Wednesday 20 March 2013

Hate crime, whistleblowers and jargon

Talking recently to a local man with a daughter who is also severely autistic, it was shocking to hear how his family had been treated by the neighbourhood bullies. Nasty whispers at school gates and name calling at work. One of the women involved had made allegations of serious abuse against another family with a disabled child, and that had sparked a protracted investigation by police and social services before she eventually admitted that her allegations were lies.

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.
The CSSIW's excuse for the blizzard of jargon and sometimes extremely opaque language in the report (it is not at all clear, for example, what the evidence was for the report's conclusions) is probably that it was written for professionals rather than the public, but of course it need not be like that.

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.


Delyth Jenkins said...

I would like to make the following points:-

1. I wrote to the Director of Social Care as late as March 2012 highlighting some of the issues I remained concerned about, that the Council had, as I saw it, failed to address. The issues of Officer M admitting to me that he and the Director had looked at each other, nodded and agreed with me when I referred to Officer G becoming very devious and using other people to bully for him whilst offering them protection. I also referred to how the assault on me had never been investigated and the same carer went on to assault 'Sallie' 13 months later. I also raised the fact that Officer M had been promoted despite, as investigating officer, admitting to me in writing that it was his decision not to include all the allegations of abuse of a vulnerable person, by a Manager in her disciplinary. The only response I got from the Director was that I had compromised my positon by agreeing a settlement. As i see it, this is not about my position, but about the care of vulnerable adults, many of them who cannot communicate verbally, and who cannot say when they are abused and mistreated. As Senior Officers, they have a duty of care to these vulnerable adults and also to staff, and I find it totally unacceptable that Senior Officers should protect someone who they know is bullying staff, and who they know is protecting others whilst they do the same thing.

2. The CSSIW were aware of my concerns back in Oct 2010, when the Ombudsman forwarded a letter I sent him, to the CSSIW. In this letter I highlighted the bullying issues by Officer G and the issue of the assault on me that was never investigated. Yet none of this featured in their subsequent report.

I would also like to say that when I met with the CE in Oct 2009, accompanied by my former Labour M.P., I told the CE how I was asked by a Resource Manager if I was taking 'evening primrose oil' when I complained about an incompetent Manager. When I burst into tears she appologised and begged me not to tell anyone. The same Resource Manager stood at my office door and told me that she had been sent by Officer G to 'Sort me out'. I could go on and on. I expect accountability so that these vulnerable people are never again subjected to such treatment. Following Officer G's suspension, I was interviewed by the Assistant Chief Executive and included in their minutes of that meeting is the statment about Officer G's bullying and the admission by Officer M that they knew. The assistant CE told me that the decision would be made by the CE if discipliary proceedings would take place agianst Officer G.
I read in the Western Mail about March 2010 that Officer G had been cleared and was returing to work.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely shocking Delyth, we all know that it happens. Unfortunately not many of them have the strength and determination to do what is right for "service users" and other staff. It seems that training in given falls far short of the mark and people are encouraged throughout society to close ranks. We need more people like you employed to ensure safety of vulnerable people. Proud of what you have done, lets have more of you employed in social care. Make managers listen to service users and support their health and well being. Service users as staff???
How would life be with the shoe on the other foot, would non disabled accept a disabled manager???

Disciplinary obviously defined as do what you want, treat staff and service users as you like .... Is this democracy and protection of the vulnerable???

Anonymous said...

Interesting and overdue!

Delyth Jenkins said...

When I met with the CE in Oct 2009,
I didn't expect to be wrapped in cotton wool, but i did expect to be treated with a bit of compassion, considering what I had exposed and fought for, but I didn't expect to be bullied, humiliated and belittled all in one, and worst of all I felt threatened. I was thankful that I was accompanied by Nick Ainger M.P. at the time, because if I was treated like that infront of him, I dread to think what could have happened if I had gone with no one as witness.
I was feeling particularly fragile at the time because I had just endured the worst 2 years of my life at the hands of a Manager, Officer R in the Ombudsman's report, and her Line Manager, Officer P. They came to the Centre following the disciplinary of Officer B which was flawed, with what seems to have been one thing on their minds, to get me out. They both made my life hell, and throughout this time I kept telling myself that I had to hang on in there until this Ombudsman's report was published. How I stayed there that long I will never know and I have been told that by many several times since. I should have made a formal complaint immediately about the way I was treated by the CE on that day, but I thought it would be pointless. I thought he would at least bring the Managers and Senior Managers beneath him to account for their part in what must be in my view, one of the worst Ombudsman's report ever published. I feel completely let down by the Councillors I approached, both in person and in writing.

Anonymous said...

It would suit CC very well Jaqui if you quietly bowed out now.That would be disastrous for members of the public who have followed your exposure of what is fundamentally wrong eg the lack of democracy in the county.If you are able please continue.I know it is very easy for anyone else to suggest what you should do but in spite of the judgement you still have the support of people who understand the situation.You have played such an important part in the cause of democracy it is unthinkable that this would end.

Anonymous said...

20 March 15.16

Surely heads must now roll?

Anonymous said...

Why would Senior Managers protect someone if they knew he was bullying staff?

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 13:05 - There are many reasons why organisations protect their Senior Managers e.g. A toxic work place where bullying starts at the top and works down.

Anonymous said...

Surely this defeats the object of POVA. It also encourages abuse and discrimination! People such as Delyth are ostracised for doing right by law and vulnerable people. Surely these managers have studied, read the books, done their essays..... Maybe they should have had some respect for everyone and resigned! Unfortunately RESPONSIBILITY is not a word many like to recognise or acknowledge. One thought for concern is.... Are these managers/ still abusing vulnerable people and training staff to THEIR standards!!!!

Anonymous said...

Who knows? Surely the Senior Officers who have protected this man, knowing he was bullying staff and using others to do the same thing is as guilty as he is?

Anonymous said...

Rumours circulating that Officer G is retiring.

Delyth Jenkins said...

I have heard some terrible accounts of alleged mistreatment of staff over the past week, and it just confirms what I have said all along, that Officers should be held to account and not handed big fat pensions as some kind of reward. Any future Ombudsman's reports, if upheld, needs to name and shame these officers who have failed. There has to be a deterent, and zero tolerance is the only way to deal with it. Otherwise lessons will not be learnt, and this will happen time and time again. The admission by Officer M, as far back as 2006, that he and the Director were aware of Officer G's use of others to bully for him, is very worrying, as it seems he has been allowed to retire, if the information above is correct, having not been held to account.

Anonymous said...

Repulsive to say the least!! Bring back spot checks unannounced on these centres and their staff!! Any social care staff known to bully, discriminate abuse etc should be disciplined and contract if employment terminated. Pension would then be suspended/ nul and void!! Why do the directors and chiefs allow this to happen??? They have not even answered to the public really!! Delyth you need to form a group and create your own social care environment searching for the genuine staff that are out there!!! I am sure there are many who would join you in such a venture!!!

Surely these staff that bullied for him should have been held accountable too. Council policy must be in place to explain that bullying will not be tolerated. They have it in our schools maybe they need to apply it to their playground and police it!!

Delyth Jenkins said...

I agree. The staff who bullied for him should be held to account, but so should the Senior Managers who admitted they knew he was doing it, but failed to do anything about it, should also be held to account.

Anonymous said...

Senior management are obviously not being advised by HR as the the fact that abuse is abuse and gross misconduct whether that be bullying or discrimination! They should also show respect for vulnerable people and resign. Keep their pension and their conscience ..... They obviously don't have one. Why can't these officers be named by the ombudsman? Freedom of information that we are not permitted!!! Delyth you stand for so much and have the respect of many. Never feel alone in your stance!

Delyth Jenkins said...

Anon 00.03

Thank you so much for your support,
I am so grateful to everyone who has contacted me with their good wishes, it means a lot. There needs to be changes in the way Ombudsman's reports are presented in future, and if complaints are upheld, the Officers who have failed shouldn't be afforded the right to anonimity. The other thing that needs to be looked at is the wasy incompetent Managers, and ones who have failed, are 'recycled' and appear elsewhere, notmally within the same department. This is unacceptable as the problem is only then moved around.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Delighted to have been appointed Compassion in care whistleblowing co-ordinator for Wales some weeks ago.