Back in February, I featured the story of Joshua Offer-Simon, who was at the time being held in a hospital unit in Birmingham. He had been under section for two years as a result of challenging behaviour stemming from a mixture of ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and a mild learning disability, during a time when his father was in hospital following a life-changing injury. He was first held in Manchester, where he ended up not leaving his room for several months, and was then transferred to the same unit in Birmingham where Josh Wills had spent three years. He did make progress in Birmingham, but there were safeguarding issues and the management attempted to transfer him to a secure unit in Norfolk, which refused to accept him. Three weeks ago, after attempts to find a residential placement for him failed, he was released from his section and returned to his family; today is his 14th birthday, his first in three years that he has spent at home, with his family, instead of in an institution.
Also in the last month or so, one of the young people featured in last April’s Seven Days of Action, Jack (day 2), has been released home, this time more by accident than by design. Jack was in the same hospital as Josh and had been spending three nights a week at home with his mother, ostensibly in preparation for release. He was released in early June, to a placement fairly near his mother’s home; however, the placement and the company which ran it turned out to be entirely unsuitable. Quite apart from the fact that he wanted to be at home and felt as if he was in another hospital, and it was run like one, down to things like electricity being turned off overnight (and his three nights at home a week had ended), staff also allowed him to spend much of his money on drink and on electronic gadgets, such as phones, that he did not need; his mother often found him drunk when she visited, and often could not take him out. The placement broke down in late July when the service provider pulled out. Initially he was found temporary accommodation but when social services failed to find him another placement, they asked his mother if she would have him at home. Of course, the answer was yes.
I am not going to pretend that Josh’s and Jack’s lives at home have been plain sailing since they came home. Jack, in particular, has health problems stemming from poor care and overuse of drugs when he was in the unit, and had to do community service because the police were called about an altercation with another resident while at the placement. Josh’s father wrote the week after he was released that Josh kept asking why he had no friends and saying he just wanted to be normal. Both families will need support; it is often lack of support in the community that leads to people ending up back in hospital, including difficulty finding schools or refusal to accept them, in the case of adolescents (I know of two teenage girls who ended up being sectioned in the last year or so as a result), and lack of activities outside the home in the case of adults.
It’s particularly disturbing to me that someone can be sectioned because a school finds them difficult to handle, or because they cannot be found a school. Many children with autism find school to be stressful places, especially with the noise and unpredictability of large numbers of children and the low level of adult attention. How someone behaves in that environment, much as with how they behave in the unfamiliar environment of a hospital, is no reflection on how they will behave at home. What happened to Josh could have happened to any child with behavioural difficulties of any sort. It is why the mental health laws need to be changed so that the manageable behaviour of someone with a learning disability do not lead to them being institutionalised for years.
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