All assistance short of actual help

Published by Tony Quinlan on

… or “Monitoring and watching without action is an intrusive waste of resource”

Over Christmas, I heard a story via a convoluted but accurate route about an individual who had something of a “family situation” take place – one that involved the police and a frustrating visit to a hospital to deal with a family member’s mental health issues. The outcome was highly unsatisfactory – largely due to ineffective handovers between shifts, large amounts of admininstrative detail and over-attachment to hospital process without consideration of the prospective patient and their family. There is, no doubt, a story to be told there – but it’s one that we are all familiar with. (And I’m aware too that there are also many alternative experiences that people have had – the context/location/workload/timing matter greatly in these events.)

What surprised – and disturbed me – was what happened next.

On returning home, the phone started to ring. One agency after another – ChildLine and others – rang to express concern about the home environment and in particular the potential effect on younger members of the family. So far, so good – an efficient system had picked up that there were young children in the house and that there were problems in the household that presumably matched their category system that said “potential threat”.

The first call was taken with good grace, until it reached the all-important question

“Thank you for your concern, I share it, what can you do to help?”

The answer was “Well, nothing, really.”

The conversation continued slightly disbelievingly, “Well, what do you suggest then?”

“Have you talked to your GP?”

“Yes – that’s already been done.”

“OK then.”

And the call stuttered to a halt. “Talk to your GP” in this case is the equivalent of “Take two paracetamol” – it’s a non-advice piece of advice.

Then the second call came in. And followed the same pattern – express concern to an already-concerned parent, present no alternatives, offer no solutions and when challenged what the call was supposed to achieve, offer no real answer.

The third call got rather shorter shrift. And understandably ires were now raised among family members who had no mental health issues…

I understand the need for monitoring, as well as the need for alert systems here. I even appreciate the need for redundancy in response – hence the need for multiple agencies to get the alert and act independently. (Although I think some coordination might be helpful in reducing the load of an already-stressed family.)

The thing that truly worries me is the lack of anything constructive offered. No systems, no people, no advice – just a phone call saying “we’re worried.” At that point, a stressful situation is only exacerbated because there are now lots of people watching and taking an interest in what happens. But none have any “skin in the game” or are prepared to take action. They’re just watching for the disaster we all hope is not coming down the track, but doing nothing to prevent it.

The investment went on systems to monitor, but there was none for human beings to actually intervene and support. And that reliance on systems without human support is extremely dangerous.

I’m conscious that there’s a potential accusation that I’m throwing stones from within my own little glasshouse. Much of the work we’ve been doing recently is around detecting early warning of shifts in attitudes and the like – but as some frustrated individuals can attest, we steadfastly refuse to rely entirely on analysis and results. At the end of a project, there’s a hefty human-focussed period of any project, largely based around “What do we do now?” Without that, systems are merely well-funded voyeurs.

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