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Widows and orphans

December 22, 2009

Did you see the news on Monday night?

Of course there was the lead story about the political X-Factor that we will be getting at the time of the General Election – with the three main party leaders going head-to-head.

[I hope that we will get some similar opportunities here in Hastings & Rye.]

And there was the misery of Christmas travellers as the cold weather seems to have defeated our fragile rail system.

But the piece that really caught my attention was the investigative work that has been done by the BBC, following up some of the children that were found in such inhumane and degrading conditions in the Romanian orphanages, following the fall of the Ceausescu regime.

I do not remember having seen the footage of the initial discoveries of the children in the orphanages first time around. I would have been in my mid-teens.

For me, seeing this for the first time on Monday, it evoked the shock and horror that I felt when, as a sixth-form student, I first saw the footage of the freeing of Belsen concentration camp during the Second World War.

Particularly as a new-ish parent, when our lives are split between work and child-care, I find it difficult to believe that children could have been subjected to the level of neglect and deprivation that was exposed by those initial reports nearly twenty years ago.

Just as horrific however is the way that many of these children have gone on to receive inadequate care as adults.

Whilst the BBC has reported that there is good work being done in some areas of the country, there was evidence that, despite the cold weather, there are adults in care (now with mental health problems and learning disabilities) who do not have proper clothing, and some even have gangrene on their bare feet.

Perhaps it is not in good taste to be writing about such things in Christmas Week.

However amid the comfortable mix of family life, commercialism and banality that Christmas has become in the UK, and when we are wont to criticise easily the services that the state provides (I confess to being as guilty of this as anyone), there are people that are significantly worse off in other parts of the world.

The Copenhagen Summit has taught us this if nothing else.

But I hope this week’s will not be read as a pious contribution. I do not purport to have answers. It is genuinely difficult to know what there is to do on an individual level about the care system in Romania. There are obviously charities working in situ that need support…

And it is important for us not to be complacent about the care offered on the front line to vulnerable people in our own country.

As someone whose daily work is with the care of vulnerable adults, it is an important opportunity for me to re-focus on the values that make for good, empowering practice, and the need to pursue relentlessly high quality care for people.

To those of you that work with, or care for, profoundly disabled people, you have my heartfelt admiration.

I hope you have a restful and nourishing Christmas.

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