This week is Safeguarding Awareness Week so we are sharing Jane’s* story – a heartbreaking account of a mother from Essex pushed to the brink of taking her own life and that of her son after her appeals for help and support went unanswered.
The audio of Jane’s story can be found here.
Jane’s son is 22 and has autism and other neurological conditions. She has cared for her son single-handedly for 20 years before reaching a crisis point after her efforts to access support failed over an 18-month period.
Jane’s son had not slept for more than a few hours each night for the last 22 years and Jane had not had any break or days off from her caring responsibilities for that length of time.
Jane told us: “It’s been 24/7…for 22 years, so obviously I was exhausted. Nobody really knows what 22 years without sleep does to you.”
Jane described how she had she felt herself spiral into depression – but after being moved off lists to access support repeatedly and eventually failing to receive responses to her calls, she explained that she no longer felt able to cope: “I hit crisis point, being severely depressed to the point that I felt like committing suicide and, because I had nobody for my son, killing him as well.”
“That day I’d tried several times to access some help because I knew I was feeling lower and lower, and nobody was in or nobody answered the call. In my head I just decided I can’t cope anymore and, in my head, I had decided that I was going to end my son’s and my lives.”
Fortunately, not long after, a member of staff at Essex County Council called Jane back and, from then on, the safeguard was instigated.
Jane said of the safeguard: “Literally as soon as the safeguard was initiated all the things I’d been asking for happened like magic.
“Why do you have to reach crisis? Why do they let carers reach a point where they’re not coping when they are clearly asking for help?”
Within days of the safeguard being instigated, Social Services arranged for Jane to be provided with support for 30 hours each week. But despite the initial relief, the process was a daunting one.
Jane said of the safeguard: “I had to look it up on the internet to find out exactly what it involved and, having looked at the website, it was really quite scary – it seemed that safeguards were being brought about because a child or vulnerable person was being abused and that made me feel terrible because that wasn’t really the case in my situation at all.
“It felt like it was saying that I wasn’t a fit parent and that my son was unsafe with me. And although it had reached the point where – for a few moments on one day – he was unsafe with me, it felt really unfair because I’d kept him safe all that time and I’d been asking for help… and the help didn’t come.
“Then there is a formal document saying your son’s unsafe with you. It just felt so unfair.”
Jane was concerned about who the information about the safeguard was shared with, how long the process would last, who was involved and what it would ultimately mean for her.
She said: “I didn’t know what the rules and regulations were. I wasn’t given any paperwork or anything to let me know, nobody to talk to, no point of contact.
“There needs to be change… we need help to navigate the system. We need a point of contact and we need things written down and kept secure.”
Jane shared her experiences and thoughts with Healthwatch Essex and we have worked in collaboration with Essex County Council to make improvements. Our most recent reports focusing on the safeguarding process, aim to provide a deeper understanding of the safeguarding system from the perspective of people experiencing it. The reports can be found here: ‘555 Report 2018’ and ‘Making Safeguarding Personal – Report 2’.
The Essex Safeguarding Adults Board has already actioned a number of the recommendations put forward in Phase 1 of the engagement, which include the development of a multi-agency awareness campaign around ‘what is safeguarding?’ and incorporating a standard review process for individuals to provide feedback on their experience of the safeguarding process.
CEO of Healthwatch Essex, Dr David Sollis, said: “We know that people often find themselves in complex situations that don’t always have clear-cut solutions, so ‘safeguarding’ is always likely to be fairly complex.
“It seems, from the people we have spoken to, that the service tends to kick in as a last resort when people have already reached crisis – perhaps because of a lack of awareness or a lack of available services.
“We hope these reports illuminate what it is like for an individual experiencing safeguarding in Essex, and in doing so, it helps to inform professionals about what works well and what might benefit from improvement in the future. It is vital that people in Essex have a chance to shape the services they need, and we hope that the reports help to achieve that.”
*We have changed Jane’s name to protect her anonymity.