Last week I attended an ‘event’ arranged by our local Parent Carer group where the Local Authority would be updating parents on their work so far with improving services in light of a very poor Ofsted SEND Inspection. This was billed as an opportunity to hear what has been happening and for table discussions.
It appears from this day that the new buzzword is co-production, this involves users of a service and other stakeholders ‘co-producing’ development of services and what they should look like. I’m pretty sure this idea of working together has had many names and been advertised under many different guises before, so what makes co-production so special?
The cynic in me thinks it’s just a new name for the same old thing. Local Authorities have to show that are working with all stakeholders, including service users and that this is just a re-branding of t
he same old, same old. Are they really listening and interested in what actual users of the services have to say? My honest thought is perhaps not.
I had the ‘luck’ of one member of my discussion group being the Director of Social Care and Health, who we were told during his introduction, had cleared his diary for the morning to join us as attending some of the day was so important. My initial thought was what made his time more precious than mine? I too have important things to be getting on with. I commented at the table that I had cleared my diary for all of the day as it was so important. Was I being over critical and petty?
Then came the discussion on co-producing. So we are all going to work together to develop and produce information and services that best meet everyone’s needs, of course remembering the unacknowledged elephant in the room, funding cuts. I just wish LA’s would be honest and upfront about this. Parents had plenty to say about working together and how they had not felt listened to in the past, as a newbie to the area, I had little to say on this matter. However I did write down some observations and key themes from this part of the discussion and then fed them into the group. The sad thing is, nothing had changed since I first became involved this kind of event 12 years or so ago. Users of the services expressed their distrust in the leaders of said services, there was a lack of transparency and honesty. It was felt that services were not person centred and that children, in this case, were not treated as individuals, but as a general group, usually diagnosis lead. The barriers to accessing services remained firmly in place , usually with a gatekeeper that was busy counting money rather than impact on individual’s lives.
However, for me, the biggest unmentioned issue was that of power. How can there be co-production if one side holds all the power? Especially if this inequality is not acknowledged. The LA, it’s directors, service leads and employees hold all the power, from deciding on the big picture of how overall budgets of large sums of money are spent, to panel members deciding if direct payments of a couple of hours a week should be given. It’s sad that this obvious fact is not acknowledged, these ‘people in power’ go to work every day and make life changing decisions that effect the way disabled people and their families can live their lives. I lay awake some nights worrying about what the future will be like for my disabled daughter. Will she be able to live the life she wants, properly supported to live independently, filling her days with work and leisure activities. I kind of hope that the Director of Social Care and Health has the odd sleepless night as he thinks over the difficult decisions he has made, and I told him this.