Six weeks ago, I was wondering, “where are the girls?”. A couple have emerged onto social media since. Although neither is in exactly the same situation as the lads who featured in The ATU Scandal #7DaysofAction, I am noticing same old themes of waiting until a situation turns into a crisis, counterproductive provision, failures to keep safe, the dangers and indifference of total institutions, isolation, the powerlessness of loving families, the difficulties of leaving an ATU, financial skewing that makes it advantageous for mental-health provision to hang on to people and disincentivises Local Authorities from bringing them home, and terrible, all-pervading, stress and fear for inmates and families alike.
Sophie doesn’t have a learning disability, as far as I am aware, but she does have bipolar disorder. She is currently in St. Andrew’s hospital in Northampton. This hospital, a very large one headquartered on the old Northampton ‘lunatic asylum‘ site, is not actually part of the NHS; it is a private institution with charitable status that bids for NHS contracts. Sophie’s family, who live in Middlesex, have concluded that the hospital is not suitable for Sophie. According to the petition for her transfer, it’s making her life and her family’s life hell. The family have tried everything they can think of to get her home, but “nothing works”. Her family believe she is treated badly where she is and is not kept safe. Sophie has managed to self harm on many occasions, sometimes very seriously. Her family are ‘desperate’ to have her closer to home so that they can support her. They say: “Sophie is 21, she is a beautiful, caring, lovely young lady who just wants to be with her family. She suffers with bipolar but she is not a criminal, so she should not be locked away like a prisoner. To be honest, prisoners have a better quality of life than Sophie does in St. Andrew’s. She doesn’t receive basic human rights and is not kept safe. We need her closer to her loving family.”
The second young lady is not in an ATU – yet. Her name is Emily, she is 19 and profoundly disabled by her autism and learning disabilities. She needs 24-hour, 3:1 care. For the last few years, she has been living in a residential school with visits to her parents’ home in Shropshire, but in less than three weeks, when term ends, she will have aged out of the school system. So far, she doesn’t have anyplace else to live either, despite her family’s long-running and increasingly frantic efforts to find her a home of her own with proper supports.
They have been through all the hoopla of trying to secure her a liveable income (which was initially denied) and a house. They have been asking their Local Authority and Social Work departments for help and support, which has been in very short supply and seems mostly to have consisted of ‘signposting’ to providers. Wrong boxes were ticked by official form-fillers, meaning that Emily has missed out on some potentially suitable houses. Those which were offered are all unsuitable for one reason or another – too far from family, too small, too insecure. The only currently empty property which, according to Emily’s swathe of professional therapeutic and medical reports, is suitable, is said to be in leasehold limbo between the Council and the Housing Association. Apparently, it will not be made available to Emily anyway, because it is earmarked for adults returning from ATUs. But if Emily doesn’t have somewhere of her own to live in two-and-a-half weeks’ time, she will end up in an ATU. Her family have been told that, absent a home of her own, there will be no other options.
Let’s just think about that for a minute. Emily’s education, health and social care professionals have known for nearly two decades that Emily will always need care and support. Her 18th and 19th birthdays can have come as a surprise to no-one. Yet there has been no forward planning for the end of her schooldays. Unless someone does something very soon, Emily will be placed in a facility intended for (a) assessments (which have already been done – exhaustively), and (b) treatment (which she doesn’t need and which can’t help her since she has autism, not a mental illness). She will be in uncongenial surroundings that will be very likely to exacerbate her difficulties with making sense of the world, and she probably will be subject to the forensic, carrot-and-stick, behaviour-modification-restraint-and-heavy-medication regimes that have left too many dudes in a terrible state; and the prospects of which have Emily’s mother in agonies of terrified apprehension.
Yesterday, whilst her father was travelling to visit yet another far-flung shoebox property remote from Emily’s family and home town, the car encountered a pothole that has left it inoperable due to suspension problems. It’s not the only thing that is breaking down. If Emily ends up in psychiatric care, I fear her Mum may just be driven to join her, as the strain is very obviously getting to within a whisker of being too much for her.