Some of you might have seen in the news tonight that the inquest into the tragic death of 18-year-old Connor Sparrowhawk while in NHS care, ruled that his death was contributed to by neglect and was not, as originally claimed, due to natural causes. For those unfamiliar with the story, Connor had autism and epilepsy and died in an NHS short term treatment unit after having an epileptic fit while in the bath, unsupervised. Please read more on the #justiceforLB website.
I am totally unconnected with this tragic story. I did not know Connor, who was called Laughing Boy by those who did know him, and do not know any of his family or friends. I have no expertise on autism, learning disabilities, the NHS, or epilepsy. I have not been involved in the widespread #justiceforLB campaign on social media and elsewhere. In fact I saw Connor's mum's face for the first time only tonight in her dignified interview on the news.
However, like many others I have followed events from a distance for months, through Twitter and through the blog maintained through the darkest of times by Connor's mum, Sara Ryan. I don't claim any special insight or knowledge, or any right to speak, or to connect myself in any way to the story that has unfolded. All I can say is that I have watched and read and wondered and cried and raged as each episode of this convoluted tale has been revealed.
And through it all I have been struck time and time again by how different things could have been if, at any point, Connor's mum had been acknowledged and listened to and given respect by the professionals involved in his life. Of course, Dr Sara Ryan is a professional in her own right but, in her role as 'Connor's mum' it seems to me that her voice, her knowledge and expertise regarding her own son, her concerns about his wellbeing and treatment, have all been ignored.
Both before and after Connor's death, she has been subject to criticism, abuse and deceit. She has been sidelined, ignored and belittled. Two months after Connor's death, the unit he was being treated in was closed down as it failed to meet any of the key quality and safety standards at a snap inspection. Today, the inquest verdict has vindicated her and all those who stood with her in this battle. But at what cost?
When I look back on my 12 years as a teacher - a 'professional' - I sometimes cringe at things I said and did, not having the understanding I have now in my role as a foster carer. It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that 'professionals' have all the answers. Time and time again I hear of parents frustrated because they are simply not believed by 'professionals'. Or if they are believed, then they are blamed.
Professionals have training, yes. Expertise, yes. Wide knowledge of a lot of relevant cases and situations, yes. But parents know their children. They know the nuances of their personalities, their needs and their behaviours. Of course parents are sometimes 'too close', but maybe professionals are sometimes 'too far away'. We need professionals. We need their skills and knowledge. But we need parents too. After 18 years of caring for her son every single day, Connor's mum should have had a seat at the professionals' table.
I was glad to read the verdict today, although it must be a bittersweet moment for Connor's family. I am grateful to Connor's mum and the rest of his family and their supporters who fought and fought and would not give up the fight, because their fight is that of mums and dads and grandparents and foster carers and guardians and kinship carers of children everywhere who, try as they might, can't get a seat at the professionals' table, can't get their voices heard, can't get their expertise acknowledged. Thank you, Connor's mum.