Tuesday 19 May 2015

Power and Responsibility

All democratically elected people, MP's,AM's ,MEP's and Councillors should be representatives of the people. The people vote for them and then they theoretically at least, use their power as elected members for those people they represent. Too often they wield the power for someone else and sometimes someone else is running the show for them.
Part of the problem is the civil service, from the humble Parish council Clerk to the cabinet office in Westminster, Civil servants can support or obstruct elected representatives, often a bit of both. If you want to do something that does not threaten their power and their status that's fine. If  you have the gall to try to change something or accomplish something contrary to their own interests or views, you might be in trouble.

Civil servants of course should be just that. Advising elected members in order to facilitiate their work for their electorate. Many are humble and helpful people taking great pride in their efficiency, courtesy and their important jobs serving the citizens of this country.

Others are not so benign. Representatives can be manipulated, intimidated and steered away from what they originally wanted. Public officials can be bullied themselves into going along with the flow by their superiors. Underlings who whistle blow generally lose their careers by being persecuted in various ways, their disclosures usually being lost in a sea of disciplinary procedures, counter accusations and even suggestions of mental illness ,selfish and even criminal motivation. I've experienced it myself in the NHS and seen it happen in my own Carmarthenshire County Council.

One of the nastiest features of this corruption of public service is the practice of using spin, threats and many evil arts to prevent mistakes being found out and their perpetrators brought to account.

The most awful case I've been personally involved in was the case of a young woman the welsh public services ombudsman refers to as H in his report. Its a public document, I will be happy to send it to anyone who wishes to request a copy from me [ sian.caiach@peoplefirst.org.uk].

The story has recently been mentioned in the Carmartheshire Herald [May 15th 2015 www.carmarthenshire-herald.com]. 5 years ago a young woman with autism, severe learning difficulties, cerebral palsy and unable to speak, was taken into council care after accusations by her carers that she had indicated to them on a letter board that she had been sexually abused and prostituted by her parents. Despite for some years having been  formally assessed as having the communication and social skills of a small child, social services officers accpted the complaint at face value. They failed to be concerned that someone with severe learning difficulteies suddenly could communicate as an articulate adult. They did not check that the communication between H and her carers was real.

H's mother had just told the carers that she did not want them to continue with H. Money has gone missing from H's purse without explanation and the carers were reluctant to take her to the local college she had previously attended. They had only been H's carers for a few weeks and had no tuition in communicating with her.

H was using facilitied communication [FC]at home, on a letter board, a technique not allowed as evidence in law. This is because the user's hand can be easily manipulated rather than assisted. There have been many cases of it being used to make false allegations, especially in the USA. After a police investigatoin found no evidence the parents were still kept on police bail, apparently at the request of  social services as the Council confidently continued to  investigate and hopefully prove their case sufficently to keep H in care. Finally an expert in autism and communication was engaged, and assessed H with her carers. Although H could communicate with Professor Howlin at the level of a young child, it was found she not communicate at all with her carers. She could not have made any complaint to the carers.

Unable to accept this, the council officers, I am told, asked the London based expert to come up to Carmarthen to explain it all to them. In the meantime arrangements were being made to give H a foster placement out of county where it would be difficult for her parents to trace her.

Early in this case the Executive Board member for Health and Social Care the elected councillor responsible for social services, called me in to her office, She had been advised by her officers to tell me to stop supporting the family and asking quaestions. When I asked her if she knew anything about the details of the case ,she did not. However, she had been told that the case was horrendous and clearly given the impression the parents were guilty. Another Counicllor was also similarly warned off. Neither of us took the advice but I'm sure many would have.

 The Council paid a psychiatrist, Dr Rowan Wilson, with no knowledge of FC or autism to assess H. He declared her to have adult capacity on the basis of her carer's assisted communication.She could now chose where she lived. H was said to have indicated that she did not want to see her parents and was happy to stay in her care home, Ty Hendy. H therefore stayed in a care home and her parents were not allowed to see her. He was subsequently reported to the GMC by H's parents . They found him guilty of misconduct. I believe he may be the only person to date to face any disciplinary action in this case.
Almost 6 months after H had been taken a care worker at her care home warned her parents that her foster placement was imminent. The Social Workers still insisted that she indicated she did not wish to see her father but said H was inclined to see her mother, A contact visit was arranged.

Myself and the 2 other county councillors who had supported the family over the months did not trust our own Authority to do the right thing and return H home. As H was still regarded by CCC as having adult capacity we had a window to rescue H. At the meeting in a cafe ,2 of us happened to be present and witnessed H responding to her mother by spelling out that she wanted to go home. Invited to do so, she got up and followed her mother out, into the family car and went home. I gently reminded the social workers present that she had, in our opinion, adult capacity and was simply going home with her mum. Soon after the Social work department decided that she really didn't have the capacity to make decisions and asked repeatedly to be admitted to the family home so that an assessment of  H could be done to decide her future placement..

 Naturally, the family had lost all trust in the local social work department and aranged for a senior independent social worker from aoutside the area to visit. He  found the standard of care given to H by her parents was excellent.. H has been at home since and has become a much happier person, in contrast with the stressed and fearful young woman she was when she first returned.

I really believed and still do, that my Council's Social Work Department were so concerned about saving themselves  the embarassment of admitting a mistake and making an appology that they were prepared to break up a family permanently. I do wonder how many other families have not been so lucky.? H's retired parents had a professional background, some savings to pay lawyers with, good knowledge about FC and were fortunate to find 3 County Councillors who would support them against their own Authority.

H's parents suffered apallingly, constantly anxious, and under terrible stress. For almost 6 months they were not sure as to whether they would see their child again. It pains me to recall how evident their distress was. This is an extreme case as to how far people in authority will go to hide their own shortcomings, It should never have happened.

 4 years on, my council has still not settled the case for damages to H's parents although instructed to do so by a judge.I'm told that documentation needed to close the case is yet to be released by the council and is still awaited by H's parents' lawyers.  After a settlement H's parents will be free to speak about their experience. Do they have to wait for every employee involved to retire or move on, to spare their blushes ?

I have been asking for a long time for the  County Council Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee to discuss the Ombudsman's report on this case and check that the reccomendations have been implemented. The Council's Head of Law claims we are not allowed to do this. The committee chair feels that it is unecessary to do so. Granted, we don't actually scrutinise much and officially none of us have been informed of this case.

Yesterday I spoke again to theH&SC committee chair who siad she could not see what we would achieve by discussing this case. The Ombudsman had said it all, and she was confident that our officers would not make the same mistake twice.I reminded her that the only reason she knew about the case is because I'd sent her the report. Once more she promised to look into whether or not we are allowed to discuss it.

 I think we could do with some urgent openness and accountability here. It is not just one catalogue of errors that concerns me but the whole culture of reacting to bad news by secrecy and denial. Hiding the truth only perpetuates the injustice and may invite a repeat performance.

Sian Caiach


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks Sian for publishing my comment. Reading through it I realize I should have done so before sending it, some sentences do not exactly make sense. But I stand by the gist of what I wrote concerning the CCC's social services department not following policies and procedures when made aware of institutional abuse (which covers a wide range of wrongdoing including by line management). CCC's own Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA), Whistleblowing policy, Statutory Social Services Complaints Policy, Investigation and Disciplinary policies were not followed after my/our original disclosures or after our complaint against POVA's handling of our disclosures. These are good and robust policies and if followed by the CCC there would be fewer negative reports and articles written about it's leadership, cover ups, culture of denial and the lack of accountability when the public's interest and safety is compromised. The CCC divert attention away from it's wrongdoing by talking up the "ROBUST" policies to bodies who should have the ability to hold it to account; from what I have experienced those bodies do not want to take action against the CCC preferring to ignore concerns raised by whistleblowers (PSOW's latest excuse for not investigating the CCC is that it is not in his remit to accept a complaint/disclosure from a whistleblower). CCC whistleblowing policy tells us to go to the PSOW if our disclosures are not handled properly.

    In the Senedd Finance Committee's "Consideration of Powers: Public Service Ombudsman for Wales" it states in page 10 " 3. The Ombudsman's role is split into two distinct parts: -to consider complaints by members of the public about maladministration or failure by public bodies in the provision of services; and - to consider complaints that local authority members or employees may have breached a relevant code of conduct.". If the PSOW can accept a complaint from the CEO Mark James (employee) about the conduct of a council member (a representative of his employers us the public) then refusing to accept a complaint of an employee concerning the conduct of officers acting on behalf of CCC smacks of double standards and a bias towards protecting a public service body's reputation. Mark James when he disclosed/complained to the PSOW, of what he felt was a breach by a member of CCC, he put himself into the same position as a whistleblower and he would have been covered by the PIDA. Also we must not forget that the PSOW investigated Delyth Jenkins' complaint concerning the mishandling of POVA by the CCC and she was also a whistleblowing employee. My complaint, had PSOW investigated, would have proved that the culture within the Social Care Health & Housing Department had not changed and his recommendations had not been put into practice regarding POVA or whistleblowing following his report concerning Delyths complaint.

    What is it that causes the Welsh Assembly Government to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the shenanigans of both the Carmarthenshire County Council and now, it seems, the PSOW?

    Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)


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