How much is a life free from fear?

Young people with disabilities come from all social and economic backgrounds and ethnicities. As individuals they vary as much as anyone else. Only more so.

Last month I visited a young woman with moderate to severe learning difficulties on a small estate in SE London. It took considerable persuasion to agree an appointment. When I arrived her mother challenged me from the upstairs window where she was speaking on her mobile. She explained she had double booked me…

The home was a little bit knocked about and sparsely furnished, even with the leather sofas and the 27 inch TV, even with the laptop on the knees of the 11 year old brother sitting two feet from said TV (which remained on throughout my visit). The 11 year old didn’t want to leave the room so we could discuss his brother but eventually took the laptop upstairs. His sister of about 10 was told to go and hoover her bedroom before the new double bed that she had insisted on (sitting in two halves in the hall alongside the mattress) could go up and be put together later. “I don’t do hoovers” she told her mother and stomped off. Nice beech wood floors though.

Mother was…volatile and not a great listener. It took some patient time to explain who I was, how I was there for her daughter until she was 25 and how I am independent and impartial, even though I am employed by the council. Her 16 year old daughter, the one I hadn’t yet met, the one whose future I had come to discuss, hid in the other room for most of our discussion. She’d thought I was a social worker. She has no ideas about what she wants to do for a job in the future or much idea what work is at all yet. This is not a bad thing. She has time if we play our cards right.

I will not go into the details of our discussion but if we are careful she will spend another two or three years at a special school and then transfer to a local FE college or – a life changing opportunity for her – a specialist residential college for a further three years. That’s six years during which her “horrible” siblings can grow through their behaviour difficulties and social services can encourage her mother to live an orderly life and do some more appropriate parenting. At the moment the home she provides has all the potential to terrorise her daughter. The next day I learnt that there is a court case regarding the children’s care pending. Hence her hiding.

Six years of post-16 education might seem very expensive. She might never get a job. But she might get a life without fear. How much is that worth?

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