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Empowerment can be defined in general as the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities gain control of their circumstances and achieve their own goals, thereby being able to work towards helping themselves and others to maximise the quality of their lives. In health and social care empowerment means patients, carers and service users exercising choice and taking control of their lives. It is not that one is empowered means he or she become all powerful like God. Even if we are empowered still we have limitation. Actual meaning of empowerment is that one feels that he or she able and feels powerful enough in certain situations to take part in decision making. I also will explain how politics played a part in disempowering women in health and social care services. It is a greatest challenge in health and social care to achieve progress with the empowerment of carers and people who receive services.
Beginnings of twentieth century women were disempowered because of politics played a part. Emancipation is a commonly used word in other western European countries to refer to what in the UK mean by empowerment. The word emancipation has is useful because it has overtones of the struggle for votes for women in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century, so it reminds us that empowerment in the health and social services has a political aspect. When carers and people who use services experience being disempowered and excluded, this is a form of political disenfranchisement. In other words, it is as though they have no vote and are not treated as full members of society. In contrast, when people become empowered, they can exercise choices and have the possibility of maximising their potential and living full and active lives.
There is a tension between enabling people to take control of their lives and recognising that workers may need to intervene and take control sometimes, in order to protect other people. This applies to both empowerment and advocacy.
Empowerment for people with learning disabilities is the process by which they develop increased skills to take control of their lives. This will help them achieve goals and aspirations, maximising their quality of life.
A key feature in empowering people is giving them a voice and actively listening to what they have to say. Empowerment is, therefore, closely linked to the concept of advocacy.
Empowerment in learning disability can be described as a social process, whereby people who are considered as belonging to a stigmatised social group can be assisted to develop increased skills to take control of their lives. This increased control will help them to achieve their goals and aspirations and thus potentially maximise the quality of their lives. The concept has connections with assertiveness and independence and is clearly linked to the various forms of advocacy.
When considering the current climate it is somewhat an indictment on our times that the Government sees the need to name the White Paper regarding its vision for learning disability services as ‘Valuing People’. The title alone inversely suggests that as a society we are ‘not valuing people’. The content presents the evidence on levels of exclusion, disempowerment and lack of valued social roles facing those with a learning disability and how services should be planned to address this. (A similar Scottish Executive Review of Learning Disability has the title ‘The Same As You’.)
For the individual with a learning disability, the subjective experience of empowerment is about rights, choice and control which can lead them to a more autonomous lifestyle. For the professional, it is about anti-oppressive practice, balancing rights and responsibilities and supporting choice and empowerment whilst maintaining safe and ethical practice.
Education is often seen as the main engine of empowerment, equality and rights of access. Thus, as a group, people with a learning disability can be at a particular disadvantage. They may have to be enabled and supported to perhaps overcome social obstacles and can be dependent on others to make important information accessible to them, assist them with advocacy and help safeguard their rights.
A key feature in empowering individuals is giving them a voice and then listening actively to what they have got to say. Person Centred Planning with its focus on placing the individual at the centre of the process and using techniques to obtain meaningful participation can be a major contribution to finding out what people have got to say. Empowerment will bring along with it rights and responsibilities plus also potential risks for people. It is often the fear of physical risk which can inhibit empowerment processes for people who see themselves as responsible for vulnerable people. They may fear a blame culture if things go wrong. Surprisingly, as recently as 1998, the Social Services Inspectorate noted there were no systematic approaches for risk assessment and management in the field of learning disability.
The Foundation for People with a Learning Disability set out to identify good practice in how to reconcile the tension between ensuring the safety of an individual with a learning disability and empowering them to enjoy a full life in the community. A report was produced called Empowerment and Protection (Alaszewski et al, 1999) which suggested that organisations needed to develop risk policies which embrace both protection and empowerment issues at the same point. The definition of risk should look at consequences and probability. Procedures should also include, from the start, the wishes and needs of the person who has the learning disability and involve them throughout, including the decision making stage.
Such comments about organisations developing appropriate risk strategies show that empowerment is not there just as a concept for front line staff, but should penetrate the strategic planning levels. ‘Valuing People’ states (Section 4.27) that people with a learning disability should be consulted for their views on services and these views utilised at a corporate planning level.
In Mrs Ali case she is empowered by Muslim religious faith to take of her bed-bound husband although in contrast her care taker Jean believes that Mrs Ali should be empowered. This indicates religion also empower some people to take care vulnerable people.
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