What's in a name?
Twenty years ago a “Person At Risk” was an accepted term in the health and social care field used to describe an individual that was at risk of (or had experienced) exploitation or abuse. In March 2000 the Department of Health first issued “No Secrets” which was part of a transition to the use of Vulnerable Person in promoting multi agency responses to abuse. We are now migrating back towards Persons At Risk. So what is in a name?
Our name, or collective description defines in part who we are, both in our own minds and in the perceptions of others. We can all list at length (both good and bad, in our formative or later years) terms used to describe us that we have liked or disliked. The fact is it is as much the association and context that a phrase or word is used (or interpreted) that dictates the response or association.
The reality is we are all persons at risk or vulnerable. This could be to sudden illness or injury (stroke, heart attack, or a serious accident such as a traumatic brain or birth injury). It could be a degenerative or life limiting condition that strikes at any time in our life, or it could be a learning disability, physical disability or mental health condition. For example, 1 in 4 of us in the UK each year will suffer from a mental health problem (source Mind) but yet we don’t consider ourselves vulnerable.
In November 2011 my family returned the ballot tickets we had for the London Olympics due to the impending arrival of a new family member. We kept hold of the tickets for the Paralympics. Six weeks after the new arrival, we all marvelled as (amongst other epic performances and medals that day) Richard Whitehead won the 200m in the Olympic Stadium, and then later the same day as Ellie Simmonds (carrying the pressure as one of the faces of the Paralympics) won her first gold in the aquatic centre. I hope as any parent does that my family will be inspired by the human endeavour demonstrated by all of the athletes over that summer to strive to be the best they can be. It remains the best sporting event I have been to.
The challenge is hidden in that summer and the names of the games. Prompted by a recent Radio 5 Live advert for a forthcoming show about what sport will be like in future, a pretend news report suggested the merger in future decades of the Olympics and Paralympics. From an outside perspective my initial reaction was “What a good idea, why not?” as both stand for the best in sporting achievement. It made me think more about that summer of sport and my work.
When you read the first paragraph of this article what images and preconceptions occurred to you? Many of them are common place and demonstrate the need for us all to continually learn more about the adverse situations different people face. Many of the people we have the privilege of supporting have a disability, illness or injury which can be seen, many do not. Many of the issues they have to deal with as a result of that issue are the same, but many are different due to the perceptions generated by the naked eye.
Whether it is generated by a word or by appearance, perhaps we should look at people with an adverse circumstance rather than a person at risk or with vulnerability? As we all have all three, and human spirit and endeavour shows through the years that we can all triumph in adversity.
I like the Leonard Cheshire logo as it sums the use of words and emphasis in this area the best in many ways ……
The way we as a society perceive and label people is important, but what we do, what actions we take and how we deal with each other is more important. In the Vulnerable People team at asb law, what we do in terms of trusts, Court of Protection, Powers of Attorney, Wills and Tax planning for our clients in this specialised field is important and replicated genuinely only at a handful of firms. How we try to do this and how we focus on maximising well being for the individual at the centre of the planning it is replicated at even fewer.
In another Olympic / Paralympic year, we can all join together in enjoying the best that human endeavour can achieve, no matter what adversity life has thrown in their way. Here’s to the Super Humans!
Published: 8 Jan 2016