England Are Failing The Young and Vulnerable

First off I realize that many of my titles are emotive and arguably overstated but mostly they reflect what is generally felt once people have read my post, or at least how I feel as I write them so apologies.

Going back in my blogs I wrote about attending a round table discussion on inpatient mental health and a few of the reforms we though necessary to improve the current system; in a few weeks time I will be attending another of these discussion groups but this time with the Office of the Childrens’ Commissioner, and hopefully a larger group of individuals. I think we can all agree that at the moment there is a lack of staffing, funding, availability and general service when it comes to mental health facilities with many having to travel to different cities to acquire adequate mental health provision; but this is not the only area in which the government are failing.

A recent freedom of information request by NYAS revealed that the Department of Education and NHS England are failing to record adequate statistical data on the number of children in care and care leavers who are admitted to hospital due to mental health issues. With a response rate from mental health units only reaching 28% from this request NYAS has found that in the past five years at least a thousand children and young people have been admitted to mental health in-patient units whilst in care, the data of which is not shared across central government.

To paraphrase Claire Hyde (NYAS Assistant CEO) there is no meaningful statistical data on children and young people who are looked after or who are care leavers, there is no substantial information of their experiences beyond that of anecdotal evidence, of which NYAS may be more privy due to interpersonal relationships as advocates for those receiving treatment. To follow on from that there is also an alarming rate of children and young people who have to go out of their authorities catchment area in order to receive treatment which has left some social workers with a more blasé attitude towards their work concerning those individuals, and NYAS advocates often having to inform and remind social workers about the rights and entitlements of children and young people.

With children and young people both in, and having left care there are many concerns, especially with the media coverage of scandals in recent months. It is commonly felt that these individuals are the ones who slip through ‘everyone’s safety nets’ leaving them with ‘lifelong problems which cost society more in the long run’. Although the statistical data may be scares the anecdotal evidence from various news sources in long and concerning. It is not only the statistical data which is lacking, the Mental Health Code of  Practice8 highlights the requirement for independent mental health advocates to have experience of working with children and young people who are looked after or care leavers as well as the legislation governing them across both mental health and their legal status as looked after children and young people. Just look at my previous posts and you will see a whole host of issues with regards to advocacy and funding both within England and Wales, local government are still not competent enough to realize the importance of advocacy and the affect it can have on both helping the child or young person and the services they may be involved with.

Advocacy is not just about supporting children and young people with complaints

With those in or leaving care there is also still the issue of who is to fund their costs of living beyond those of the average NHS patient, such as clothing and toiletries just to give you some idea, and where do they turn when there is an issue with their funding especially if their foster carer/social worker/original LA is different to the one they are receiving treatment? From NYAS’s freedom of information request it was revealed that over 15% experienced delays to their hospital discharges due to a lack of foster or residential placement. The duration of stays ranged from one day to 540 days. Two young people were of no fixed abodes on admission. No data is gathered on how far children have to travel to the units from their homes. 50% did not record length of stay. Over 50 % had no advocacy provision in place.

This is just a small selection of the issues on offer, no doubt I will bring more to light in subsequent postings.

*Published in January 2015, the new code will come into force on 1 April 2015, subject to Parliamentary approval.

Thanks to Claire Hyde (NYAS Assistant CEO) and NYAS themselves for their Mental Health Article and prior round table discussion group on which this post is based.

Lets Kill Twitter!! Or At Least Redesign It….

Twitter has long come under fire for not protecting its users, after all it took some vile and intrusive threats to feminists such as Caroline Criado-Pere before they even considered a report button on every tweet (which is carefully hidden under the extended menu). Prior to these changes in 2013 is was quite archaic to report anything, you had to find a way to their separate report page and write to the Twitter team with a copy of the offending material and an essay on why it should be removed, although this was often ignored or at least over looked.

Now that you have some context what horrid betrayal of humanity had Caroline done? Well she organised a petition to keep Elizabeth Fry on the £5 instead of replacing her with Churchil…. Wait she wanted to protect the image of a strong female character who provided great good from being replaced with arguably one of the best prime ministers who was well known for alcoholism and violence. Am I missing something or is Twitter protecting trolls?

Prior to this (also in 2013) there was the distressing trend of #Cut4Bieber (potentially distressing link to real time Twitter search) where young girls were self-harming in a bid to guilt Justin Bieber into stopping his recreational use of marijuana. Not only did Bieber ignore these girls and Twitter allowed it to go viral world wide but it ended in the death of at least one young girl. No images or videos of these girls harming were removed, and are still available today; this has lead to the development of mental health conditions for some and attributing factors to others preexisting conditions.

Now before anyone goes on to point out the greater good that Twitter was able to provide during the Arab Spring rising, with global coverage directly from the people involved and no state censorship I think you need reminding of the connections Facebook have forged and that the state have taken measures to block such sites in places such as China and even disconnect from the internet in Egypt.

Now is is partially the anonymity of Twitter which affords activists their voices as they no longer have to fear being kidnapped or bullied after exploiting inequalities or dangers that may be around them. A quick Google search will show you that because of the identifying nature of Facebook some activists are targeted by governments such as Vietnam, Syria and Bahraini just to mention a few. This anonymity also affords for faceless hoards to come out and attack beople just as much as it does defend them.

Now Twitter is changing; with services such as WhatsApp gaining more active users it may be a sign that people want more control over those who can contact them as you have to accept a user before they can interact with you or send you spam. Just look at my Twitter feed where @Miss_Millies follows me despite me never having even visited them, tweeted them or even mentioned them in recent memory. WhatsApp also affords the fact that you are identified by a mobile number rather than some temporary email address, and unlike Facebook and Google + you can change your name and details as much as you like without having to provide proof of your identity. Now I love that you have to accept your friends in WhatsApp, rather than having to block someone on Twitter who could set up another account in seconds and be bombarding you with words or images which aren’t appropriate.

Now as we look at what is appropriate pornography is freely available on the Twitter-sphere with each day being assigned an act or body part which people will promote to the world at large. It took a mass movement before Twitter took heed and actually removed beheading videos and the accounts of ICIS which had been immediately removed and blocked by YouTube and Facebook alike where they never really resurfaced, where as Twitter had repercussions until they finally took a firm stance on their preexisting policy of no violence.

Now as Twitter slowly realizes the responsibility it has to its customers and it moves forward they have announced the ability to sign up with a phone number for app developers to incorporate a single sign in system, much like that already existing in both Facebook and Google. But the question is will this end up like their announcement at Chirp back in 2010 (Twitters official developers conference) where they said that more meta data would be available from tweets and media uploaded to their site.

Now as Twitter is evolving their executive will hopefully move away from the 4chan type reputation it is developed over the past few years and avoid repercussions such as GamerGate which I shall leave you to read about in your own time as it has gotten so convoluted and worrisome I really have not read enough to be able to comment. Before I end this post it may be worth you considering, how are accounts actually verified (the little tick) and what can be done either than to go down the routes of Google and Facebook to control those who are just there to troll?

Your number one senator?

Firstly, yes, I did choose a very geeky image for this post but vote me number one you must! But why should you, after all I am either a complete stranger or that weird kid in your lectures or meetings. Well this may be true but this year I was your Senator, last year I was Mr. Democratic Procedures Committee for NUS Wales and Mr. Parliament for Coleg Morgannwg, the year before I was Mr. President for Coleg Gwent, the year before that Mr. Vice President and before that Mr. Welfare also for Coleg Gwent so I have the experience, well right now all you know is I had the titles so I guess I should explain what I actually did in each of these positions and then explain how I am the right guy for the job this year.

Well lets start from the beginnings, after all it’s conventional and Senate is full of conventions [as well as a carefully constructed constitution and all powerful Senator Palpatine, I mean chair!] So as a Welfare Officer I undertook training on helping students arrange privately rented housing which I then used, although it doesn’t really come up that much in FE (Further Education/College) but is still useful today; as part of the role I also organised for the local mental health team to come in and talk about self-harm as well as running my own training session for students on self-harm awareness day. Once I had the inspiration and training I submitted a motion to NUS National Conference for the NUS to provide training for officers teaching them how to deal with students who self-harm.

As Vice-President I was in charge of the union on campus so I had to do a bit of everything including helping to organised fund raisers, guest lectures, self-harm information for our Health and Well-being Fair and the finances on campus. I had regular meetings with the senior management team to discuss issues and stay informed of everything the staff were arranging, I also helped to facilitate class rep meetings and training to ensure the best student experience possible. Although I was no longer a Welfare Officer I arranged training for college staff [to be delivered by students and Save the Children] on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which is applied up to the age of 25 under Welsh legislation, as a follow on to this I submitted a motion to NUS Wales Conference for them to help facilitate similar training in other institutions. As a senior representative I had the pleasure of attending both NUS Wales and NUS National conferences where I actively voiced the concerns of my students, elected the next sabbatical officers and set the direction for the organisation for the next thee years as well as the obvious networking.

One of my most proud moments was being elected Sabbatical Students’ Union President of Coleg Gwent, winning the election and creating a strong support base was an amazing accomplishment and pushed me out of my comfort zone as I was shy and lacking in confidence. My first few acts were to sort out each of the offices I was then in charge of across five different constituencies spanning about twenty one miles before welcoming students and having to introduce myself to halls filled with students. Okay this may seem pretty basic along with all the freshers fairs but there was a lot of planning and organisation involved before it was the task of recruiting new officers and helping organise elections before training them up and setting them loose on the student community. Most of my job was hovering to facilitate my officers when ever they wanted to do something, helping run the class rep system and representing my 30,000 students on a national level but we did organise a few events and my amazing officers set up a condom distribution scheme with the local authority we then were all trained in. Dueing the Health and Well-being Fair I managed to roll out my information on Self-Harm across all five of our campuses. At NUS Wales conference I introduced a motion making the NUS Wales Deputy Presidents responsibility solely FE rather than FE and Welfare as well as attending the National Conference and doing the same as the previous year. Along with a multitude of meetings I also sat on the corporation and helped the student members formulate their thoughts and actively take part in meetings.

Now being a member of the Democratic Procedures Committee wasn’t much work to be honest, I undertook training to facilitate NUS Wales conferences and ensured they run smoothly, other than that it was helping answer officers questions and ensuring they knew what was going on and where they were supposed to be although I was unanimously voted funnier than the president of the time, Liam Burns. On the other hand being a member of the Student Parliament was intolerable at times. Coleg Morgannwg was lacking any serious structure with the system being one big talking shop and nothing being done, when issues arose it was down to the tutor to resolve them and I was actually reprimand for circumventing procedures even though the issues were resolved and the members of staff concerned were grateful for my intervention. There was a lack of communication between the staff and students I tried my best to bridge but the engineering department [my department], seemed to have a them and us attitude toward the rest of the college and campus. When I asked a member of staff to approach the corporation to discuss the idea of paperless meeting and some improvements to the constitution they did not know what to do and wanted to contact NUS for advice, suffice to say the meeting never actually happened but with the help of Stuart [a member of NUS Wales staff] we managed to leave behind some very enthusiastic student activists to carry on the work I started. Whilst at the college I gave them no choice in sending me to NUS National conference, it was the first time anyone from the institution had attended.

Now I know there are things I have omitted [due to my memory being appalling and not wanting you to be reading for hours] such as attending various demonstrations such as those held by NUS in 2010 and 2012, by UCU, UNISON and Unite in 2010, and a protest against the closure of a local hospital as well as doing another lecture educating students on self-harm. Okay I’m an activist and I have a wealth of experience which I have gained whilst battling with depression so why not elect me? So lets cover what I’ve done for you this year and where we can go from there, then you can go and vote for me as I will have proven the force is strong with me!

So as you can imagine coming into HE (Higher Education/University) I have had to find my feet and rediscover who you go to and for what as in the past I would just approach staff and get the job done, this is where giving the sabbs more work comes into play as they are my middle men and women. I have made as many meetings as I can, there have been times where work has taken precedent or I have had other commitments and had to send apologies but my attendance on the whole is good; attending these meetings I have discussed your ideas and given your feedback on various issues as well as providing refreshments and volunteering with #StudyAid [providing tea and coffee to students] and ensuring students are fully aware of plagiarism and its consequences. Now you’ve probably noticed the pattern of campaigning on self-harm so why stop, as close as we could to self-harm awareness day I managed to organise another lecture but this time we also had a discussion panel and refreshments, we also had a stall of information during the afternoon. I have had non stop meetings on some days ensuring that student voices are heard on various issues but I get to attend the amazing NUS National Conference again this year to represent you at a national level, network, run for NUS UK Democratic Procedures Committee and much more.

My plans for the next year are simple. Keep doing what I’ve always done. I’ll be collecting and giving student views, wishes and feelings to anyone willing to listen and nagging those who need to but wont. I’ll ensure the sabbs are carrying out their work effectively and keeping students’ up to date more than just at the AGM as well as organising more events and trying to get students to national and local events such as Reclaim the Night [which I was very disappointed we couldn’t attend as we had no driver for the MPV]. The union is already working toward being more accessible providing funding for your ideas for clubs and societies, allowing you to submit ideas to senate through their website and trying to keep everyone who represents you as accessible as possible by providing contact details and going out to actively engage with students, well if elected I will do the same and I will be one of those faces you know to turn to when you have an issue or some praise to give about the university or union.

So vote me number one and we will take down the dark side together, we shall claim all the cookies for ourselves and have an epic adventure!


The Etymology of Your Insult

A lot of people are prone to throw around words these days without thinking about their etymology, as such I thought I would try my best to paraphrase a blog post I have read and visit the most popular words I have witnessed in use. I hope you find this educational!


THE BACKGROUND: Historically, “lame” was most often used to describe trouble walking, whether the trouble occurred in people or animals. A horse with an injured leg was lame, as was a man with the same problem. The roots of this word mean “to crush” or “to break,” and it was first used in its original meaning sometime around the 12th century.

To be lame is now to be ineffectual, un-useful, unpopular, uncool, inept, or generally crappy. Our modern day interpretation has only evolved around the middle of the 20th century; unfortunately the modern interpretation has come to mean that having a disability affecting movement is a bad thing to have, an idea that serves to marginalize disabled individuals.


THE  BACKGROUND: The word comes from the Latin for “to delay,” and around the turn of the 20th century it formally came to be associated with intelligence testing; individuals with an IQ result of less than 70 were said to be “mentally retarded.” (I am not planning to go into the mirage of problems associated with the use of IQ testing and the segregation, discrimination and general abhorrence it causes.)

“Retarded” as we have come to know it came into being in the early 19th century as a clinical designation for children who were developmentally delayed compared to their peers. Ironically, it was initially used to replace socially negative terms for not-smart people, like “idiot” and “moron”.

In today’s slang use, “retarded” generally means dumb (which is itself a word with a problematic background), ridiculous, or socially awkward. In essence, when we call something “retarded,” we’re saying it’s like a developmentally delayed person suggesting these are bad.


THE BACKGROUND: While in the US today it has a very specific racial connotation, it was originally an Italian word to describe the area, usually outside a city’s walls, where lower social class individuals such as workmen and Jewish people lived. As is true for many of these terms, the word was free of negative connotations for a couple hundred years, until the rise of Hitler and his Final Solution for the eradication of Jewish people, and the Nazi movement to cluster all Jews in specific sections of cities in occupied Europe during World War II.

During the Nazi occupation, Jews were forced into overcrowded ghettos prior to being sent to concentration and death camps, or before simply being executed in the nearest expedient location. Although the Nazis did not often use the word “ghetto” themselves, its long use to denote a Jewish area meant the word became strongly associated with this horrific period in history.

Later, “ghetto” came to indicate any socially segregated non-white urban neighbourhood.  In the US in particular it tends to suggest a black neighbourhood,  and usually a poor one with a high amount of crime. Hence the slang use of “ghetto” to indicate something that is low class, dirty, slapdash or otherwise in poor condition. 


THE BACKGROUND: “Tranny” is usually a diminutive of “transgender” or “transsexual,”  is a relatively new term, and one whose rise to popular use was well lubricated by the porn industry (sorry if that pun offends you but it’s true) , which used it to describe porn usually containing trans women. Said porn was rarely if ever created by trans individuals themselves, who might be invested in their own representation, but was instead a handy appellation applied by cisgender producers.

From here (out of porn designed to appeal to a particular mainstream cisgender hetero male perspective, because even in these more sex-positive times, the bulk of porn is still aimed at straight men) the term evolved into a slur on a level with “faggot” and “dyke.”

More recently, “tranny” has become a popular term amongst gay men, often used in the spirit of positive reclamation (as many oppressed groups have reclaimed other words traditionally used against them). Of course, the problem here is that gay men are not always trans individuals, and liberally using “tranny” (a word, to be clear, that has been used to devastating effect against trans folk, and which underscores their social marginalization and position as culture outsiders) in this way is not always perceived as a friendly act by actual trans folks who have heard it hurled at them in anger and feared for their safety, if not their lives.


THE BACKGROUND: Up until now, the controversies around most of these examples were probably at least somewhat familiar, but “crazy” might be a new one to you. Originally meaning diseased or sickly, and by the 17th century specifically referring to mental unsoundness, “crazy” is a awkward word because unlike many of the examples above, its use has become so common even to describe non-mentally-ill scenarios that many argue its meaning has sufficiently changed such that it is no longer exclusively a slur.

At any rate, the popular use of “crazy” to describe everything from heinous mass murder to mildly irritating politicians is troubling to many people because it associates a very real, very socially stigmatized condition as the cause of all the bad things that people do, thereby creating a connection between crazy people and people who do horrible things, while also dehumanizing everyone involved.


THE BACKGROUND: Many people use “crazy” and “mental” as synonyms and do not realise the differences. Mental means “pertaining to the mind” from the middle French “mental”, from late Latin “mentalis” (of the mind), from Latin “mens” (genitive mentis), from PIE root “men” (to think). As you can already see since it’s origins it has been manipulated from a word around thought to meaning of the mind.

The way we perceive the word mental has only come into being since around 1972; it is now seen to mean “crazy” or “deranged”, this has been thought to stem from its combinational uses such as in “mental hospital” where people with “diseases of the mind” would be treated hence the negative connotations the word now carries.


THE BACKGROUND: Stupidity is a massive concept. From its origins in the 15th century to mean “mentally slow,” “stupid” has since evolved to denote a more broadly defined lack of common sense or intelligence, and usually a wilful one. Stupidity is an idea and a word we use and hear constantly, likely every day. 

Complicating this particular word is that, unlike many of the terms above, “stupid” does not have a recent legacy of being used to define and dismiss a specific group of people; although, like “retarded,” it has been used to identify developmentally disabled individuals, it has also been used in broader applications to all sorts of actions and misdeeds. Opponents of “stupid” argue that the word’s primary association is with developmentally or intellectually disabled people, and that to use it is to insult people of below-average intelligence.