live in but only five or six hours support per week. This five or six hours support really had to be the best form of support that person would need and might involve shopping or managing their budget. The reality was that you spent a lot longer than six hours a week with them, but the illusion that they lived in the community, with minimal support, was maintained.
We began a process of getting to know our new charges. I was horrified, the guy I was to support was determined that he needed no support at all. I went to the house where he was living and my heart sank. He deep fat fried everything that he ate. Apart from the health issues, there was the mess, as he was not the most careful person in the kitchen, and of course there was the fire hazard. He couldn’t see the point of cleaning up the mess after every time he cooked because it happened after every meal. I liked his logic but I knew that unless I documented my worries, anything that went wrong would be my fault. The same sort of blinkered reasoning that the social workers used time and time again seemed to prevail throughout and across the world of learning disabilities.
Then one day the manager of the other house came in asking if we had seen Gordon. I tolerated this fellow as he was a real barrack room lawyer type. You couldn’t have a conversation with him without him bringing it around to the rights and wrongs of employment law and of course focusing on our own employment. I hadn’t seen Gordon and told him so. This wasn’t something simple like Gordon being thirty minutes late for his tea, Gordon had been missing for twenty four hours. Nobody had surplus staff members that they could send out looking for Gordon, where would you start? This is just one incident where the inadequacies of the system erupted into plain view. Now that we knew someone could go missing what plan were we going to come up with to prevent it from happening to anyone else?
At the time mobile telephones were becoming more popular and there were location monitors, the most common being the notorious ankle bracelet used for individuals under house arrest or parole. As you may expect the suggestion that any of these devices could be used was dismissed as it would be a breach of the individual’s human rights. Why should Gordon have his movements monitored as he had not broken the law? I wasn’t suggesting that Gordon be fitted with an ankle bracelet, but I was suggesting that either a mobile telephone or monitoring device be given to him to be kept in his pocket so if a situation like the one that had arisen, came about, we could locate Gordon and make sure he was safe.
It was frustrating to have to listen to such bollocks, but then again, what did I know. It was three days before we heard Gordon shuffling his way along the road, warning all passers-by that they shouldn’t drink ink. He was dishevelled and agitated, but at least he had returned. Unfortunately with social services and the police involved in the search for Gordon, the moment he started to complain of having a sore bum, matters took a more serious turn. I was pleased to see that the police took the same view as myself that some sort of tracking device should have been given to Gordon, but the social workers were not convinced, but then I suppose that is the price you have to pay for being a moron. Gordon had been abducted by a person, or persons, unknown, taken to a house somewhere and repeatedly raped.
It is horrible when you learn about just how depraved some people are, but such is the world we have created for ourselves. The social workers insisted that Gordon still had the right to go for walks on his own and that he would not have to carry any form of tracking or location monitoring device. We were all quite annoyed at their intransigence, but if the truth be told didn’t expect much more from them. The manager of the house where Gordon lived was incensed and went straight to head office to Richard. I know that he demanded that he be given an extra member of staff so that Gordon could have someone with him at all times. Richard, as we were all learning, was a business man. I couldn’t understand how or why he had such a good reputation in the learning disability world as the people the company supported to live in the community didn’t even know what he looked like. None of his decisions were people based; he could only operate if it looked good on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, NWCS was a large company, with over one hundred and fifty people supported in Liverpool and a similar number supported in Manchester. It was a ‘going concern,’ it had to make a profit. In fact the main focus was on winning contracts as more and more people were being returned to their community, and every company was fighting for the new business. At one manager meeting Richard introduced us to his, ‘Bidding formula.’ It appealed to the inner geek in me. He had produced a formula where you could work out exactly how much it would cost to support one person; depending on the total amount of weekly hours support they had been awarded. It covered three pages and was very detailed, but he assured us that by using this formula you could submit a bid that would be the exact figure needed so you would never lose money. This he considered to be very important as some companies would put in lower bids just to secure the contract and have their margins squeezed in the long term.
I remember that we were all sitting in a large lazy circle and he gave us all a copy of his formula, told us to select one person we supported and work out how much the annual budget for supporting that one person would be. Time for me to shine, again. I chose Jimmy as my subject and set about the calculations. Five minutes later I waved at Richard to say that I had completed the task as many of the other managers were still working out how to switch on their calculators. Richard cast his eye over my calculations, nodded and walked away. It would be safe to say that we didn’t have a very friendly working relationship. So I was expecting a bit of a confrontation when I was summoned to his office after the Gordon affair.
I expected someone had reported something I would have said, or had been accused of saying and I was in for a telling off. But no, he was nice to me. He still didn’t acknowledge that we were both Irish, which annoyed me, slightly. Instead he informed me that the manager of the house where Gordon lived was no longer employed by the company and would I step in to the breach and manage both houses until he could find a suitable replacement. This would mean that I would actually be managing four houses, which put me a good bit ahead of the pack. He may not have given me any praise but being such a dry and calculating fellow I knew that he would only put someone he thought capable in to that position and he had chosen me. I may have felt good leaving head office knowing that I now managed four houses, which put me one step closer to achieving promotion to service manager, but this was now replaced with the knowledge that I was now responsible for supporting Gordon to live in the community.