Monday, 3 March 2008

Mum of the Year…

But the system's dysfunctional

Release by Press Association
0600 hrs
Monday 3 March
Downing Street hosts 'mums of year'

'Mums of the year' are visiting a special Downing Street reception hosted by the Prime Minister's wife.

Sarah Brown was one of the judges for Tesco Magazine's Mum of the Year. Fresh from a glitzy awards ceremony at London's Waldorf Hilton Hotel, the winning mums will visit Downing Street....

Mrs Brown, dressed in a black jacket and skirt, presented an award to a winning mum Jo Baker-Watson from Leominster, Herefordshire.

Her daughter Megan was born with cerebral palsy. The 49-year-old, who has two other children, travelled regularly to the Peto Institute in Hungary, which is renowned for its work with children like Megan using a method called conductive education.

She used her experience to found Britain's first free clinic offering the treatment and named it Megan Baker House. Megan died in 2001.

Well done Jo, never mind 'the first free clinic', the award is every bit deserved.

A dysfunctional state system

The Mums of the Year award is a private initiative, sponsored by Tesco’s but the Prime Minister is pleased to host a good news story that vividly displays those good old British values that he so likes to invoke, family, hard work and community. He must do, he’s lent his home and his wife to the event.

This is against a policy background, particularly with respect to children’s services, that Gordon Brown’s government pins great hope on, as did his predecessor’s, the ideal of ‘joined-up government’ provided through ‘joined-up services’.

I wonder whether there is a flunkey to whisper in Mrs Brown’s ear that Jo Baker had do what she does because the Government’s determined policy not to provide properly resourced state services for children with motor disorders like the cerebral palsies.

Overriding everything, however, is the government's grim determination to refuse recognition of motor disorder as a developmental disorder in its own right (like for example the wholly accepted developmental disorders stemming from auditory or visual impairments).

And on top of this (if more be needed!) we have

· an absurdly bureaucratised system of predictive assessment (‘statementing’),

· rigid, inflexible services, either ‘mainstream’ or ‘special’,

· school staff , teachers and others, with no appropriate special training,

· parental choice honoured mainly in its breach,

· no systems in place, official or academic, to do anything about any of this.

It is nice to live in a still sufficiently pluralistic society to have a Prime Minister with ultimate responsibility for this dysfunctional system throwing open his residence to an independent commercial body honouring someone whose efforts are only really necessary because the state system is so hopeless that it is left to ordinary people to try and put things right.

In similar vein it is also nice that the Government places a tiny corner of its vast IT capacity at the disposal of citizens to petition the Prime Minister on matters where the normal democratic processes seem to fail them, through signing an on-line petition. Perhaps if the Prime Minister's office were really joined up the same flunkey would mention the petition from Barnsley.

The Barnsley petition

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to review the Special Needs Provision and the post code lottery that currently exists between different Local Education Authorities. All Local Education Authorities should be made to ensure the parent's wishes and child's needs come before any financial considerations.

Parents of children with Special Needs have to fight to get an education that their children deserve. My daughter and another child in our LEA suffer from Cerebral Palsy and have to fight our LEA to get an education that will benefit them. Our LEA closed all schools but one and considers this school adequate despite clear documentary evidence that this is not the case. Parents are forced into a tribunal system that claims to be independent and must fund the fight themselves. We are forced to fund raise to place our children in a school outside the LEA area that has a proven track record in improving the lives of children with Cerebral Palsy allowing them to fulfil their potential in life. Currently only one of the children attends this school and her place is funded by constant fundraising by friends and family, she is the only child at the school who is not funded by their LEA. The other child's parents are now being forced into independent tribunals knowing that they have little chance of winning and face 14 years of trying to fundraise in excess of £290,000 to give their child the education she needs and deserves. This post code lottery is unfair and cannot be allowed to continue

To be fair, probably neither Mr Brown nor the tiers of ministers, civil servants and advisors beneath him have the slightest knowledge of the often bitter frustrations and disappointments experienced by those parents who find the difficulties of bringing up their disabled children compounded rather than facilitated by the very agencies supposed to help. So maybe they don’t see the incongruity.

Maybe they do, but feel that the media and the electorate will not put two and two together.

They are probably right.

Heartiest congratulations to Jo and Megan Baker House

Please don’t read my commentary on the politics of this award as in any way reflecting upon Jo Baker's achievement in building up the services of Megan Baker House. She deserves any award that our society can offer her, whether from Tesco’s or from HMQ. Today she brings Conductive Education, and what people have to do to get it, to the Prime Minister’s very doorstep (indeed, into his front room). And that gives something to everyone in the conductive movement in the United Kingdom.

But in the long run we either have a welfare state or we don’t. Where government finds instances of the voluntary (charitable) sector’s being so patently welcomed by parents and by their children’s schools for what it can do to shore up the deficiencies and sometimes iatragenic effects of the state’s own services, then what should it do?

It could start by finding out what it is that Megan Baker House and similar establishments have that seems to meet the needs of parents and their disabled children – and its own state schools, mainstream and special – better than does its own provision. In short could look sensibly at Conductive Education.

Notes and references

conductiva (Latin): ‘brought together’, ‘joined up’

'Mums of Year' Press Release

Megan Baker House

Sign the e-petition

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, I have taken a moment to send a link to this posting to our (Labour) MP Angela Smith, who is a supporter of Paces Campus, and helped us in the past, as I hope she will continue to do in future.

    Other readers might like to think to do the same.