Disability lessons from Áras Attracta abuse

The UK had Winterbourne, now Ireland has Áras Attracta.

A similarly dreadful story of undercover reporters filming the abuse of adults with intellectual disabilities in a care home.  I did not see the programme, I could not bear to watch it, because after I die, my daughter may be put in a place like that.  It's the nightmare that haunts me every day.  So I had to write about this issue, before everyone moves on to the next big scandal.

In the meantime there's been lots of hand wringing and promises of enquiries and improvements in training and wages.  But my experience as the mother of a severely disabled young adult is that the issue goes much deeper.

There is still a huge problem with the way that the world views those with physical or intellectual disabilities. And the more severe the problem, the worse the attitude.  Obviously not everyone: there are plenty of people in my daughter's life who treat her as an equal human being.  One who needs a bit more help to live a fulfilling life.  But some do not.

Here are some of the things that I know that others apparently don't.

My daughter is not...

...a pet


...a number on a spreadsheet

...a problem to be solved

...an embarrassment to be hidden away

The strong are supposed to protect the weak, are they not?  Whether the weak are old, sick, disabled or vulnerable in other ways.  And how many times have I had to type something like that?

But strong people sometimes have their own weaknesses.  They may be physically and intellectually strong, but due their own insecurities they seem to have a need to exert power and control over others and sometimes they are drawn to careers where they can do exactly that.  I wonder if that is what happened in Áras Attracta?

For me this is an issue that will never go away.  And there will be more scandals.  All we can do is try to improve things.  I have a few ideas myself...

1. Many more residential and respite places so that vulnerable adults don't get rushed into emergency placements when their parents die, losing their home, their security and their familiar loved ones all at the same time.  More places would allow a gradual transition and the chance for families to approve the placements of their loved ones.

2. No agency staff except in emergencies.  My experience of agency staff is that they just don't have the time to get to know the people they care for as they are only there for a short period.  So individualised care plans get ignored and people suffer.

3. Cameras in care homes.  This needs to be seriously considered.

4. Different models of care: I think 'disabled' communities would be good, with supported living and the chance for parents to move in with their child if they wish, so that the child is already settled when the parents die.  I would do that.

5. More visibility in the community: I bring Smiley with me almost everywhere when she is not in school but we see very few other adults like her.  Perhaps more changing places in disabled toilets will help.

6. Positive role models on the TV: would anyone like to give my daughter a wheel-on part in Fair City?  I'd say she'd LOVE the attention.

7.  Interventions to reverse or prevent the power and control culture developing in homes where vulnerable people live.  One for the psychologists I think.

My daughter is very different to most young adults.  But she is not less.  And she deserves more.

Also check out the post by Jazzygal on the same issue.

If you want to help, please click on some of the above links.


  1. Yes it is a complex issue with no one answer, but the cruelty was dreadful, and completely without explanation. I can only try to imagine how you, a mother of a child with disabilities, might feel. I'd be sick.
    I can only hope it is a beginning. Although I do know that as with most 'news' there is a time scale on it. The momentum must keep going. I can only hope it might give others who witness such wrong the strength to come forward, because it is not until we know the depth of the 'problem' that we will be able to make appropriate changes.

    1. There's a report in today's paper (December 17th) of 700 complaints about care homes that have been passed to Gardai. It clearly is a huge problem :(

      Thanks so much for taking an interest in this xx

  2. I haven't watched the program either, I feel sick even thinking about it. I agree with everything you said. One thing I would add to your list would be smaller sizes care homes where each resident can get the proper care they deserve. My sister works in a retirement home in France which specializes in Alzheimer people and they only have about 20 patients there for about 10 carers. Sometimes they are short staff like everywhere else, but the fact that it's a smaller place makes the residents feel more secure, the staff get to know them more personally are a lot less stressed.

    1. Yes that is a good point - one of many that I have missed! I wrote this piece in my head to complement the excellent post by Jazzygal that I have linked to above, that's why it's a bit thin :)

  3. I didn't watch the programme deliberately. I can't help thinking since the story broke that when I worked in a corner shop (only in charge of tins of beans and chocolate bars, etc.) there was a camera recording the whole time. I used to happily switch it on every morning, it never bothered me that it was there and yet I wasn't minding other human beings! I think visibility in the world is so vital, great post.

    1. Yes if you were happy to have a camera on you all the time, then it should be okay -- though there is the issue of interpretation with interpersonal interactions x

  4. Replies
    1. Thanks Jazzy, and thanks for your great post that inspired me to write this one xx

  5. I haven't seen that program, but it breaks my heart. This too is one of my biggest worries. I know Abby will take awesome care of her sister but at some point if Bridget isn't able to be 100% independent it opens her to possible abusive situations. It keeps us up at night, doesn't it?

  6. We all need to keep talking about this. It is NOT right that our vulnerable members of society are being treated in this way. Just the thought of care homes and the possible abuse kills me.

    1. No, not anywhere in the world, and I will keep campaigning x