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Privatise the problems

The Danes pride themselves on their Welfare System believing it to be one of the best systems in the world. Over the last decades enormous resources have been pumped into the system. Experts provide assessment and diagnoses and make decisions. Procedures of guidance and support have been refined, but has the level of satisfaction among the users also increased?


There will always be

a limitation of freedom

in societies where rights

are defined by experts

(Claus Brenø)


PRIVATISE THE PROBLEMS IN THE NAME OF SOLIDARITY

 

Assessments, diagnoses and decisions are part of the system and an essential part.

They are always seen by the "client" as complicated, unfair and unduly suspicious. The case worker (social worker), the expert, the guidance officer work under the law of scarcity: - As good as possible at the lowest possible cost.

 

The "client" and his/her parents are always unreasonably demanding and are generally never satisfied with the proposed solutions. When clients and their parents meet with others in the same situation they can always agree on one thing: The system does not work. It is too complicated - no one supplies the right information or coordinates efforts to reach a minimum

solution.

 

How did we get to this point where dissatisfaction is more pronounced than ever? Have ressources been reduced? Has research and development in the medical field stagnated? Has there been no increase in the knowledge in the technological and pedagogical field?

 

On the contrary! We have seen the establishment of one expert centre after the other, increased allocations, technological conquests and an ever increasing number of experts. But as principal of 1Egmont Højskolen I experience daily that the system has lost. Our students with severe disabilities and their families feel that too much is left to themselves and that they have no real influence on the decisions made on their behalf.

 

I should like to illustrate the problems we are facing by giving a couple of examples from real life.

 

My father, OLUF LAUTH, was born in 1923. It was a complicated birth. Oluf was the first child of this middle-class family. After a couple of months the doctors came up with the diagnosis that the boy was suffering from cerebral palsy. Family and friends were appalled and the "system" (doctors and the sick-benefit association) advised them to send the boy to an institution.

 

In spite of this my father's parents decided to keep the boy with them and take care of him themselves. In 1930 he started to go to the local community school even though neither the school administration nor the teachers would in any way take responsibility for his schooling. My grandparents had to take the boy to school themselves and show up every time the class had to go to another classroom.

 

But my father did well and left school in 1940 with an excellent school-leaving certificate. At that time he had become politically active and from 1943 he became directly involved in the resistance movement. He had started going to sixth form college but had to give it up because of prolonged stays in hospital in Copenhagen and Århus.

His work for the resistance movement took all his time. He coordinated and chaired meetings and wrote pamphlets and articles for the resistance movement press. After the 5 May 1945 (The Liberation of Denmark) my father's world collapsed. A good friend of his was shot on the 4 May 1945 and his dreams of another and better world were crushed in the political chaos of post-war Europe.

 

The same applied to his self-respect. He was 22, had his school-leaving certificate and his experience from his work in the resistance movement and no one wanted to employ him. Long stays in hospital further increased his sense of hopelessness. During a stay at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital he plucked up his courage to ask a consultant orthopaedist about the possibility of taking a college course or getting some kind of sheltered office work. The consultant promised to look into the matter and quite by accident my father happened to read his case record. It said, "…The patient wants an education or a job. After consultation with colleagues the conclusion must be that the patient must be persuaded to give up such an unrealistic notion. Spastics are notoriously unreliable students and workers. The patient is to be recommended for disablement pension after a fortnight's work assessment period at the Society and Home for the Disabled.

 

The work assessment showed - not surprisingly - that my father neither had a talent for shoemaking nor for tailoring or brushmaking so the consultant was right and my father was recommended for disablement pension.

 

The shock made him react. He did NOT think that he was ready for disablement pension and fortunately he had a strong backing from family and friends. They helped him get started, at first as the manager of a tiny tourist information newsstand in the island of Tåsinge (!), for which he was singularly unsuited and later on as a business manager of a college of education. He became a literary reviewer, started a Folkehøjskole, became a consultant in matters of social policy, a member of the Social Board of Appeal and ended his career as an editor at the Danish Broadcasting Company. In 1981 the then minister of social affairs called him a wealthy, cantankerous, unreasonably demanding disabled person. Not bad, for someone who was recommended for disablement pensionin 1945. My father died in 1990 having lived a full and active life.

 

But the point is that my father had a good life IN SPITE OF and not in cooperation with the system.

 

Jens was born in 1968. Already when he was three days old Jens was diagnosed a spastic and probably severely brain-damaged. The doctor explained to the terrified parents that Jens - even though he might never talk or walk - could have a good life. When Jens was hospitalized about a year later the parents were told the same thing. There were systems and schemes designed to help Jens and his parents.

 

When Jens was discharged from hospital a social worker was assigned to the family and Jens became a "case" - in several systems at once. This was the beginning of a long and fruitless journey.

 

Alterations to the family home: The parents' demands were far too ambitious and far too expensive considering the fact that Jens was an infant. The parents decided to pay for the rebuilding themselves taking into consideration that Jens might be living at home until he became 18.

 

A wheel-chair in the right size was not granted until Jens was 14 and got an adult electric wheel-chair. Every time Jens was outgrowing his chair so many public authorities and offices had to be consulted that he was always too big for his chair when it was finally granted.

 

Both Jens and his parents had heard all the political speeches on integration and in 1970 they went to the local community school - 1 km from their home - to have Jens admitted into the first grade. Three days later the county school psychologist showed up on their doorstep and explained to them that what the local community school had to offer someone like Jens was not enough - neither physically nor educationally. They should also take into consideration that Jens would be teased by and isolated from his friends because of his severe disability.

 

Jens was offered admission to a special school in the neighbouring county - 60 km from home - but here was a special class for students with cerebral palsy. The problem of keeping his friends from the neighbourhood - he was picked up every morning at 6.30 and brought home at 4.30 - was not considered.

 

Jens' parents were not enthusiastic about Jens' development at the special school. There was too much idling in their opinion. They did not think that Jens was given challenges corresponding to his intellectual capacity. Lessons with a speech therapist were all fine and good, even though they found it hard to register any development, and physiotherapy was probably also a good idea, but the teaching was not satisfactory.

 

Jens attended the special school for 11 years and was recommended for maximum disablement pension at 18. All the special teachers, the psychologists, the assistant teachers, the social workers and the therapists were appalled when Jens demanded further education and guidance as to rights and possibilities. A well-meaning social worker visited Jens' home. She did not understand what Jens was saying and consistently addressed the parents referring to Jens as he/him.

 

Jens was admitted to the local technical college and took the basic one-year course aiming at qualifications as an electro-mechanic. The college provided Jens with the necessary technical aids. However, it turned out that the basic knowledge Jens had acquired at elementary and secondary school in the mathematical and linguistic field left much to be desired. The college teachers and various guidance officers put this down to Jens' disability and not to insufficient teaching. After Jens' third attempt at acquiring qualifications as an electro-mechanic the college and the social services department have had it. In spite of the fact that all agreed that Jens had a definite talent for computering his only prospects now were to apply for his disablement pension. Jens did not want that kind of life. Without any support he started his own booking firm and a software firm - and he is doing well. He has many contacts and an active life. But he still has his disablement pension as his financial safety net.

 

At almost 50 years' interval Oluf and Jens had almost the same experience dealing with the system in spite of the vast increase in knowledge and the enormous resources invested in the system in the meantime. If they had not - both of them - been in possession of an iron will AND strong backing from family and friends they would both have been pensioned off.

 

The departmental order pertaining to the Social Security Act, section 43, section 2 lays down that "…a realistic career plan stating aim, necessary time and content must be worked out in cooperation with the rehabilitee…" and further in section 3, subsection 2"… It must be realistic as to the rehabilitee's qualifications, abilities and interests, possibilities of admission into educational institutions and final placement in the labourmarket…"

 

If all Danes could only have an education if their aims were realistic many people would still be uneducated and many new initiatives would still be waiting for people to have their "realistic" career plan approved. Why on earth is the decision not left to the individual? Let him/her find out for themselves in the educational system and in the labour market what is realistic and what is not. This is where selection and development should take place. It is argued that far too many people with disabilities will come to grief in this way. But a good life is created through the experience (failure and success) that you choose yourself.

 

Choice of education, profession, aids, home, personal assistant schemes, support/income basis and many other things must be left with the individual and his/her family. But they are only able to deal with all this if they get professional guidance. Neither Oluf's nor Jens' parents were "educated" to solve the problems they were suddenly facing. Naturally, they were without experience, knowledge and overview and that is why they had to consult the systems confident that these would provide the necessary expertise.

 

But the systems, which provide guidance, are also the ones that allocate the means and therefore I claim that they are NOT able to give offer reasonable assistance. Severely disabled younsters with strong parents or assistants will be treated far better than others with a less strong backing.

 

Privatise counselling and guidance! If you are planning to build a house you would consult an architect. If you have tax problems you would see your accountant, if you have a legal problem you would call in your solicitor. If you have a disability you should have the same possibility of consulting an expert. We must separate guidance from allocation of means. Let people choose for themselves. Let the experts fight with/against the systems together with the people who have the problem whether it is a question of education, accommodation or work.

 

This may cause an outcry of basic principles of solidarity in connection with impartial guidance and best possible assistance being broken. These systems have been built up through many decades. I am not able to evaluate the attempts made up till now at privatising counseling, guidance of "clients". But with a system of salaries based on results in some fields within the Social sector some attempts have already been made at providing a case consideration based on the individual and concrete results.

 

Ole Lauth

Senest opdateret: fredag, 26. december 2014 15:40
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