How reputations are made: Edward and the butter knife

Edward was the first person C-Change ever supported. He had moved several times over previous few years, as place after place said ‘no, he can’t live here, we can’t ‘manage’ his behaviour.’

He moved from the Assessment and Treatment Unit (ATU) into his own wee home, in the East End of Glasgow in 2001. He had been involved in recruiting his team. For the sake of continuity, he continued getting ‘day support’ on a 2:1 basis from another organisation that had been supporting him in the ATU.

He had been in his house less than 2 months. At the end of a multidisciplinary meeting I was attending, the Head of the Complex Needs team said, ‘I hear one of your guys has stabbed someone with a bread knife.’

Err, news to me! I checked in with colleagues. Yes, there had been an incident at Edwards home.

There are however, at least two versions of the story.

Version 1.

Two day support workers arrived. Edward’s team member left him finishing his breakfast. It was a lovely day and the day support workers had plans to go to Strathclyde Park. Edward was taking a long time to finishing his toast, so they started physically assisting him. Edward became ‘non-compliant’. He lifted a knife and threatened them. They left and called the police. Two police cars turned up, sirens sounding. When the police entered Edward’s home, he was sitting finishing his breakfast.

Version 2.

Edward was enjoying his breakfast, relaxing and taking his time. Two day support workers arrived, they had plans to go the Strathclyde Park. Edward didn’t want to go to the park. He found it difficult to say no to people, but he told them by eating his toast slower and slower. They did not listen. They started pulling him up from the table. He shouted at them and lifted the butter knife off his plate. They left and phoned the police. Two police cars turned up, sirens sounding. When the police entered Edward’s home, he was sitting finishing his breakfast. People in the street wondered why the police were at their new neighbour’s house. He seemed such a nice man.

In memory of Edward, the gentleman who always called me ‘my darling.’

The goldfish and the bearded dragon

William and I first met over 6 years ago. William was being supported by another organisation. C-Change was going to begin working with William and I was introducing myself and the organisation.

William shared his support with others in a congregate living setting. He had his own flat, had a tenancy, was not under any statutory restrictions.

During our first conversation William asked me an unexpected question. He said ‘Can I have bearded dragon?’

My first question back to William was,’why are you asking me that William?’

He told me that he had previously asked if he could get a bearded dragon. He had been told to get a goldfish. If he could prove he could look after a goldfish, he might then be able to get a bearded dragon.

For the avoidance of doubt, William had never expressed an interest in having a goldfish!
There is a lot of power and discrimination loaded into the assertion that William, an adult, be expected to prove he can look after a goldfish, he never wanted, before ‘being allowed’ to get the bearded dragon he had set his heart on.

William got his bearded dragon.

Goldfish and the Bearded Dragon (Audio by Sam Smith and William Rae)

Leadership and the Coronavirus

It came upon us like a seventh wave. We knew it was coming, we had witnessed its effects on our human family in China, Italy, Iran, Spain and beyond. We had taken deep breaths, preparing as we could, but when it crashed around us, everything was upturned.

One cannot truly prepare for something so far beyond the imaginable.

The preparation we had put in place, provided buoyancy as we tumbled over and dispersed to our homes, unanchored by a base.

And now, many weeks in, we are beginning to find our feet. The adrenalin has subsided, a bit. We have worked out how to stay connected from the little islands on which we have been cast adrift.

We now virtually wave at each other, using video conferencing technology. We count ourselves in and out each day, checking on the wellbeing of the people we support and our colleagues who support them. Checking that everyone has the necessary supplies to keep themselves and others safe and well.

Daily we recognise the skill, the commitment and the ingenuity of our colleagues, working out how to make it work. Rising above the challenge, offering each other hope and encouragement. Approaching their roles with a heroic balance of humility and courage.

It feels now is the time to lift our heads up, to look forward, to gaze at that more distant horizon and consider what that future holds.

Click below to listen to an earlier version of this blog, shared as an audio recording internally within C-Change on 17th April 2020.  


Being Human, But Why?

Tuesday 28th August 2018, marks the fourth in a series of Being Human conferences hosted by the organisation I work for, C-Change Scotland. The organisation is a charity and by all accounts is a service provider organisation. It works with disabled people with additional support needs assisting them to live their good life. So why has the organisation been spending time talking about human rights, is that not someone else’s business, like policy makers, lawyers or the courts?

We think not, we think human rights and the debates and discussion about them are absolutely the stuff of social care. Dignity, the founding principle of human rights is the bedrock of good social care, indeed of any relational interaction. The problem is there seems to be a gulf between policy and practice and rhetoric and reality. The conference also heralds the launch of the book I have written, Human Rights and Social Care, Putting Rights into Practice. The book attempts to make inroads into that gap by connecting case law and practice examples. The book uses the PANEL principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Equality and Legality as a navigational tool to guide practice.

Book launches usually take the form of an author’s lecture and drinks reception. This conference and book launch is more of a celebration of the evolution and the potential of developing a human rights based approach to social care in Scotland. It provides the forum to showcase human rights in action across a range of areas of social care including work with children, women , disabled people and those affected by Alzheimers. We are also very fortunate to have Professor Alan Miller provide the keynote presentation.

Human rights requires leadership. In Scotland we have strong and positive cross party political support for the human rights agenda. However this is not enough, we need to strengthen our citizen leadership. For people to exercise their rights they need to know about them. The aim of the conference and the book is to raise awareness of the potential of adopting a human rights based approach to social care.

We hope you can join us on the day but if not please follow us on social media using the hashtag #rightsintopractice.


A Curious Grapevine

Human rights are our rights by the very nature of our being human. They link us together in our common humanity. They provide, through international human rights conventions and domestic laws, agreements about how we should live together and treat each other based upon respect for human dignity.

Someone once said to me “I knew I had rights but I didn’t know they were the same as other peoples”. Unless people know their rights, they cannot exercise them. They cannot draw on their connective power.

It was this idea that informed the writing of the book Human Rights and Social Care Putting Rights into Practice. I wanted to explore the transformative potential for adopting a human rights based approach to social care. The PANEL principles of Participation, Accountabilty, Non-discrimination, Equality and Empowerment and Legality provide a steely core upon which the work of C-Change Scotland is based.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the Chair of the inaugural United Nations Commission on Human Rights, expressed a desire that a “curious grapevine” would carry the idea of human rights into every corner of the world. The hope is that this book adds one small branch to that ever expanding “curious grapevine”.

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care) is available now via

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice


I have written a book Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care), which was published last month.

The book draws inspiration from the following famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote.

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood (s)he lives in; the school or college (s)he attends; the factory, farm, or office where (s)he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger ).[1]

I have taken the audacious liberty of slightly amending the quote (in brackets) to address the gender-specific nature of the original statement. The book aims to act as a counter balance to the notion of human rights, and human rights law, as the preserve of lawyers, court rooms and judges. This is not to say that the legal profession and the court of law are not important in the realisation of human rights. They are, and careful attention has been paid in each chapter to significant case law that has contributed to the development of human rights jurisprudence.

The focus of the book is, however, on the universality of human rights and the role of the citizen in manifesting and bringing these rights to life, in the living breathing reality of our day-to-day lives. Its aim is to contribute to a growing understanding of the power and potential of human rights in the many different roles citizens fulfil daily, as family members, as colleagues, as those in receipt of additional support and as professionals working in the field of social care. Human rights are, if understood, owned and exercised, a set of shared values and aspirations that form a common lexicon of oneness in our humanity, that transcends age, gender, race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. In that, they can be the source of great inspiration, power and solidarity and act as a catalyst for meaningful progressive social change.

HumanRightsAndSocialCareA formal launch of the book is planned for late August and I will talk more about this as we near the date.

Human Rights and Social Care: Putting Rights into Practice (Policy and Practice in Health and Social Care) is available now via



[1] Excerpt from a speech at the presentation of ‘In Your Hands: A Guide for Community Action for the Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Thursday, 27 March 1958, United Nations, New York. As head of the Human Rights Commission, she was instrumental in formulating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she submitted to the UN General Assembly with these words: ‘We stand today at the threshold of a great event both in the life of the United Nations and in the life of mankind. This declaration may well become the international Magna Carta for all men everywhere.’