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Calling all ‘relatives from hell’

According to this article from Paul Ridout, from the eponymous firm of solicitors, we’ve all had to manage a ‘relative from hell.’ An ‘unruly family member’ who ‘interferes in care’, ‘makes constant complaints’, ‘upsets the staff.’

Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs

As I started to read this article I laughed – surely this was an elaborate spoof? But as it dawned on me that it was actually a serious article I shifted through the gears from that initial amusement to disbelieving incredulity, and ultimately ended up feeling angry and ashamed. Anger that this advice might actually be taken seriously by a provider and shame because evidently some in our sector think this is an OK attitude to promote.

In the article he says that ‘the visitor has effectively no rights.’ That ‘next of kin has no meaning.’ That even CQC visits ‘can be restricted.’

Mr Ridout, I am not a solicitor so I do not know if you are legally correct. However, I do know that you are morally wrong. This is the sort of ‘keep families away’ attitude that is consistently found at the cultural heart of providers of services like Winterbourne View and Veilstone.

Following the Winterbourne exposé in 2011, commentators wrote that they had believed this sort of institutional abuse had ceased decades ago. Winterbourne View was a wake-up call. Well, Paul Ridout’s article is another wake-up call. Bad attitudes remain and those of us striving to achieve the highest standards must continue to be on our guard and we must call out bad practice wherever and whenever we see it.

Dimensions’ family advisor Liz has written a blog on a similar topic this week; a local authority in the North East was recruiting for a SEN worker with experience dealing with ‘difficult families.’

Following a storm of protest, that ad seems to have been withdrawn. Let’s hope these things are coincidental and not a sign of the clock being turned back. In her blog, Liz said that ‘We know for sure that the most outstanding results come when families and practitioners identify mutual interests and work in genuine partnership.’ She’s right – and all high quality care and support providers would agree with this.

We recruited Liz soon after making a conscious decision that we needed to be a much more family friendly organisation. Acknowledging we had a long way to go (and we still do if I’m honest) I told Liz on her first day that part of her role was be a ‘stone in my shoe.’ Clearly not a role we would have had if Dimensions had heeded the advice of this particular ‘expert’.

When I started my student nurse training in 1980, families were restricted to visiting rooms and conversations with them were the exclusive responsibility of the charge nurse. I thought – until I’d read this article – that such anti-relative behaviours and attitudes had been left behind in the previous century.

In my 35+ years of working with people with learning disabilities I’ve met many relatives who have been angry, upset, frustrated with how their loved one has been supported. I’ve spoken with many family members who have been tired, disillusioned and some at the end of their tether due to how they had been treated by us professionals.

On occasions – probably more than I care to acknowledge to myself – I’ve had to agree to disagree with some family members; and in some rare cases it has become clear Dimensions wasn’t the right provider and we have had to step aside.

However, I don’t believe in all that time I’ve met any relative who didn’t have the wellbeing of their loved one uppermost in their mind. We are only part of someone’s life because someone somewhere has made a purchasing decision. Only if we’re good enough, and only if we’re still needed, should we continue to be a part of that person’s life. Relatives, in case you haven’t noticed Mr Ridout, are part of a person with learning disabilities’ life until one or other dies.

I am completely baffled that a magazine calling itself ‘Care Home Professional’ could consider labelling an article like this ‘Best Practice’ and place it in the ‘Ask the Expert’ section.

Frankly I find the attitude towards families in this article offensive, insensitive and decades out of date. The magazine didn’t even provide balancing commentary. If this is professional, find me an amateur. If this is their view of ‘best practice’, find me a proper magazine to read.