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Word on the Street: 'Grim experience' of day centre closures

PUBLISHED: 12:30 13 December 2018

Luke Patrick Dixon Photography

My friend Esther looked after her daughter Kemi who has autism and severe learning disabilities, at home in Tottenham for the first 47 years of her life.

Last year, Esther reluctantly accepted that Kemi should move into a supported living scheme recommended by Haringey Council. Despite all efforts to maintain this placement, it turned into a nightmare for the family and Kemi has now returned home.

There were five changes of manager within 12 months and a rapid turnover of unskilled staff. Because she had moved from the family home into a supported living scheme, Kemi lost her full-time place at Haringey’s only surviving day centre where she was kept safe and well. Supported living staff were obliged to support Kemi during the day, though they lacked appropriate skills and training and Kemi’s needs were complex and her behaviour sometimes challenging.

On October 2, Kemi was the victim of physical abuse and suffered a head injury at her placement. The police are treating this as a case of common assault. Inquiries are ongoing.

The grim experience of Kemi and her family confirms the dangers – and the distress – arising from Haringey Council’s short-sighted policy of closing day centres for people with learning disabilities, autism and complex needs.

A survey conducted by Save Autism Services Haringey (SASH) was submitted last month to the council’s newly-established Fairness Commission, as reported in the Ham&High. This report shows that cutbacks in spending on adult social care have had a damaging impact on vulnerable individuals and their families and carers.

Some 40 per cent of adults who formerly attended council-run day centres have experienced reductions in the time they spend in day activities. In the words of Martin Hewitt who conducted much of the research for the SASH report, Haringey’s policy of excluding supported living clients from in-borough day centres is “arbitrary, unfair and unlawful”.

For families such as that of Esther and Kemi, the closure of local day centres means more stress and increased risks of physical and mental illness. The loss of contact with trained staff also means that ill-health – and cases of neglect and abuse – are less likely to be detected.

We need an autism support centre in Haringey that can provide a base for day opportunities – especially for those who present challenging behaviour and for whom the community is a threat. It could also offer a place where people could meet friends for mutual support and a safe space that people can call their own. It could provide an information hub for parents and family carers, helping autistic people to engage with local services for health, training, employment, housing and leisure.

But maybe there is some good news! The council has finally fulfilled its election pledge and set up an adult social care re-design group. Cllr Ahmet, lead member for adult social care, has proposed that the Roundway, formerly Haringey’s dedicated autism service, closed in 2016, should be reopened.

We hope that the council will seize this opportunity to begin the process of reversing the decline in standards of care for the borough’s most vulnerable residents.

* Names have been changed.

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