Aras Attracta after the scandal: What have we learned?


In recent days the media have been carrying a follow up story about the Aras Attracta scandal; it centres on the jailing of one of the staff and the on-going debate around the other four or five.

Interestingly on social media especially around the Social Care type sites this decision is being met with some comfort. This in itself is worth some analysis, when any vulnerable member of society is abused in any way are we as a society satiated once someone is held responsible? Is that all it takes? Is that enough?.

The simple answer is NO. That is not enough. That thought process is too simplistic. We, as in those in the Social Care community need to have an ability to take a much broader view of what has happened. We need to understand the historical context, the financial context, the model of care, the care providers, the process of inclusion, the place for advocates, the need for whistle-blowers, and most importantly the training and education of the social care teams.

Historically in Ireland residential care had been provided by various agents of the Catholic Church, some experienced that care in a positive light and many, many others will never recover from the care they received. There have been many reports over the years for example:

Tuairim Report: 1966, Kennedy Report: 1970, Task Force Report of Child Care Services: 1980, Report of the Kilkenny Incest Investigation: 1993 and the McCoy Report: 2007. Despite all these reports and despite all the well intentioned posturing by the government over the decades we now have a situation whereby 93 per cent of inspections of disability services carried out by the State’s health watchdog HIQA have found that facilities failed to comply with national standards.

Funding of care services is crucial and being able to be critical of the funder is essential. Most funding comes through one or more arms of the state and is tied to service level agreements which outline the type of services that are being provided. The funding provider will then look for outcomes which may not necessarily reflect the tenets of love, care and excellence. They may be more wrongly based on the tenets of value, efficiency and risk.

When assessing the efficacy of a service that is supporting vulnerable individuals we need to be able to look at risk, value and efficiency but if we forget to allow our hearts have a place in how we provide the service, if we fail to look at love, care and excellence then we have FAILED. We have failed to recognise that care is not just a service but is a whole series of real relationships that we engage in every day. When these relationships are genuine then the persons involved in those relationships will benefit, both the service user and the service provider.

That then begs the question; What is our model of care? Should there be a model of care or can you have a model of care? My belief is that care services need to be heart led, they need to be relationship focussed and they should be informed by those who are in receipt of the care. When I say informed I mean that in a very real way. All people in receipt of a service should have the access to inform and change that service. They should be on the boards, they should be interviewing the staff teams, they should be informing policy and procedures, they should be not just heard, but listened to, they should be trained and supported and where their voice cannot be heard, there should be wholly independent advocates to be their voice.

Why is inclusion so important and how does inclusion prevent abuses of those using the service? When you include someone in all the decisions of their life course you are directly responsible to your equal. It removes the power paradigm and grounds you in a decision making process that is based on an individual who is using a service instead of a decision in the best interest of the service. All apartheid is based on fear and if you want to overcome fear you need to get to know those and that of what your fear, opening your heart to real, honest, equal relationships allows that to happen.

What struck me about Aras Attracta was that seemingly experienced team members allowed this to happen, it appears they stood idly by as vulnerable people were abused. Or did they?

We haven’t heard if there were a host of complaints made that were never looked at, we may hear that once the legal cases are over. I believe as Professional Social  Care workers that we have to have much higher standards. That we need to, without fear, challenge our practices, both individual and collective. That support from senior team members needs to be exampled and that whole cultural shifts need to take place. Hierarchical leadership models are not as effective in care situations as they are in say, manufacturing. We need to recognise that we work with many differing professionals who are leaders in their field. If we accept this, then we accept that any one individual can and should have a voice and should be listened to.

When the mental health specialist advises, we should listen. When the cleaner advises then  we should listen and when a professional by experience advises we should listen. Decisions made in the collective, made when people get to have their say, made when the heart and the head are heard, made when people believe they are listened to allows a culture develop whereby people get used to being heard and are never afraid to try to speak, never afraid to speak when they see that which is not right and are never afraid to seek a hearing from someone who can institute change.

Aras Attracta failed on many levels and some people may end up in prison. This in itself won’t change anything. What needed to be in the dock this time is the culture of the service and that’s something you cannot put in front of a judge.

So, where to now?

We now need to focus on the education, training, ethics and morals of the Social Care staff we are hiring. We as Social care professionals need to take responsibility for our profession, we need to put those that use our services first, we need to make each other accountable and we need to focus on relationships.

In the coming years we will be going through a registration process for Social Care Workers, we need to engage positively with this process and take back the damage and disdain that our forefathers have left for us.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Social Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services, homeless services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, A Member of the Social Care workers Registration Board at CORU, A Member of Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children. All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.