Abuse lawyers at Leigh Day have yet again voiced grave concerns over the current state and future of our social care system, following comments made by the Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe, this week regarding the closure of Westgate College for deaf people and The Road Project, residential and educational services for children and young people with disabilities, and those with learning difficulties, in Kent.
We are alarmed to hear of reports of what has been referred to by the CQC as ‘shocking examples of institutionalised failings and abuse’ against those who are most vulnerable in society. These include accounts of physical and emotional abuse inflicted on the very people who our social care system exists to protect.
It is also concerning that amongst the failings cited, are the attempts made by the care provider to diminish serious incidents, including one of alleged sexual abuse, and in some cases the failure to report such incidents altogether. In many of the cases that we investigate at Leigh Day, the lack of comprehensive incident reporting is a worrying, but all too pervasive theme.
Some of the most vulnerable are not, by the very nature of their disability, able to explain what has happened to them, thus raising an understandable concern amongst the families and friends of those who may have been abused or neglected that they will never discover the true extent of such treatment.
If this culture continues, there is of course a risk that the result will be an increasing atmosphere of suspicion, and an increase in the use of measures such as covert filming by the relatives of those in residential settings.
Many have, however, voiced concerns about such measures, including the questions surveillance may pose for privacy rights, and the impact this will likely have on the thousands of care workers who provide excellent and necessary care despite the pressures they face. The introduction of a mandatory reporting requirement would go a long way in ensuring that instances of abuse or mistreatment were exposed immediately, and could not be covered up or allowed to continue in house.
Whilst there have been a number of high profile undercover exposes on abuse in residential settings, such as Winterbourne View and more recently at Medway Secure Training Centre, as well as CQC inspections, and whilst these have indeed identified abuse; led to closures; and in some cases sparked criminal investigations, the future of social care and the protection of those who are most vulnerable in our society cannot be dependent on our ability to react to such abuse.
In response to news of these closures The Department of Health has this week cited the importance of their ‘tough new inspection’. It is, however, concerning that all too often the emphasis appears to be being placed on reactive, as opposed to preventative, measures.
It is clear but sad truth that 5 years on from the Winterbourne View Scandal, a culture of abuse and complacency still appears to exist within some social care services. Whilst stories of service closures such as these continue to be reported, it is apparent that more needs to be done to prevent circumstances in which vulnerable people are put at risk from arising in the first place.
All agencies and authorities involved must, more than ever, comply with their ongoing duties of care to ensure that any potential failings are identified and pursued at the earliest stage possible so as to obviate these deeply concerning (and indeed saddening) situations in which not only the dignity, but also the wellbeing and lives, of those who are most vulnerable in society are put at such serious risk.