Friday, 28 May 2010

Requiem for an Armchair

I have just returned to work in the Supported Housing project I currently work for after a few days away and have been informed that we need to do more work as a team to ensure that we can evidence that we are complying with the government’s Quality Assessment Framework. This explains the new posters around the building. One of which is trying to promote resident involvement in the running of the project. The poster tries to encourage the young people to become involved by offering such glib pronouncements as ‘All ideas are worthy’. What about those residents whose ideas lead to ingesting large quantities of drugs and/or shoplifting or disturbing other residents and neighbours? Do I have to appreciate their ideas as well?

Anyway, a couple of years back I worked for a day centre (some of my earliest posts are from this time) run by a charity that allowed young people that lived in supported housing to sit around eating free food all day and surfing the internet without trying to guide or direct them in any way. In fact, we were discouraged from doing so as this was considered judgemental. In fact, just like the government regulated sector, this charity was obsessed with client involvement. The following anecdote exemplifies the absurdities that often have to be indulged when working for an organisation that believes young people must be consulted about every minor change that occurs.

Underneath the window, in the corner of the common room of this charity, there was a decaying blue bulky armchair. It had spent over a decade supporting the weight and inertia of a variety of young people. Its torn,worn and tattered complexion resembled that of many of the service users who wallowed away the days ensconced between its arm rests.

The fate of this armchair was one of the items on the monthly resident involvement meeting. As this meeting used to occur in the evening and so clashed with drug taking, anti-social behaviour and crime we rarely had any attendees. However, tonight was a different story as three service users turned up to voice their anger that the charity would be charging each service user one pound a week in order to be able to continue funding unlimited internet and phone calls. The meeting was chaired by Lorraine (a senior project worker and member of the charity’s executive committee) she informed Nigel, Darren and Patsy that the centre had recently been donated several new armchairs, a sofa, and some chairs and that in light of this we could discard the detritus masquerading as furniture in the corner of the room. Lorraine described the new furniture to the service users and asked them what they thought of it and how they felt about it, of course.

One of the things I noticed whilst working for this charity was that the young people objected to almost every new initiative or decision taken by the charity’s committee or management. Even when a new initiative would be of major benefit to them, they still felt the need to be consulted on everything. They were, in the majority, extremely defensive people who took the slightest change as an infringement of their rights. And once aggrieved they were always indulged to some extent.

The underlying value behind involving residents in the running of the charity (or indeed the supported housing sector) is that they become empowered to then make decisions in their own lives. However, what no one seems to consider is what if these decisions are inane, unconstructive or just plain daft? All that seemed to matter in this charity and again in the supported housing sector, is that the service users feel listened to and have a say in the decision making process. Whether this say is constructive or worthwhile seems irrelevant. And so it was that the removal of a decaying piece of furniture and replacing it with a clean and new piece of furniture was never going to be a straightforward matter.

Nigel, 23, was the first to speak out about the removal of the chair in which he had up to that point whittled away several years of his life without anyone trying to help him in case he felt judged.

“I don’t think we should get rid of this chair just straight away. People have spent many days sat in this chair and it has been a part of their lives. It’s been here since the centre opened and we shouldn’t just get rid of it overnight. We need time to get used to the idea.”

The only other two service users that turned up, Darren and Patsy nodded in support of Nigel’s inability to wean himself off a diseased ridden chair.

Lorraine asked what Nigel thought should have been done.

“Well, I mean we do need a new armchair and that’s great, but like I said we need to say goodbye to the one we have had for so long. I suggest we put up several memos around the building informing the other clients the final date that the chair will be here. Then I think we should get to burn it and have a few drinks around it and say goodbye.”

Lorraine met them most of the way but not all.

“I understand that many of you may feel attached to the chair so we will circulate a memo and put up signs informing the others of the final day of the armchair. However, we can’t give you the chair to burn as it will have to be dumped appropriately so that we don’t contravene any health and safety laws by allowing it to be burned in a public place.”

Although Lorraine imposed some kind of conditions on the service users' ludicrous request she still indulged them in the most part.

I sat silently through this portion of the meeting. I knew for a fact that my common sense approach would not be considered. I would have liked to inform Nigel and the rest of his peers that he didn’t need any period of adjustment to sit on a new chair and that the furniture would arrive when convenient for the donor and not the whims of idle youths. In fact, Nigel should spend more time contemplating getting up of his arse rather than where he plonks it.

I would also have liked to inform Lorraine and the rest of the committee that this type of indulgence does nothing to “empower” these young people, on the contrary, it perpetuates and encourages their belief that they are owed something by the rest of society without first having contributed something to it.

It is with this anecdote in mind that I am dreading having to facilitate any kind of client involvement meetings in my current workplace and besides to even hear their daft ideas we will have to bribe them with fizzy drinks and fast food as is the norm in most supported housing projects. We will then document our meetings and take on board the residents' suggestions and place it all in a file as evidence. Then another state bureaucrat will use this evidence as part of his or her evaluation of our wonderful service. Needless to say this is a complete waste of taxpayers' money. If the government need any suggestions on where the axe should fall in the next round of cuts they should look no further than supported housing for young people.

44 comments:

TonyF said...

Christ on a BIKE. Don't these lackwits really understand that the vast majority of people need leadership, not pandering. I really hate to think how much hard earned cash is wasted on these people. And the ones in care.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Winston, Have been reading your blog for a few months. Your award was much deserved. I notice that often your managers, or those you are accountable to, are females. Is it an accurate observation that a great deal of this moral relativist, non-judgementalism stuff is propagated by the 'fairer' sex?

Boy on a bike said...

I worked at an office once where the meeting rooms had no chairs, on the assumption that if you couldn't sit down, you'd attend to business very quickly and get back to work. Meetings were very short as a consequence (or people bailed to a cafe).

Maybe if you removed all the furniture, they'd get up and get a job?

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Lindsay Mitchell,

It's just as prevalent amongst the males that I have worked with. Its just there generally tends to be more females working in this industry. However, Ive met many staff who come on board buying in to all this non judgmental nonsense who a few years down the track, or sooner, realise its a load of hogwash that just creates greater problems. That said there are those that zealously advocate it despite all evidence that shows it to be ineffectual. It's a bit like showing a creationist actual bones of actual dinosaurs and them still denying they existed. For some strange reason I still enjoy debating with moral relativists even though there is no point.

JuliaM said...

"What about those residents whose ideas lead to ingesting large quantities of drugs and/or shoplifting or disturbing other residents and neighbours? Do I have to appreciate their ideas as well?"

I'm guessing the answer is 'Yes'...

Anonymous said...

Great blog, I am a great believer in trying to instill a sense of reality into young people such as "if you f and blind like that in the street at someone you are likely to get a smack". I deal with up to 18s and was interested to hear their awful behaviour, unreasonable demands and lack of reality continues well into when most of us have got a grip.

Rod said...

Burn the chair. Hahahaha. Love it. Bring back those fond memories of standing around burning cars.

Lilyofthefield said...

How do people that age end up in places like yours? If they don't toe the line, even the padded, velvet-lined, beer-strung line, they need a taste of coping on their own in some sh*tty bedsit on basic benefits for comparative purposes.

They're getting some protection from predators and substance abuse in supported housing but they're not learning much about themselves or life along the way, are they.

How long can they stay there?

WinstonSmith33 said...

LilyoftheField,

The normal length of stay in supported housing is two years with some kind of planned move on in to a housing association flat (cheaper than private sector and rightly so) or in to the private sector. However, most residents never even make the two year mark as they get evicted.

Louise said...

Do you anything improving now that a new regime with differing ideologies has taken power?

Louise said...

Do you anything improving now that a new regime with differing ideologies has taken power?

Neil80 said...

Recently discovered your blog. Have previously had almost 5yrs experience in Social care, leaving to study an MSc in social policy. Needless to say I'm nodding my head in agreement with much of what you write.

Two points I want to make...

Firstly I only remembered this after commenting on a similar post last week. I was once on a 3 day diversity course courtesy of my Local Authority employer; the group got to chatting about smacking children and how times have changed etc.. but, I said to them (them being primarily social workers) how do you feel about people who choose to discipline their children by use of physical force.... would you respect their diversity? This is not to say that I don't believe in diversity, I do, I just have a problem with the dishonesty which goes along with a moral relativist position. There may be many standpoints but, to my view some are more right than others. To accept every type of behaviour as equally valid is dishonest because though we can to a degree be flexible we all have values which we cannot simply deny or override.

Second point I want to make is the comment you make about the whole empowerment strategy suggesting to people they are owed something rather than having a duty to contribute.

From my experience what you say is right. There is a high element of 'the customer is always right' when it comes to providing services and in mission statements, social work values and that kind of thing. However, at the policy and political level there is the talk of the need to emphasise duty, the 'something for something not something for nothing society' as I think Blair used to put it. I certainly recall him talking about 'hand-up not hand-out.' These two points of view would seem to be caught in a tension, pulling in different directions... wonder if you come across any of this?

Oswald Bastable said...

Bring back the workhouse!

sanabituranima said...

If the government need any suggestions on where the axe should fall in the next round of cuts they should look no further than supported housing for young people.

Will cutting the amount of money spent on supported housing cut the amount of stupidity ?

SteveShaw said...

I say that these people are on the leftmost tail of the intelligence & motivation & conscientiousness distribution. These ne'er-do-wells will always exist in any society that can afford to keep them. In a subsistence economy, they won't be on the dole but they will still be in the left tail - barely able to scrape by while the other goatherds manage to gain some weight. My point is, why bother to blog about them? Why become righteously incensed? Indeed, the left tail MUST exist and always will. The UK, not being a subsistence society, just makes these "lefties" more visible and allows them to be lazier.

SteveShaw said...

Put another way, suppose we lopped off the heads of the leftmost 10%. Then, we’d have a new leftmost 10%. Eventually, as the mores of society shifted a bit, we learn to loathe them, too. In fact, if we keep lopping off heads, I (who am presently in the 85th percentile I suppose) will eventually be in that bottom 10% and the upper 90% will loathe me too.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@sanabituranima

I would remove supported housing for all 16-17 year olds whose parents are in a position to house them. Many fall in to this category and the parent frauduently in most cases pretends they are estranged from their teenager to get them out of the house.

I would get rid of the unnecessary bureaucracy (QAFS) and the staff used to implement them. I would get rid of Client Involvement Officers. All of this would save a lot of money that could be then used more constructively in other areas of social provision.

However, I would maintain some kind of housing support for young people with no families or care leavers. I would provide structure and firm boundaries and I would deal with anti-social behaviour towards staff or other residents very seriously.

SteveShaw said...

Last comment: Except that the upper 90% won’t waste their time posting to blogs. They will be moving and shaking as is their customary practice. So, in sum, complaining about a situation that absolutely MUST exist is like fulminating about how hateful and aggressive hydrogen atoms will pair-up to leap at the throat of an innocent oxygen atom.

SteveShaw said...

Whatup Winston? My comments not sufficient Orwellian for you? Dislike disagreement, do you?

Rod said...

What happens to decent, sensible kids who are having genuine hardships with housing and employment?

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Steve Shaw. Relax buddy. It takes time from when a person leaves a comment to my getting around to publishing it. I dont sit on this blog all day I have other things to do. I have no problem posting opposing viewpoints on here I do so regularly.

I disagree with your assertion that there is no point in striving to improve society. Of course there will always be problems but if humanity didnt strive for improvement we would have died out long ago. The bottom 10 percent of people in the UK even fifty years ago had a lot more backbone, resilience and decency than many of the underclass of which I write.

Of course, in a capitalist society you are always going to have inequality which will contribute to social problems. However, in the UK we have one of the most generous welfare states in the world so actual poverty is almost unheard of nowadays. However, at the same time of the material improvement of the bottom 10 percent in society there is a concurrent rise in severe social problems that did not exist fifty years ago when the bottom 10 percent would have been much worse off. There has been a dramatic increase in violence and anti social behaviour in society and this is down to failures in education policy as well as the criminal justice sector. These are factors that can be ameliorated by effective social policy.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Rod,

I believe in supported housing for these youngsters if they have no family to fall back on.

Rod said...

@WS,

Yeah sure. How do sensible kids handle the drivel from some (?most) of your colleagues and their scumbag co-residents. Hopefully they get out quick and not to go on to worse.

Anonymous said...

This is taking the piss.

I read this post and wonder why dont you reject or point out these meetings / issues are pointless.

Bad things happen because good people stay silent.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above

At numerous points whilst working for this charity I attempted injecting common sense in to the agenda at numrous meetings and through out the working day and I was always ignored or dismissed. This anecdote occured near the end of my time there and so I said nothing as I knew it would have been no use. Earlier in that meeting I objected to another inane initiative but was again ignored.

I spoke up plenty when I worked here but left in the end as I was sick of casting pearls in front of swine

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Rod,

Some of the young people just do the best they can with the nonsense they have to listen to and the behaviour of the worst of their peers. I feel sorry for those young people in the smaller projects who are trying to improve their lives but are blighted by idiots. Its not easy for them and some of them cant understand why the nastier element are not evicted a lot sooner.

Phil said...

As keen as I am on Viking funerals for my well-loved furniture, I don't see the need for it when its communal property. Saying that, it is one of the least-self-destructive and most fun decisions you could let people with no actual sense decide, so I'd go with the burn it on a specific day, and make attendance conditional on some kind of success criteria.

No doubt it'd be watered down to "haven't mugged someone this week" but it'd be a fun day for all concerned (except any health-and-safety morons concerned about the second-hand smoke risk for a sofa burning 10m away in open air).

Kimpatsu said...

Winston, great blog, but PLEASE as an Orwell Prizewinner, use the apostrophe correctly!
It’s torn,worn and tattered complexion...
This means "IT IS torn, worn, and tattered..."
We will then document our meetings and take on board the resident's suggestions...
This means there is only one resident. Ditto:
Needless to say this is a complete waste of tax payer’s money.
This means that there is only one taxpayer in the entire UK.
FYI, I'm not a grammar Nazi, I'm an orthography commando!

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Kimpatsu,

Thanks you are right. I sometimes get confused about correct punctuation. I have just reread my grammar book and edited the latest post. I would have learned this stuff at school but I was probably too busy playing truant at the time.

Anonymous said...

Well-managed client involvement can help cut costs (less damage and evictions), lower anti-social behaviour and improve self-responsibility.

That said, particularly in the supported housing sector, it is usually done in a tokenistic, lip-service, form-fillng manner.

But in needs buy in from all involved, and usually a little investment - normally where it all falls down.

Bizarrely, when I used to run meetings for tenants, in 16-21 supported housing, it was always the fruit that got rinsed first, leaving all the junk food laying about attracting ants.

Louise said...

Your clients are exhibiting the kind of retentive behaviour that is common among the elderly. Interesting parallels. As a little experiment I popped round to my 93 year old neighbour and asked if he would object if I tried to take away his disintegrating but, apparently very cosy armchair and he said he 'wouldn't give it up without a fight.' He then went on about fighting me on the beaches so I backed away at that point.

Anonymous said...

I have worked in the sector for around 8 years now in various settings and I must say that some of your opinions are a little bit worrying. You seem to have such a black and white viewpoint on many matters and rarely mention some of the wonderful, creative and empathic work that is being done in the sector. The people you so often deride are the recipients of the other side of a capitalist equation that is exists to systematically oppress those at the bottom of society. I understand and empathise with many of your common sense observations, and yes I do agree that there are some ridiculous situations that occur in the sector. The people you are dealing with need your help and not your scorn, however. It seems you so often purport a myth that demonises young people and unfortunately attracts many readers who view your rantings as empirical evidence of a state that supports these "undeserving scum" instead of helping to change them. Perhaps the Tory government will be looked at more positively as they are certain to bring about a great many more cuts to the sector. Perhaps you also need to change your vocation too?

Louise said...

'Sometimes misery has a strange allure.'

Bruce Hornsby

Mr. Divine said...

Winston, what do you think of American Brat camp style of 'treatment'? it seems to work for some young people. Why not go for something like this?

WinstonSmith33 said...

Brat camps work fine for kids that are just spoiled and the victims of bad and undisciplined parenting.

However, some kids with profound behavioural problems may also need some form of therapy to help them overcome the reasons behind them lashing out in the first place. However, even in these cases the kids should also have real and negative consequences for their problematic behaviour so as to learn boundaries.

The emphasis in the care sector and indeed in many schools is that problematic behaviour is solely as a result of a pathology (ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder neither condition which I agree exists) or the teenager is a victim with no degree of self control. As a result of this approach counsellors and school authorities and care home managers eschew discipline and authority. There needs to be a balance between reaching out and trying to address contributing factors to bad behaviour (sometimes its just that the kid is spoilt and brat camp would work in this instance)and ensuring that children and young people receive discipline and learn boundaries.

Hogday said...

Excellent post Winston. I'd like to construct a useful comment, but I am blocked for want of one vital piece of information that was probably recorded in the minutes of the meetings; did the chair have a pet name and if so, what was it?
Congrats on the award:)

inspectorgadget said...

Take the armchair out and burn it. Send Nigel out to flip burgers instead of being a drain on society and tell Lorraine get a job as a Magistrate here in Ruralshire. Bonkers.

rielouise said...

Wouldn't national service be a better idea (as well as more practical and useful to humanity than burger flippers)?

rielouise said...

However, even in these cases the kids should also have real and negative consequences for their problematic behaviour so as to learn boundaries.

Behaviour modification which is still practised in some private psych hospitals and is actually quite useful.

The emphasis in the care sector and indeed in many schools is that problematic behaviour is solely as a result of a pathology (ADHD or Oppositional Defiant Disorder neither condition which I agree exists)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder does exist. Another name for it is 'bad behaviour'. ADHD's origins lie in US psychiatry, allegedly on the whim of the pharmaceutical industry. It is called the only illness that was invented for a drug. How many of your young people have been prescribed ritalin and does it ever help?

Mr. Divine said...

Winston you wrote : 'Brat camps work fine for kids that are just spoiled and the victims of bad and undisciplined parenting. '

Surely many of your clients are also spoilt and have undisciplined lives. I realise that its a bit different but the basic idea is the same. You take them from an environment in which they feel comfortable and settled in and you put them off balance and you set them on a different path. And America is a good place for this because Americans act differently to their usual aggression and this is will put them off.

I can imagine that the powers that be at the moment would not approve. But you now have a certain power, as a prizewinner, to make changes/suggestions to the new Conservative government. Don't you think a small brat style program is worth a go? What other solutions do you have?

About Jess said...

I'm helping a bunch of young girls with a film project in Hackney and Winston's ideas about client involvement are, in my experience, misled. Granted, giving people a token say over something that's going to happen to them anyway is a total waste of time and money. But giving these girls real power to create a film they've come up with means we've got an incredible script and a huge amount of motivation from the crew.

Anonymous said...

Craig's idea may have been stupid, but it's quite touching that he had enough sense of ceremony to want to send a beloved piece of furniture out Viking style.

If you have to pander to the whims of sociopathic neds, that seems like quite a healthy one.

Anonymous said...

Winston, get another job, this one will not only kill your soul, you're also not helping anyone either -- you're not better (in fact worse) than one of the lefty airhead social workers.

If you really want to understand what you're experiencing and why things are the way they are, seek out adult survivors(40+) of kids' homes and ask them to explain the facts of life to you. Although all that'll do is make you realise that your mission is a lot more futile than you think it is.(hint: your ideas(as sane as they are) would never work, you so miss the point of who those kids are your working with...)

This blog here will not help you either (in fact, if your charges ever find out you're posting about their misery... woe betide you) or the messed up kids you're helping to warehouse, it just is misery porn that adds to the problems.

Lindyloo said...

I so identify with your blog. I worked in social housing for years and would rather scrub bogs than go back, I got so totally frustrated with patronising attitudes of shallow interpretations of complex ideas. Any attempt to have an conversation disagreeing with any of the dominant ideology had you singled out as a trouble maker, despite being constantly told to 'think out of the box'. Boy do they hate it. i once told a drug addict client of mine who was very ill that I was going to pick her up and take her to hospital, no objections, just get ready, and my boss told me that I should have given her a choice. Choice of what, to die? What a load of crap. See , I;m getting angry and some of the idiocy that used to go on. Grrrr. Carry on dear. Oh, and I got out, and now do something completely different, with sensible people who find it impossible to beileve that such idiocy existed . I have never regretted the move.