We all know it goes on, just as we know that the old and frail, the weak and the vulnerable are sometimes abused or neglected in hospitals, homes and day centres. We've all heard about Winterbourne View and Mid Staffs NHS Trust, and there are others. That's the real world, sadly.
In the parallel universe occupied by Carmarthenshire County Council, things are very different. Recently councillors were presented with the annual report of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales. The report begins by praising the council for "its strong corporate vision and innovation", "good engagement with partners and users" and several more lorryloads of overarching commissioning frameworks, fully integrated services, partnerships, embedding, integration and positive outcomes.
The CSSIW report eventually gets round to admitting that it came to all these conclusions without carrying out a single service inspection during the year. But everything must be fine because that's what the Inspectorate was told by the people running the show.
Of course, there is no doubt much that is good in the county's services for the elderly and vulnerable, but buried away deep in the social services management jargon are a few less positive findings. The list below is by no means exhaustive:
- In plain language, there is little support available for people caring for relatives at home. This increases the risk that carers will find themselves unable to cope, and the council will have to take find room for more people in its homes.
- The rate of annual care reviews for older people "remains lower than most other councils".
- In the case of children, the CSSIW notes that a high number of referrals (to social services) do not even receive an initial assessment.
- There is also a hint of criticism that members of the public reporting suspected abuse of vulnerable adults have to contend with a confused and complex referral process.
- More timely annual reviews of foster carers
- Improvement is needed in producing education plans for children in care.
Ideally Carmarthenshire would follow the example set by some other councils and present reports such as this in a public forum where relatives and other interested parties are allowed to ask questions. It would be no bad thing to see agencies such as the CSSIW and Estyn put under real pressure to justify themselves, but then a short and carefully managed presentation makes life a lot easier for the inspectors and those being inspected.
But back to the real world.
This blog has been following the Delyth Jenkins story for some time, and the whole subject of whistleblowers and the lack of protection afforded to them is becoming an increasingly hot topic.
To anyone reading up on Delyth's case, it is very hard not to conclude that the bulk of the council's efforts went into trying to ensure that the whole affair was swept under the carpet as quickly as possible in order to limit negative publicity. As is so often the case with public bodies, Delyth's claims were settled out of court not to save money, but to put a lid on the tawdry facts.
The upshot of that is that the full facts have never been made public, and bearing in mind that there were no prosecutions, although abuse definitely took place, and that just about all of those involved are still working for the council, the cover-up is something which should be a cause for serious concern.
One of the things to emerge from the ombudsman's report on the Delyth case is that managers in the council's social services department, including senior managers, were aware of allegations of bullying and abuse before Delyth blew the whistle. They knew, for example, that the individual named in the report as Officer G had been using others to bully for him, while offering them protection.
The response when Delyth went to see the senior managers was that her complaint was "very untimely".
Officer G still works for the council, although it is understood that he has been on sick leave for some time now.
In the case of Officer B, who was directly involved in the physical abuse, Delyth asked at a meeting with the council's chief executive why the senior investigating manager (Officer M in the report) had not included all of the allegations against Officer B when he presided over her disciplinary. Delyth went on to ask whether the chief executive thought that Officer M's appointment to this senior role had been appropriate, especially since he had been strongly criticised by the Ombudsman in two previous draft reports produced before his promotion.
The chief executive replied that he had not appointed Officer M, the councillors had. What is true is that the councillors rubber-stamped a recommendation to appoint Officer M presented by, err, the chief executive, who for good measure had also been involved in the interview process.
Somehow it seems unlikely that councillors would have been made aware of the two draft reports criticising M when they were asked to approve his appointment. They were only draft reports, after all.
In the process of trying to make the council's leaders aware of what had been going on in the day centre for which they were responsible, Delyth wrote to the then leader of the council, Meryl Gravell. Mrs Gravell declined to meet her.
As far as the council was concerned, the whole sordid story came to an end when Cllr Meryl Gravell was reported as saying the following at a meeting of the council's Executive Board in November 2009:
This particular lady [Sally, the young woman at the centre of the case] still enjoys herself at the centre, and I hope that this is the end of the matter. It is sad it happened, but we can now move on.
Just over three years on, and those words still sound hollow and shocking.
What really is sad is that by treating the whole thing as an exercise in PR management, the council failed to bring about lasting changes in the culture of parts of its social care services, and that new reports are circulating of abuse and punishment of whistleblowers.
One such involves Mr John Davies, who tells his story here. Mr Davies took his concerns about abuse of vulnerable adults in the council's care to management in 2010. The investigation, which was carried out behind closed doors, took a year, and concluded that no action was to be taken. A couple of months later, Mr Davies found himself being called in at no notice to be told that complaints had been made against him, and he was suspended pending an investigation.
It turned out that the complaint was that Mr Davies had allegedly sworn. The investigation went on for almost another year, with Mr Davies left unaware of the substance of the allegations and who had made them until four days before his hearing. He was dismissed.
He lodged an internal appeal, but two appeals were cancelled, a third was aborted having only just got underway, and the fourth, which took place 18 months after the suspension, upheld his dismissal. Mr Davies noted to his dismay that the chair of the appeal panel yawned throughout the proceedings.
Mr Davies then found that he was out of time to take his case to an Employment Tribunal.
That is a summary of Mr Davies's account of events, and there are doubtless different versions.
What remains shocking is the extreme delays in resolving these cases, and the fact that whistleblowing, whether by Delyth Jenkins, John Davies or others (and there are other cases), seems inevitably to be followed by accusations made against the whistleblower. Delyth was accused of breach of confidentiality and "conspiracy", while John Davies was accused of swearing.
For some reason the persistent rumblings of abuse and victimisation of whistleblowers never seem to find their way on to the CSSIW's radar.