It is with a very heavy heart that I write this post. Sometimes, another’s situation goes unstable and ends up in something rather disastrous for them, and then we end up – for any number of reasons – having to pick up the pieces. When it happens to a friend, it can put you in an unenviable position of having to eventually act in self-interest, because you don’t have access to the sorts of resources needed to get your friend through their particular crisis: it pains you because you have to send them away to where the (tightly-controlled) resources are, and where you know that their future is probably the most uncertain that it has ever been for them… and that is not what you want for them.
Well, that unstable situation has recently happened to a friend of mine and, therefore, to me. And, with all the will in the world, without the appropriate resources I can do nothing to help him. And, tomorrow, I have the job of going with him to the bus station in Kotka (with my ex-wife, who has been working with me behind the scenes to try and figure out how can he be supported until he’s mentally strong enough to cope), and we have to put him on a bus back to Helsinki (which is where these tightly-controlled resources are).
He came to me just ahead of the New Year, possessing only that which he could carry. He had been evicted from his flat in Kallio, a suburb of Helsinki. For a number of years, he has been studying at the University of Helsinki, where he was a German Studies major. When I first met him, he was acting as a guinea-pig for me whilst I was training as a psychologist: he had agreed to let me conduct a couple of different types of assessments on him and, since that time, we’ve been in contact on way or another. He’s been able to share with me the joys of life as a student; he’s been able to commiserate with me on the death of my father (cancer, Feb. 2007); he’s been able to visit the rather informal ‘Mad Bastard Support Group’ that met most days in the local library cafeteria here in Kotka; and he’s been able to meet me for drinks on those exceedingly rare occasions on which I’ve been able to get to Helsinki. We’ve shared many jokes and sorrows over the eight years I’ve known him, so it was a matter of answering the call to duty when he told that he was in need of some help and a couch to sleep on. My friend Andy took him first, because I was ill and not yet recovered; and on Old Year’s Night he appeared at my door needing shelter. Naturally, we set him to sleep on a ‘put-you-up’ in my lounge for a few days (because of the law here, that’s all I could let him stay for) so that we could get matters dealt with whilst he was in a place of safety. My friend is, as I am myself, Asperger-autistic and – as such – has some special everyday living support needs.
He was, as I have been, a client of a Finnish organisation providing specialist services to Autistic adults both in Helsinki and in Kotka. He was also, as I still am now, a client of his local social services department. In March of 2009, he fell off the radar of both organisations: neither Autismisäätiö nor the Helsinki Social and Disability Services could locate him. Not that they actually tried. A couple of phone calls and visits to know three times on his door is not exactly the work of a thorough social worker. For more than a year, it seems, he’s had no contact with either organisation. And neither organisation took the time to actually find him… despite their joint duty of care. As far as ultimate duty of care is concerned, the responsibility for the loss of a client is that of his social worker in Helsinki. And she lost him good!
As at Monday January 10th 2011, my friend had been technically homeless for more or less two months; and, when my ex-wife contacted Helsinki Social Services, his social worker was clueless as to whether he was dead or alive: the social worker had done nothing to clear that mystery up at all. In the meantime, my friend had been thrown out of his flat and was living quite rough in Helsinki. So, on January 10th, this social worker was made aware that she still had this client, and that he was homeless and sleeping on friends’ couches. And she was made aware of the legal difficulties that her client’s being with me would cause (because of the law on how the social services and welfare office should see two people staying in the same flat).
It took this social worker until Friday to reply to the initial call to her, made on the Monday. In this replay, she mentioned that they might be able to get my friend his old flat back, provided that he do a number of things first (including make a written application for income support from the Helsinki Social Welfare Office – essentially the same as the Social Services office; pay off all debts for unpaid rent; and a few other things as well). Nowhere in the mailing did she say, “Oh, by the way, we have found a place you can stay whilst we’re sorting all this stuff out!”.
So, since Monday, he’s been on my put-you-up in my lounge and slowly going out of his mind with worry.
What happens in Finland, when Social Services have a case that they cannot really be bothered to deal with appropriately, they let the case lapse and the client then goes into crisis and the case becomes a Mental Health Care System case. It seems that this is what is happening in the case of my friend. Neither Autismisäätiö or the Helsinki Social Services people have shown any intention to ascertain the life-status of my friend; they have not even made a proper or adequate assessment of his needs (had they done so, this situation would not have happened); and they have not been bothered to act once they were made aware of the situation. This situation has had financial impacts on those who have had to become involved because of the lack of any Social Services contact at the Helsinki end: me, because I had to buy his food when he had no money to speak of; and my ex-wife, because her getting involved has distracted her from her own work as a sole-trader consultant in autism services.
And the lack of consideration of the social worker for this component of the impact of her lack of appropriate response to the initial situation just… well, at one time, I would have said that it shocked me. These days, I cannot say that: I have come to expect this from Finnish social workers. But what it does is to gall me. It galls me because – despite knowing the possible impacts on others of not acting to get my friend a place to stay (at least for a while) – this social worker has still failed to do the one thing that her client needs her to do: help him find a roof to go over his head. Three Asperger-autistic people in Kotka have tried to, despite being totally under-resourced (compared to Helsinki Social Services), help him find a temporary place to stay at night: we have – even in southern Finland – very bitterly cold nights. It is as if this social worker is playing mind-games with us: daring me to throw him out into cold, while she sits at her desk and effectively does nothing. Since Monday January 10th, she has been taking advantage of me by not acting quickly enough, and putting my tenancy at risk in the process (to say nothing about what it is doing to my friend, who is quickly approaching a nervous breakdown as I write this article).
I cannot say now that I have any faith in social workers, especially Finnish ones: they are careless (they can always find a way to ‘lose’ a client who has specific daily living needs that they cannot be bothered to understand); they can always fail to act, if there is a friend of their client that they can guilt into taking an excessive risk with tenancy rights (which all social workers know, since it is part of their job to know this); and they can always fail to respond appropriately to a call that says that their client is homeless by failing to find even a temporary place to stay.
This social worker is very fortunate that I am not her boss. If I were, she would be looking for another job tomorrow morning (I am writing this on Sunday evening), and I would be making sure that every social services department in Finland was aware that she is – if her practice over the past two years with regard to my friend is anything to go by – a serious liability (for a good many litigatory actions in court). This social worker has case the all other social workers in such a bad light that it is hard to imagine what kind of social worker would condone this sort of malpractice. But, then again, two articles come to mind. Look at the difference between these reports in the Helsinki Times:
“Many Finnish social workers blame claimants for being poor -Study
Finnish social workers’ attitudes toward the poor are harder than those of their colleagues in other Nordic countries, according to a study published in the Finnish social policy journal Yhteiskuntapolitiikka last week.
The study found that Finnish social workers were many times more likely than their Nordic colleagues were to tell poor customers that they had themselves to blame.” (28th December, 2010)
“Study: Finnish social workers deploy tough love
In the view of some Finnish social workers, the poor have only themselves to blame.
THE ATTITUDES of Finnish social workers towards the poor are the severest in the Nordic region, it has been revealed. They are much more likely than their colleagues in Scandinavia to blame clients for their own financial hardship. This was one of the results of a study published in Yhteiskuntapolitiikka-lehti, a social policy magazine.
Norwegian, Swedish and Danish social workers instead do not tend to identify any of the causes of financial problems in clients themselves.” (7th January, 2011)
Did anyone notice the change of tone there? In December’s article about the same study, the social workers are accused directly of blaming their clients. In January’s article, the tone has softened to them “deploy(ing) tough love”. Talk about minimising the effect of the damage they do to their clients!
Edit: Since this friend’s placement in a temporary flat in Helsinki, I have not heard anything. I have no idea what has happened. And I have been experiencing the worst of difficulties with the same type of bureaucrats in the town I live in, so I’ve been unable to follow him up.