For the last 40 years I have had the pleasure of working alongside disabled children, young people and their families. My career started in the long stay hospitals of the late 1970s and early 80s when we finally began, as a society, to believe that children and adults with learning disabilities should live in the community alongside their peers. As a young social worker my role was to understand what was needed for children and families returning from hospital to home. Like all institutions the hospital was run as a machine, with little time or care for individual needs. The hospital school was the only place you could find both physical and emotional warmth. I got to know the young people as individuals, their likes and dislikes; I saw beyond the diagnosis, beyond the bulging case files and saw their humanity.
Forty years on, that experience still has a profound effect on me and I remain driven to ensure we develop a system of support which always sees the humanity in individuals; it’s when we don’t that the system becomes abusive.
I cried when I watched Winterbourne View. It took me back to a world I thought we had left behind where systematic inhumanity was tolerated.
It made me and others more determined to renew the fight for the most vulnerable, and to understand why on 31st April 2016 there are still 155 children and young people in ATUs and over a 1000 young people in 52 week placements.
My role with others is to ensure that each child and young person is safe, that each child and young person is supported appropriately, that each child and young person has the best outcomes possible, and that each child and young person is seen as a unique and valuable person. A person; not a diagnosis, or a set of behavioural challenges but a child or young person who, with the right support, can thrive and live a full and active life in the community.
We currently have opportunities to act and influence, to work in partnerships to promote citizenship and to build better alternatives. The Paving the Way website is a fantastic example of changing the narrative for this group of young people.
I remain determined to continue the process.
Christine Lenehan OBE
Director, Council for Disabled Children