The focus of the 7 Days of action campaign has been on the terrible lives lived by people in ATUs and a call for people to be enabled to live “proper” lives in a home of their choosing in their local communities. This will still be the focus of any ongoing campaign work but it is also important to look at what can happen when someone is discharged from an ATU and whether they are allowed to live the sort of life that they want.
Jack was our Day Two dude from the original 7 Days of Action campaign back in April. This is an update on Jack’s life since he was discharged on 10th June.
Prior to Jack leaving the hospital, the professionals instigated a 4 week “transition plan”. This consisted of visits from the staff who would be supporting Jack to the ward. There was also a single visit from a Behavioural expert. None of the transition involved the new staff working with Jack in his new home. Jack spent a weekend at his family home and moved into his new flat on 12th June. It should be pointed out that neither Jack nor his family wanted to move into the flat. The wish for both of them was for Jack to move back to his family home but the professionals wouldn’t sanction this move.
The flat is a living room/kitchenette, a bedroom and a bathroom. There are three other flats in the “complex”, each housing a learning disabled person. On arrival to the flat on 12th June, Jack and his family found a workman fitting alarms to all the interior doors of Jack’s flat. This immediately reminded Jack of the hospital. The social worker admitted that this was an error and would have them removed.
Jack’s phone calls home are monitored by staff in the home. He has been encouraged to phone home less frequently in order to build a stronger relationship with the staff there supporting him. Jack’s mother reports that Jack regularly phones home every day around 6pm and the calls continue throughout the night until the morning, with Jack in a growing state of anxiety. It seems, although none of the professionals will acknowledge this, that a night shift begins at 6pm and lasts until 7am the following day. The residents are left to their own devices in their flats, with a staff member available in a central office.
Being a new build there have also been teething problems with the premises. The fire alarm repeatedly goes off during the night and this causes Jack great anxiety. Not only because of the long, piercing noise that affects Jack’s sensory issues but he also has the fear that he could be trapped in a real fire. The fire alarm has been a regular feature over the first five weeks. Also, it was discovered that the electric in Jack’s kitchen is turned off for 12 hours overnight, meaning that all his food in his freezer is ruined. This is clearly a health and safety issue.
This week, Jack asked whether he could go out one evening. He was feeling anxious in the flat again on his own. Presumably because there wasn’t enough staff on duty to facilitate this, his request was declined. As the evening wore on and Jack’s anxiety increased, he unfortunately hit a female member of staff. The staff on duty called the police and Jack was shut in his room for seven hours until the police arrived. After receiving several distressed phone calls from Jack, his mother went to the flat to sit with him awaiting the police arrival. His mother was asked whether she wanted to wear an alarm as she sat with Jack. It was unclear whether the police will be pursuing action or whether the staff member will press charges but Jack was terrified as he it was explained to him about having to spend time in the police cells and possibly prison.
The following day, Jack’s mother took him out for the morning for a haircut, to buy some new trainers and have some lunch.
Jack returned to his flat and later that evening, the phone calls to home started up again. Jack reported feeling very anxious again and there were no staff around to reassure him.
Jack’s experience is in stark contrast to Robert’s story (our day six dude who is also now in his own home). Jack is 19. Apart from his time in the ATU, he has never lived away from his family before but is being forced to build a new life for himself, ostensibly on his own.
Is this what we want for a post ATU life? Is it simply replacing one institution with a smaller one?