Building Creative Tension [PDF]

John O’Brien

The development of a citizen advocacy programme for people with mental handicaps

John O’Brien – London, 1984

‘Beware thinking of systems so perfect that nobody will have to be good.’ – Gandhi
How does one measure social progress? If the increasing investment of public resources, the development of new services and methods of assistance, the entry of growing numbers of professionals into ‘caring’ careers, and public statements of rights and entitlements are valid criteria, the past twenty years have witnessed a transformation in policy and potential for people with special needs. But the daily experience of many people shows the transformation to be incomplete in practice. Large numbers still live in institutions; much ‘deinstitutionalisation’ has been a matter of swapping larger older institutions for smaller newer ones; many people still do not receive technically competent assistance; and rights to services and protections are hard to enforce.

The gulf between promise and common practice is sobering, but it need not be cause for cynicism or defeatism. It can motivate constructive action on the part of ordinary citizens and the professionals who serve their communities.