People with learning disabilities – care, crime and a community education campaign

Six care workers were jailed last week and five more were given suspended sentences because they neglected and abused vulnerable patients in their ‘care’. A BBC Panorama investigation had exposed cruelty at the Winterbourne View private hospital near Bristol, which the Castlebeck group ran. A serious case review and a damning 150-page report followed, cataloguing dozens of assaults on patients. Abuse like this is not isolated and too many people with learning disabilities live with fear and humiliation.

Recent events show that we need advocates for the most defenceless people in our society. We should also support people in speaking out for themselves when it’s possible so that they’re able to share their experiences and have some influence over their own lives. Stephen Green’s election as England’s first parish councillor with Downs Syndrome is a significant step. Stephen from Nutthall, Nottinghamshire, is challenging the stereotypes of local politicians being explored in the Department of Community and Local Government’s ‘YBaCouncillor’ inquiry.

Other people with learning disabilities are speaking out about the discrimination that they face in their everyday life.

Twelve WEA students with learning disabilities have made a powerful and poignant short film about hate and ‘mate’ crime to raise awareness and to change attitudes towards disability hate crime. The TES FE Awards have recognised the Open Door – Tackling Disabilities Hate Crime project, shortlisting it for the ‘Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community’ award.

There’s more information about the project and a link to the film at http://www.wea.org.uk/news/opendoor.aspx. The film’s first hand accounts of hate and ‘mate’ crime are very moving. The Open Door group presented their film at the WEA Yorkshire and Humber Region’s Annual General Meeting last year and as part of Ruth Spellman’s induction to her role as the WEA’s General Secretary, giving updates on what’s happened since they’d made the film.

Winning a TES Award would be a wonderful achievement for the students but changing other people’s attitudes and behaviour is the real prize that they’re after. Wanting to live without pestering and persecution shouldn’t be too much to ask.

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Cooperative problem solving, local democracy and family learning

A better world – equal, democratic and just; through adult education the WEA challenges and inspires individuals, communities and society”.

This is the WEA’s vision. Many people and organisations are working for the same aim and we’re often invited to collaborate with others so that we can make a bigger impact by working together.

I’ve been involved in three separate events in the last couple of weeks with people who recognise that adult education helps to address inequalities for families and communities. These wider aspects of lifelong learning show that education isn’t just for children and young people and isn’t only about preparation for employment – important as that is.

Cooperative Problem Solving

The first event focused on cooperative problem solving. Youth and community organisations, cooperative champions, educators and academic researchers from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Sweden met at the Cambridge University’s Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy. We shared practical examples of effective community-based action to tackle unfairness and we have agreed to work in an alliance, building on shared approaches to cooperative problem solving. People who use Twitter can look out for the #CoopPS hashtag as ideas develop.

YBaCouncillor

I joined WEA volunteer Alan Bruce and manager Jol Miskin at a well-attended meeting organised by Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Department for Communities and Local Government Select Committee. The Select Committee’s meeting was part of a campaign to find out why some people become councillors and what puts others off. A 2010 report on English councillors prompted this campaign as it showed that 96% were white, the average age was 60 and that over two-thirds were male.

The WEA isn’t affliliated to any political party but we have a long tradition – over 100 years – of political education and community engagement, encouraging people to take part in politics, public life and activism, so we have been active in supporting this campaign.

Inquiry into Family Learning

Finally, I attended the first meeting of commissioners for an independent Inquiry into Family Learning, led by the National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education (NIACE) and chaired by Baroness Valerie Howarth, who made sure that the meeting was inclusive and focused.

There’s more information on the Inquiry at:

http://www.niace.org.uk/current-work/family-learning-inquiry

This is NIACE’s introduction to the Inquiry:

“We believe that there is a need for an independent inquiry into this area of work, not only to consider what is meant by ‘family learning’ but to ensure its place at the heart of policy, research and development. NIACE is concerned about the lack of recognition of the value of family learning, its impact on a range of policy areas and of the potential benefits for families and the wider community. We are concerned that the role of parents and carers in supporting their children’s development is not adequately recognised. Supporting children’s development is one of the major motivators that leads to adults improving their own skills.”

The twitter hashtag for the Inquiry will be #familylearninginquiry. Look out for it in coming months.

It’s reassuring to know that there are national networks of people and organisations who are promoting the importance and potential of families who learn together across generations and of education for cooperative living and democracy.

Have you got examples or suggestions of effective cooperative problem solving, engagement in local democracy or family learning – or comments on these approaches?