Today all over Ireland there are professional Social Care Workers doing great work with a myriad of different service users with a myriad of different needs. Today all over Ireland there are Non-Professional Care Workers doing great work with a myriad of different service users with a myriad of different needs. What unites all these people is that they want to help, they want to care, they want to make a difference and where this becomes problematic is when the organisations they work for does not have the same goals.
The residential care sector for children has been subject to statutory inspection for a good few years now, and this is right and proper, and in that time some service providers have not passed these inspections and have had to be closed down , again right and proper. The adult service providers have not been subject to this level of scrutiny, vulnerable adults whether physical, intellectual, or sensorial disabled or old aged are living in environments where close external scrutiny is not the norm, the most vulnerable in society are being let down by us the professionals. The longer Professionals remain quiet the more vulnerable our service users are.
A few years ago I worked in a residential setting where I was unhappy with the level and quality of service being offered to the young people in our care. It was a privately run, for profit, residential care home. The longer I worked there the more uncomfortable I was with the way it was run. Money was the guiding hand; everything was measured against the euro. Budgets were based on profit and loss, not on care, morals and ethos. Over time we were inspected and with a bit of work we passed two inspections, at the second inspection I voiced my concerns about the way the service was run, and to be fair to them the inspectors listened and acted appropriately. Eventually the inevitable happened and I had to make the decision whether to stay or leave, and so after a short break (mandatory holidays for all staff enforced by the directors) I decided not to return to work for this organisation.
I effectively put myself on the dole as Irelands economy collapsed; thankfully my wife supported me through this. I again spoke with the inspection service about my concerns. I was well and truly sickened by my particular experience of the private residential care sector. I now know that this isn’t the norm in childcare, but while we all strive to do the very best that we can for the very vulnerable people we work with if we are not willing to stand firm against bad practice then we should find a job elsewhere. Time and time again we read of investigations into bad practice and downright abuse, this can only happen when proper oversight is not as normal as tea and toast.
We as professionals should be the driving force behind these changes, we the professionals should be instituting change from within, and we should be fighting to make sure that all the people who use our services get the very best service they can get, and that starts with trusting, honest, open and safe relationships with one another. Hopefully this year we will see the wording of the proposed referendum on the rights of the child, hopefully it will be child centred, child focussed and strengthen the hands of those that advocate for societies most vulnerable.
Adrian McKenna is a frontline child care professional; he has worked for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.