It’s harder than most people would imagine to sack staff who have abused residents. Hard to uncover the abuse and harder to put together a strong enough case to get a dismissal.
The worst kind of bad practice is rarely picked up by inspections, sometimes there are rumours, sometimes managers have concerns but without specifics nothing happens until you get a whistle blower. It’s hard to speak out In a residential home for people with learning disabilities or frail and confused older people because most staff live and work locally there is every chance your children attend the same school, you shop at the same corner shops and drink in the same pub as those you have accused. And their friends! There are poison pen letters, late night threatening phone calls and excrement through the letter box its distressing and frightening.
It no surprise then that your typical whistle blower is new to the workplace. In residential work it is often a temporary member of staff someone brought in to cover in the short term for sickness or holidays, someone who has worked elsewhere and knows this type of think should not happen, someone who has no intension of staying, someone who knows a manager from outside of the home who won’t ignore their concerns.
Blowing the whistle is only the start. There is the struggle to be believed, then the fear of retribution. An anonymous allegation may trigger an investigation but if no one is prepared to make a statement and appear as a witness it is difficult to mount a successful disciplinary case.
Investigations and disciplinary action in these cases are notoriously drawn out. Staff are suspended often for months whilst an investigation is carried out and if there is evidence of abuse a disciplinary hearing held. And at the end of it there is no guarantee those accused will be found guilty and dismissed so they could be back at work alongside their accuser.
The whistle blows faith in management is rewarded by the abuser’ dismissal. But it’s not over the abuser can appeal and has nothing to lose by doing so. Appeals against dismissal in some authorities are heard by members who in my experience are more likely to give the abuser a second chance. May be they buy the line that the abuser lacked appropriate training, was not adequately supervised or acted out of character simply snapped due to the pressure of long hours and constantly working understaffed. Maybe they want to believe the abuser is genuinely sorry. Officers are less likely to accept this mitigation.
Whether the appeal is heard by members or a panel of senior managers they are unlikely to have experience of working in a residential care home for older people or a group home for people with a learning disability and therefore may not appreciate the sheer wickedness that can be inflicted on vulnerable, powerless residents with out ever resorting to physical violence or verbal abuse.
Presenting the case to the appeal panel involves being graphic with the details. The simple act of making a cup of tea for a disabled resident becomes an opportunity for torture when the drink is deliberately placed just out of reach, the member of staff returning half an hour later saying,” oh you haven’t touched your drink, didn’t you want it” and rushing off without waiting for an answer.
Helping some one with dementia get dressed and deliberately dressing them in someone else’s ill fitting clothes, rather than making a trip to the laundry room. Throughout ignoring the individuals protestations telling them they are confused.
Making someone wait for their pain killers to teach them not to be so impatient and demanding. Intentionally delaying taking a wheelchair user to the toilet so they wet themselves and then drawing attention to it saying in a loud voice ,” you should have said if you were desperate”. It’s the same with helping someone use the commode at night or leaving them in a soiled bed, not thoughtless acts or even lazy indifference, bad though that would be, but calculated acts of cruelty to intimidate the individual and other residents. Such individuals couldn’t getaway with this behaviour acting alone they are the leader of a small gang who rule the staff room terrorising residents and intimidating other staff. They don’t deserve a second chance.
Blair McPherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk