Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958

'Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.' Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958

The Small Places has moved...

The Small Places has moved to a new home here, including all the old posts. Any posts after 6th March 2014 will appear on the new website, but old posts are preserved here so that URLs linking here continue to work. Please check out the new site.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Parliamentary debate on Court of Protection appointed deputies

I would strongly recommend readers take note of a recent parliamentary debate on deputies appointed by the Court of Protection, triggered by Duncan Hames MP (Liberal Democrat, Chippenham).  The debate can be found here (about halfway down the page, column 53).  Mr Hames details a story of his constituent "Mr Able".  Mr Able was appointed a solicitor as a deputy to manage his finances after he received a compensation award.  Within nine years that award was wiped out, and much was spent on paying the deputy himself and on fruitless litigation on other matters.  Hames comments:
'More than a third of the personal capital that Mr Able possessed when control of his financial affairs was passed to court-appointed solicitors was subsequently paid to those solicitors as fees for the job of controlling his expenditure, yet they did not even ensure that he received appropriate benefits when he was unemployed. '
More alarming was Mr Hames' description of the monitoring arrangements on the activity of the deputy.  The Court of Protection visitors stopped visiting Mr Able in 2003, and he did not receive another visit until 2011 - despite his funds being wiped out and a change of deputy when eventually the local authority took over.  In 2009 when Mr Able's first deputy (the solicitor) applied to be discharged, the Court of Protection visitor wrote a report on Mr Able without having even met him.  Duncan Hames MP contended 'that not having Mr Able visited at any time in eight years demonstrates a terrible sense of complacency among those who were meant to be looking after his best interests.'

Monday, 22 October 2012

Mood Mate

I get quite a few emails asking me to promote apps and gadgets and products on the blog, which I send straight to my recycle bin, but since this one is not seeking to make money out of anybody and might actually be useful to some readers I said I'd post it here.

Alexander Gyani is a PhD researcher at Reading University, and he's made an iPhone app to help people locate local non-medical treatments for common mental health problems like anxiety and depression.  Apparently it will signpost people to Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services. The app is called Mood Mate, and it is part of a research project to 'help researchers at the University of Reading find out how to help people with anxiety and depression find local treatments and hopefully change their lives for the better'.  You can find out more about the research and download the app from here.  Any questions - ask Alex not me!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Thank goodness for Strasbourg: Kędzior v Poland

In England and Wales, the government took the questionable decision to hang safeguards against arbitrary detention on a definition of deprivation of liberty to be supplied by the courts.  Care providers, health authorities and local authorities were supposed to keep themselves appraised of the court's jurisprudence on this point, and recognise when they were depriving somebody of their liberty and engage the safeguards.  In doing so, they were opening up the care they delivered or commissioned to scrutiny, and handing the detainee and their family the tools they needed to litigate them both in court.  Brilliant.  What could possibly go wrong?

So, to recap, the courts started out reasonably well and gave analyses of deprivation of liberty which accorded with common sense (e.g. JE v DE, 2006G v E, 2010).  Things started to go weird in MIG & MEG, where apparently not being free to leave a place no longer had any bearing on whether or not you were deprived of your liberty.  In P & Q the Court of Appeal confirmed that you probably weren't deprived of your liberty unless you were objecting to your confinement or the place you were in did not satisfy a judge's idea of 'normal'.  Being drugged with powerful sedating anti-psychotics might be a factor, but having noted that the Court of Appeal didn't deign to explain why it wasn't in that particular case.  In Cheshire we learned that the 'normality' against which deprivation of liberty should be assessed wasn't the normality of the man on the Clapham Omnibous, it was - to paraphrase - the normality of "people like that".  By this point it became clear that a care provider would have to recognise they were subjecting a person to a degree of coercion which was an excessive  response to a person's impairment in order to give them any safeguards against excessive and unlawful coercion.  I'm sure care providers are falling over themselves to acknowledge that their care is more restrictive than it needs to be.  But Cheshire did at least give you a get out if you had another place to go to (paragraph 58).  Except that only a month later in Re RK a girl who was miserable in her care home, whose family would have offered her a place to live if the local authority would stump up a decent care plan to support them, was found not to be deprived of her liberty.  And then the foreseeable but indefensible descent to C v Blackburn with Darwen - where a man who hammered down the door of his care home trying to escape was found not to be deprived of his liberty because he had nowhere else to go, and CC v KK where a woman who was both objecting and had somewhere else to go was found not to be deprived of her liberty because her objections did not give rise to a 'significant degree of conflict'.

So where are we now?  In order to be deprived of your liberty in a care home of England or Wales you must a) have another place where you could go to, and b) must be objecting sufficiently to give rise to a significant degree of conflict.  If you're reliant on the state to provide you with accommodation, if your family don't want you back, if your home was sold to pay for your confinement in a place where you don't want to live, if you're unable to communicate, if you're too scared to voice your objections, or if you do so but only politely, you are - apparently - at liberty.  If you are subject to round the clock supervision and control, if you are not free to leave the place where you are confined to - temporarily or permanently, if you are drugged so that you cannot express objections, if you are subject to frequent physical restraint, if you are so institutionalised you've given up trying to get away, it is quite possible that you are actually enjoying what passes for a state of liberty in England and Wales.

Well, thank goodness for Strasbourg.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Social work in the Other Europe

On my way out of the house I realised I had nothing to read for a long journey by rail and air.  I grabbed the first book that I could find that would fit in my bag.  My copy of The Case Worker, by György Konrád (1969) is a rather battered edition by Penguin, from a series called 'Writers from the Other Europe'.  It's no longer in print, although you can buy it for a penny on Amazon.  Of course, that Other Europe is long gone now, and Konrád's case worker has no precise parallel in the UK.  The closest analogy to a case worker in 1960's Budapest might be a social worker with a hefty measure of benefits administration thrown into the mix.   The book is based on Konrád's own experiences in such a role.  

I'm afraid all this travelling has left me barely capable of stringing sentences together, but it's fascinating to see the way that Konrád's case worker's role is so imbued with the political and economic logics of that particular time and place.  What is possible, and consequently what is acceptable, is defined by the alternatives on offer.  And the framing of the very purpose of the case worker's role - 'to protect children and safeguard the interests of the state' - sounds so similar, and yet so different, to how social work roles would be framed in the UK today.  The story of the Bandulas is shocking by contrast with the threshold conditions for child protection we operate in the UK today, but the case workers' decision has to be understood by comparison with the institutional alternatives on offer.  And yet, for all the differences, there is something recognisably familiar about Konrád's case worker; his recounting of the power dynamics between case worker and client, his human responses to suffering, and perhaps sometimes also elements of his despair at the system he works within.