The Core Issue

In a society which has witnessed the  almost complete disintegration of the extended family and integrated communities, we no longer have the resource, capacity or will to care for those with so called ‘special’ needs i.e. the old, sick, disabled in a natural family and community integrated way.

In the past there were no special needs, there were just needs. Families and communities just had to take responsibility. It is true that in some cases they did this by locking family members away, or sending them to mental hospital for having children out of wedlock.  But for many they continued to live as part of the fabric of family - Real, Living, Willing, Loving care in the community.

Now let’s be honest about this. The race for ‘progress’ has meant increased consumerism and individualism: sanitised words for greed and selfishness. I know it is not that simple but it is not far off.

The progress of PROGRESS  has seen those ‘special’ needs  first squeezed out of the family, squeezed out of the community and into institutions and then, where possible, squeezed out of institutions into Care in the Community.

Care in the Community has been progress. It recognises the importance and spirit of what we have lost and is trying to mimic it. It is making the best of a bad job.  But It’s a bit like GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms). Proponents argue that GMO’s are SUBSTANTIALLY EQUIVALENT to the real thing.  The reality is that this is a dangerous illusion which encourages us to believe that the substantially equivalent thing is the real thing when it is not.  It is a risk/benefit solution to a problem created by individualism and consumerism, which could be solved far more simply by more appropriate distribution. Care in the Community is the substantial equivalent of the real thing, real care in the community.

As a society we manage the absence of the real thing with social policy. We try to understand how to consciously put back together what has come apart. We try to control and regulate. We set up systems of consumer protection, we create consumer principles, we try to moderate so called human nature by creating regulatory bodies. We have to do this because the system cannot control itself.

The Care Quality Commission is just one such institution. It is a genuine consumer protection organisation and has gone about its task in a professional and determined way to provide a consumer counter balance to the urge to exploit.  It has sought to create a model of substantial equivalence to that long lost model of real care.

But the model is like a photographic negative, it is a negative image of what could be, what should be, not a positive one. It incorporates a worst case scenario of minimum requirements. Its goal is to reconstruct the elements of real care around principles which it believes manifest best practice for this replica care, principles like  consumer choice, access, equity, information, redress and representation, principles and concepts  which where woven into the natural community response and were more appropriately called love .

Now here is the real conundrum. What happens when organisations of substantial equivalence meet the real thing? Is this a ridiculous and pointless thought? Surely there is no real thing. All we are left with is the negative image, the controlling force rather than the creative living force. We have to accept this; this IS the real world now.  But it is not.

In 1948 Karl Koenig an exile from Hitler’s Nazi Germany set up a community in Scotland to care for people with what we now call learning disabilities. The community was formed around the ideas of Anthroposophy developed by Rudolf Steiner. The core practical principals of the now world wide Camphill movement were that those with ‘special’ needs should be able to grow up in and remain part of a loving, living, working,  integrated, social, economic and cultural community. Care is in the context of family based units where the co-workers live out their life with ‘villagers’ as one would in a family. The co workers in a Camphill Community  are not care workers, they are not  case workers. Co - workers do not get paid, rather they act out of love and their economic needs are met by the community as a whole through amongst other things their own economic enterprise. In the case of the largest Camphill Community in Botton Village in North Yorkshire, the economic enterprise means, farming, food production, woodworking, weaving, toy making, glass engraving, and a bookshop.

As our welfare state has developed, funding for the care of people with learning disabilities in Camphill Communities has also come from the state through the local authority. This pioneering return to a more natural, normal, integrated, loving, family based approach to care has inspired many experiments particularly in the evolving culture of Care in the Community.

There are now  Camphill communities all over the world. Botton Village in North Yorkshire is the largest such community in the world covering some 600 acres and home to around 300 people. It is currently the single largest provider of care for people with learning disabilities in North Yorkshire.

Over the last 2 years Camphill Communities have faced a number of challenges to the integrity of their approach primarily from the Care Quality Commission who have very naturally approached their regulatory task within the strict context of the Quality model developed in response to state provision.  Key elements have been promotion of systems of safeguarding, choice and redress.