Kidnapped by the council
Steven Neary is a 20 year old autistic man who lives with his dad Mark in Uxbridge, Middlesex. At Christmas 2009 Mark was struggling with flu, so Steven went to stay for a couple of days in a respite home which he’d visited several times previously.
This time, however, the council decided to assess Steven again. They moved him to a different residential centre, and as it was unfamiliar to Steven he reacted with meltdowns and frustration. His challenging behaviour led to the council issuing a Deprivation of Liberty Order – meaning he had to stay at the centre, and could not go out without two people with him.
All Steven wants to do is “go back to the Uxbridge house”. As for Mark – his heart is breaking.
The council say that Steven’s challenging behaviour would be too much for his dad to cope with, but of course by being moved to an unfamiliar home, away from his dad, Steven finds it hard to cope and reacts in the only ways he knows how. For example, in the 4 months before Steven went to respite care, Mark and his carers had recorded 12 incidents where for example Steven had kicked out, or pulled someone’s finger. Over the following 7 months, the care home recorded 306 incidents. It’s clear that Steven is not coping in enforced residential care. Moreover, until he caught flu last Christmas, Mark’s care of Steven had never been criticised. Steven was happy at home, his behaviour was well managed, and he had 2 to 1 care outside the house, the same as at the care home. So why have the council kept him captive?
It all seems to stem from an event when Steven somehow managed to leave the care home on his own. He went out into the street where he met a vicar, and removed the man’s glasses. Technically, this is seen as an assault. But where was the supervision that should have stopped Steven getting out on his own in the first place?
A lot of Steven’s behaviour seems odd to outsiders, and is not understood by the residential home staff. But his dad, who knows him better than anyone, can make the connection. For example, there were three incidents where Steven threw jars on the floor in the kitchen; cranberry sauce, vinegar, and marmite. Staff were understandably unhappy with this. But for Mark, the penny dropped: Steven is a huge fan of Mr Bean. In one scene, Mr Bean pushes jars through a serving hatch, but because there is nothing on the other side, they smash on the floor. The jars Mr Bean smashes are sauce, vinegar, and marmite! Steven confirmed this behaviour while watching a DVD of that episode with Mark, saying “Marmite! At [his care home] Friday… Dropped Marmite on the floor.” Perhaps in another of Steven’s favourite programmes there is a scene where someone pulls glasses from a vicar?
Compared to staff at the care home, Mark is more able to understand Steven, share interests with him, and anticipate any potential issues. They go to the gym together, and when Steven’s had enough, he says “Enough” and they stop. However, official reports claim Steven is forceful in the residential setting when he wants to stop doing an activity. Surely Steven is better off with his dad and regular carers to support him?
Furthermore, Mark has concerns about how Steven is being looked after. He raises questions through the correct channels and has been careful to co-operate with the council, because he knows that this is critical to having Steven back home again one day. But his concerns are many: Steven’s coat was damaged while he was out of his room, presumably by another resident; and not only did Steven escape on that fateful day when he met a vicar, but just this week he was able to walk out of the unit on his own on a cold night, wearing only pyjamas (no shoes or socks), crossing at least one main road before a member of the public intervened. This is terrifying – he is supposed to be in care for his own protection and that of others. Yet incidents occur which would never happen if he was at home.
Steven appears to be an entertaining young man – you can see some videos of him on Facebook – he loves listening to Abba, watching DVDs, and regular gym and swimming activities with his dad. Mark wrote “I love the way Steven can turn a piece of dialogue into a song he knows. We were watching a DVD today that had a seance scene in it. When one of the characters said: ‘Is anybody there?’ – Steven gave us a quick burst of Living In A Box. Once I took Steven to a Christmas mass delivered by a very passionate priest. I can’t remember the context but at one point, the priest shouted: ‘Christmas – It’s A Sin!’ – well, you can guess where that one is going. I thought I’d have to put my hand over Steven’s mouth!”
It seems to me that Mark understands Steven very well, and can care for him – better than the residential home he’s being kept in. All they both want is for him to go home – is that too much to ask?