A spate of cases involving people with learning disabilities suffering abysmal abuse have been in the headlines.
A gang in Peterborough were convicted of a string of crimes, including against a 13-year-old with learning disabilities. The Rooke family in Sheffield were found guilty of enslaving and physically attacking a man with learning difficulties and forcing him to live in their garage. Last month, a young woman aged 19, with a moderate learning disability, was deliberately targeted for a sham marriage, to bolster a man’s immigration case.
Over the years there have been numerous instances of vulnerable individuals being subject to despicable actions. Many cases were followed by a Serious Case Review making recommendations, accompanied, rightly, by the sentiment that it should never happen again. Yet we continue to be surprised when it does.
Langdon, which offers education, social activities and supported living for Jewish youth and adults with learning disabilities, believes that these cases underline why society as a whole needs a much better understanding of these vulnerabilities. Indeed, the people we work with can have disabilities that are not immediately obvious. They can be easy targets.
Take financial abuse. Someone with learning disabilities may be isolated and lonely. They may have a lack of support in managing their money. This can be a dangerous combination, making them receptive to the advances of those with ill-intent. Abuse is often incremental; itmay start with something as innocuous as being asked to buy someone a drink. Tragically, experience demonstrates that this can be a sliding scale..
The way vulnerable people are looked after is constantly evolving. Modern practice favours a “positive risk” framework, one we operate at Langdon within our supported living communities; people live the same life as everyone else, but with support to manage daily challenges. Crucially however, this has not been accompanied by sufficient effort to increase public understanding of these challenges.
Vulnerable individuals deserve far better. We can all help. Learning disabilities are not something to be ashamed of, an attitude still too prevalent. There needs to be greater openness in talking about these disabilities, at both a grassroots and leadership level.
On a policy level, we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Review after review has made significant recommendations, yet once the public furore dies down, the report slips into obscurity, the plan never fully implemented. Would it be too much for us to hold the authorities to account, especially when it is the same authorities that instruct the review and then often ignore the recommendations? Is it too much that a local authority, with statutory responsibility for safeguarding vulnerable people, be expected to hold the community to the same standards to which it holds Langdon and other providers? The most consistent reforms include better information sharing, improvements to systems for flagging concerns and triggering referrals, and better risk assessment processes and training.
Greater education about the vulnerabilities of people with learning disabilities, coupled with action on many existing recommendations, will go some way to end the cycle.