“Any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankind” (John Donne)
We are diminished when we see apparent wrong doing.
Watching the recent Prime Time Special on Aras Attracta, the residence for people with learning difficulties, I moved through a series of reactions.
My first reaction, was that this work is hard work, work that I would not be able to do. I had a sympathy for all involved, both the residents and the careworkers
The next stage was an alarm at the inappropriate language being used by their carers towards the residents and I became increasingly sympathetic towards them.
Soon I became actually frightened when it became apparent to me that the carers had no real training. They were posited with their residents and trained only in how to avoid getting the residence itself into trouble through any breach of regulations. Regulations never further human connections or understanding.
The actions of the “manager” who actually sat upon an elderly resident simply diminished every one of us as human beings.
LACK OF TRAINING
Such “training” as these people had in caring for their fellow humans clearly had nothing whatever to do with any sort of personal development, starting with their own.
There is an old scholastic philosophical saying which is “ Ex nihilo, nihil fit”. It roughly translates as “Out of nothing, nothing comes”. The carers, because of poor personal development and training, were simply not capable of rendering the deductive type of care which would initiate and continue the development of their charges.
This was supposed to be a “home” and therefore, a place where one would expect those who resided there to be cared for and developed. The residents of this home had clearly tools of communication (although limited) which had never been sharpened through appropriate responses when they tried to use those tools. The carers were not equipped to respond. Nobody here could grow and gentleness was seldom evident
Responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs rests not only on the HSE but on the community at large. I am not referring to the community of Swinford, but to the college of communities which is the entity called Ireland.
I lived as in Monaghan during the 1950s where there was a psychiatric hospital which was run in those days by a Dr Glass. The residents were free to move around the hospital and also to walk down the into town etc. Everything was done to enable the patients. The community was comfortable with this. Those who cared for the residents of the hospital were highly respected and well paid. Indeed, such nursing was an employment highly sought after by very capable people.
I am not saying everything was perfect. I’m sure that there were some things that were not. However, perhaps we have thrown out some good elements of an old system.
Jean Vanier founded the L’Arche, which is a federation of communities for people with developmental disabilities and their carers. These communities were established throughout France initially and then in other countries in Europe. Vanier believes that such people should be free to decide where they live and should participate in their own home. They should be free to move from place to place . They should also be free to choose who would look after them. He emphasises that they have often been rejected even by their mother at birth. Such rejection is not voluntary, but instantaneous and is deeply felt by the child. The mother too suffers. There is an anger deep within such people and they have needs for acceptance which cry out to be met. What was seen on the Prime time programme did not in any way meet the needs of people who were crying out for acceptance
Tolerance of difficult behaviour is the norm in a home under the Jean Vanier system. Any retribution would be frowned on. Many of the carers are volunteers who wish to serve. In such houses there is great joy and also great sadness. Emotions are expressed and accepted.
THE ROLE OF CARERS
The residents of Aras Attracta are not patients , but they do need to be enabled. They cry out for acceptance and a treatment which gives them worth. However, our society – that is every one of us – considers that it is alright to assign lowly paid carers to such people. We then load those people with rules and regulations. Rules and regulations are superb for order but not for people development. Often such carers are personally committed but they are unsupported and are poorly trained. Nowhere in all the reaction to Prime Time have I seen an outcry to put in skilled carers and to pay them accordingly. What I have seen is just a general hue and cry a little like a lynch mob.
There are also people in the role of carer who simply are temperamentally not suited to the task. What makes them temperamentally not suited is the set of beliefs and attitudes which they bring to the task. Lack of growth promoting education consolidates such beliefs and makes such carers more subject to the influence of their superiors and hence to the culture of the place where they work. Their own self esteem is too low and their view is such that they cannot see people with learning difficulties and other limitations as real people entitled to love and respect. Indeed, it may well be asked are such people capable of giving any kind of genuine caring . Such people should be easily identified at interview. This work is not for them.
So the happenings in Aras Attracta are not simply due to some sort of “bad” people but are a complex net which embraces all of our society and it echoes the thinking which sent poor and troublesome children to borstals in years gone by.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE
I call on those responsible
To immediately appoint people orientated Managers – not accountants – to run such care homes
To ignore impending official Investigations and Enquiries. Let them continue but don’t wait. Act now to make improvements. Subsequent reports will just become debating documents. HIQA have inspected many of these residences. We know that there are problems here and perhaps in all residences which care for people. Another report will not help anyone.
To subject all carers to a process of evaluation as to their suitability. Then train them on enabling people under their care.
To begin a process of community education to help us all to become more accepting of differences in people and to integrate those such as the residents of Aras Attracta more into Society
It is essential that we stop talking about Aras Attracta and the unfortunate residents and carers there and begin focusing on a national dimension. Call in more volunteers and get going on this problem.
Remember we are all responsible because we are involved in mankind.