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Listening to families is a human right

By Richard Crompton, Independent Chair of our Safeguarding Panel

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides the right to respect for one’s established family life. 

This includes close family ties, although there is no pre-determined model of a family or family life. 

It includes any stable relationship, be it married, engaged, or de facto; between parents and children; siblings; grandparents and grandchildren.

For the past couple of years I have been the independent chair of the Dimensions Safeguarding Panel.

I am also the independent chair of two adult safeguarding boards, and the parent of a young woman with Down’s Syndrome.

Anyone who has been the parent or carer of a person with a learning disability will have a horror story to tell.

Not being believed, not being listened to, being ignored, being patronised. For many, a constant battle from the word go, as you negotiate the world of health, education and social care.

At best you might be lucky enough to find one or two exceptional people who help you through a faceless, impersonal  system.

A system where, at times, you can’t help but feel that families are seen as a bit of a nuisance, getting in the way of the “professionals” who know what is best for your child.

If, as a young person or adult, your child moves into other settings of care and support, it can feel even more difficult to be heard.

It can feel that years of experience and deep understanding are viewed as being valueless.

For some it would appear, families are pushy, difficult, overprotective, unreasonable, or even at times I’m afraid, toxic.

As the independent chair of two adult safeguarding boards I look at all of this through a slightly different lens.

I have found myself working alongside people who certainly don’t fit that stereotype. People who understand the importance of family.

But in truth, I have also seen family members kept at arms length, their knowledge and expertise largely ignored, whilst their loved one spirals into ever greater risk with tragic consequences.

I have also seen the real discomfort, often deserved, of professionals, as the stark reality of the family experience is played back to them.

In fairness, I have seen a significant effort to change – to be more open to dialogue with families when it is most needed, not just after the event.

It’s difficult, and requires an effort and investment in relationship building.

This is why I have been so encouraged to witness the work of the Family and Friends Forum and the Dimensions Council.

And so encouraged when, as we frequently do at the safeguarding panel, I hear of the efforts made at the local level to involve and work with family members.

It’s imperfect, what isn’t? I’m sure that there are frustrations and disappointments.

But the Dimensions Forum and Council are genuine attempts to hear the voices of the people we support, and the voices of their families and friends.

For those with safeguarding responsibilities, listening to those voices just might be the thing which prevents a tragedy.

For the people we support and their families, it is a human right.