Talking about tomorrow


Guardianship needn’t cost a fortune

Applying for guardianship might seem challenging but good advice can make all the difference. Carer support helped Karen and her family through the process – and saved them money.

My advice to other parents would be start early, and don’t be fooled by people who say you need to pay a fortune to get this done.

I knew from talking to other parents that guardianship was something we’d need to apply for. My husband went to a workshop where they said this had to be done through a solicitor, and it would be expensive – an amount in the thousands was mentioned. It concerns me some parents might believe that, and end up thousands of pounds poorer, when actually we did it for nothing.

Someone suggested I contact VOCAL, the agency that supports carers across Edinburgh and Midlothian. They organised a free chat for us with a local solicitor, who then managed the whole process.

We started a few months before Sam’s 16th birthday, but it took nearly 2 years from start to finish. That seems typical according to other parents I’ve spoken to. It helped that the solicitors outlined the whole process at the start and told us what the timescales were likely to be, and they were pretty accurate.

The first step was applying for Legal Aid – the solicitors did that but it took a long time before it was approved, from July until the following February. It then took ages to compile the reports we needed. You have to go to each professional and tell them everything about your child and the level of their difficulties all over again – it’s very much like filling in the PIP form.

The reports are put together by a mental health officer, and there’s a long waiting list because there aren’t enough of them to go round. That was another reason why it took so long. You have to wait until you’ve been assigned a mental health officer because otherwise the reports might be outside the legally specified timescale – and you may have to start again from scratch. Parents can get caught out that way.

The mental health officer also had to check our suitability to be guardians before the application could be submitted.

In the end we were granted guardianship for 5 years, which I think is fairly typical. We’ll have to reapply then.

It was really helpful that the solicitors were honest about the process so we knew in advance what to expect – for example they told us at one point we wouldn’t hear anything for about 10 months, so when it went quiet we weren’t worried.

My advice to other parents would be start early, and don’t be fooled by people who say you need to pay a fortune to get this done.


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When the police get involved

The police were called to Lesley’s son David, then aged 18, when an incident at a local swimming pool escalated. She describes what happened, and offers advice to other parents finding themselves in a similar situation.

David has a rare condition called pachygyric lissencephaly. This means some parts of the surface of his brain are smooth and flattened, leading to learning and physical difficulties, challenging behaviour and epilepsy. He can be wobbly and unsteady on his feet, and his fine motor skills are affected. Often he will find it hard to retain things he’s learned and will forget what has happened, leading to frustration and outbursts of anger.

“David had had informal warnings over being aggressive to staff and hitting people, but it was beginning to escalate,” Lesley explains. “We’d put protocols in place with the support service provider to make sure the number of incidents would be reduced. One day he’d injured his leg, couldn’t go swimming with the rest of his group, and had to wait in the café at the pool. He became angry and impatient, and began turning tables over and threw a chair, so the support worker called the police. He was arrested and taken to the local police station.”

Lesley was called by the day support service and asked to meet them at the station.

“I was very upset and angry the situation had escalated to this point, and that the support service had lost control over it by calling the police. They were supposed to always have extra staff so someone could be with him, to avoid this very situation arising, but people were off sick so it went wrong.”

The social worker on duty left when Lesley arrived. Lesley could be in the interview room with David, but only because she was his guardian, not as his parent.

“They asked him if he had done what was reported, and he said he had,” she says. “I asked after each of their questions, did he understand what they were saying, and he said ‘No’. I wanted to have it on record that he had no idea what was going on at this point. Eventually they asked me to stop, as it wouldn’t make a difference to any decision to charge him – but they did keep saying they didn’t think the Procurator Fiscal would take it any further.”

The family had a long and stressful wait to find out if David would be charged. In the end it was decided a prosecution would not be in the public interest, although Lesley was warned that if David had hit a police officer or hurt someone the outcome could have been very different.

The incident taught me I needed to educate myself on how to support him, she says now.

“I went to a few meetings of SOLD (Scottish Offenders with Learning Difficulties). They were aimed more at support organisations than families, but it was a good network to call on. It was scary to hear about young people who had been in prison. I understood I need to be prepared. I also went to an event about prison admission organised by the Mental Welfare Commission, although mental health issues and learning difficulties aren’t the same. But it was good to find out more about them, and it confirmed my feeling we need the help and support of mental health services.”

The main advice Lesley would pass on to others is to apply for guardianship as soon as possible, as you never know when you might need it. Had she not been David’s guardian, she would have been unable to support him during the police interview as only an “appropriate adult” – usually someone appointed by social services, and not necessarily with any knowledge of the individual or their condition – would have been able to sit in.

“Ask questions of the police officers, and don’t be put off by difficult or unhelpful people,” she says. “If you don’t understand, ask them to explain what’s happening. There seems to be a great rush to charge after an incident. Try and buy some time to think of the best course of action. Have some useful numbers handy of agencies or people who might support you, or a good lawyer if you feel you might need it.

“I’ve also since discovered that having some contact with mental health services would have been advantageous to David and us, as he would be known to them and ‘in the system’ as someone not fully responsible for his actions. The police seemed to take this as something they would have expected us to have already.”


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