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Ed Horowicz, and an accompanying commentary by Gabor Petri, begin this issue with a discussion of our seeming failure to adequately safeguard children with learning disabilities against the loss of their liberty in situations where they are admitted to hospitals or other long-term care environments. Children in such situations are about as vulnerable as it is possible to be. It is now almost 40 years since we decided not to admit children with learning disabilities to the old long-stay hospitals. Yet, we still “admit” hundreds, thousands to residential schools and other settings, often far from their homes and neighbourhoods. It is important not to forget the great difficulties that may have arisen in their homes or schools and prompted such a move. Nonetheless, long-term placement in a setting where relationships are further disrupted does not seem like a solution. Given the importance they play in all our lives, it is fascinating how easily we forget about relationships when thinking about people with learning disabilities. A recent resource produced by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and Mencap provides guidance on maintaining family relationships with children and young people placed away from home.
Relationships change as we become adults but remain fundamentally important to all our lives. The paper by Claire Bates, Louise Terry and Keith Popple, and the accompanying commentary by Claire Azzopardi Lane, illustrate some of the additional difficulties faced by adults with a learning disability trying to maintain and develop an intimate relationship. Some of these difficulties are practical, such as the absence of a double bed, some more about values and attitudes. Do we really think it is ok for people that have learning disabilities to become partners, have sex, even perhaps have children? Many people’s answer to this is “perish the thought”. Sometimes this is because of a fundamental failure to recognise that people with learning disabilities are just people like the rest of us, with the same needs, rights, etc. Sometimes it is more a concern to protect people with learning disabilities from the more general difficulties of relationships, with which we are all familiar. But, of course, such difficulties are ultimately part of life and cannot be completely prevented.
As Jimmy Kerrigan and Caroline Hopper note and Sarah Broadhurst confirms in her commentary, the process of implementing policy and good practice is sometimes hindered by the absence of good relationships between different commissioning agencies or between commissioners and providers. Relationships permeate our professional as well as our personal lives but an important difference is that problems in our professional relationships may have considerable, knock-on effects on the people with learning disabilities we are seeking to support.
We cannot buy, arrange or legislate for relationships. But we can do everything possible to support the relationships people with learning disabilities already have, to encourage new relationships and to ensure that our own relationships (whether as parents or professionals) do not get in the way.
New editorial arrangements
As of the current issue, I am very pleased to note that Jill Bradshaw becomes Co-editor of Tizard Learning Disability Review along with me. Jill is a Lecturer in Learning Disability at the Tizard Centre and a speech and language therapist by background. She has been an Associate Editor for the last year.
Keeping in touch with home: how to help children and young people with learning disabilities and their families keep in touch when they are living away from home, http://pavingtheway.works/project/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Keeping-in-touch-with-home-web-version.pdf