Andrew Lawes is attempting to force change in the Care industry by speaking out about the culture of abuse and silence, and he wants to break stigma surrounding learning disabilities. He needs your help.
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.
Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
During my eight years in the care industry, what started as a dream of changing lives became a nightmare that culminated in breakdown and exile. Over a period of six years, the company who employed me acted in a manner which disgusted me to the point where the only option available was to report them to the governing body that polices the manner in which Care Providers operate. This is an extract from my report, edited for legal reasons:
I have known the people (I support) for over 6 years, and they matter a great deal to me. I want them to have a good quality of life. They do not, and nobody seems prepared to help me to give them one.
Everyone says they want to give them a good life. Everyone talks about person-centred approaches. They talk about how they are working towards supporting (the individuals) to living a better life. Yet there are numerous problems (in the home), all of which get used as an excuse to fail to deliver a good quality of life. Indeed, I believe (the company) are hindering (the individuals) in many ways – ways that have been brought to the attention of management time and time again, in various ways. Yet nothing is being done about these problems. I’ve had enough.
I have tried and tried, for years, to help improve the lives of these individuals. I do not think (the company) is doing enough, I don’t think they are addressing the problems effectively, and I don’t think they are bothered enough to do so. I think the practices at (the home) are a disgrace, and I can’t work for a company that is aware of these practices and seems unable or unprepared to address them, my values and morals are too different.
What followed was my description of 34 instances of abuse, malpractice and breaches of confidentiality that the company had failed to investigate or address to my satisfaction, along with details of several members of staff also prepared to voice their concerns. The way my area manager treated me in response led to my immediate resignation from the company. There is no way of knowing for sure what causes someone to break down mentally, but the timing of this situation suggests it played a large part in mine.
My first breakdown occurred in 2010, eight months into my return to the company. The doctor who assessed me advised me to look for another job immediately; unless my circumstances changed, another breakdown was probable in the future. Despite this advice, several offers of employment from rival companies were rejected out of hand. There was this day centre which my job involved liaising with. Every time, without fail, the people there made me feel welcome. What struck me the most was the attitudes of the workers; rather than the staff-led approaches encouraged by my employers, the client was in charge. They were celebrated for the unique, incredible individuals they are, and they were encouraged to develop their skills as much as possible. It was everything care work is supposed to be.
My employment there lasted five months. Twenty weeks of going to bed early so work came around quicker. 140 days of being around people who smiled when they saw me, who were interested in my conversations. 3360 hours of living the life you always dream of: one of contentment, one of inner peace, surrounded by people who cared not about my past, but how we could work together to make the day better. 201,600 minutes of feeling … happy.
Twelve million and ninety-six thousand seconds of selfishness before it all became too much.
On Friday, August 22nd, despite my work being described as “excellent”, my employment was terminated. The reason was my discussing my feelings on the company approach to a relatively minor situation on my website. No warning, no second chance, no “first-offence” let-off. That’s what happens when the man deciding your future is the man you criticized in public.
Analysis of the motivation behind my decision-making process is just guesswork. Maybe it was a cry for help in the middle of a breakdown. Maybe it was guilt at finding some happiness despite knowing the darkness that exists. Maybe it goes all the way back to my childhood, and some core belief has formed that leaves me unable to process happiness in the same way others seem to. Maybe it was my last, desperate attempt to force change while remaining in the industry. Maybe it was nothing more than the latest attention-seeking stunt from someone addicted to playing the victim. The reasoning doesn’t matter; the only thing important is the reaction. My first attempt to improve standards in the industry failed, and several friendships were damaged as a consequence. The blame for that is all mine – allowing anger to control my emotions was a poor choice. My family are begging me to give up, to move on, to rebuild my life and avoid any further collateral damage, but that’s not going to happen. This is more important than any short-term problems for me, and I’m prepared to take the consequences of my choices.
My attempts to change the industry resume now. One aspect is writing about high-profile abuse cases and share my thoughts on what can be learned from the situation, but my job is to support people. If you are a carer or support worker who is struggling in the role, please contact me. Maybe you need advice on supporting someone through a challenging situation. Maybe you have an idea that could improve the level of support and you want a second opinion. Maybe you are aware of abuse but are afraid of the process of reporting it. Whatever support you need within the care worker role, my job is to provide it to the best of my ability.
My other aim is to highlight the truly incredible, inspirational skills, gifts and talents that people in care have. I want to remove the fear that people display towards these amazing individuals and show the world how magical they really are. I want to help people see beyond the learning disability, so that they see people as people, not tasks to be completed. If you want to share an inspirational story about someone you have cared for, please get in touch.
The people I support showed me what really matters in life. The lessons they imparted upon me helped me understand my mental illness. They deserve so much better than what they have now. Please send me your questions and stories and help me to make a difference in their world. Thank you.
Photo: Flickr/ Dnagengl