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Good care, bad care – what a bowl of fruit can tell us

Kathryn Holland, Safeguarding Lead 20 November 2023

Kathryn Holland reflects in Safeguarding Adults Week on what a bowl of fruit can tell us about our expectations.

After visiting a care home, an advocate spoke to a solicitor. 

The solicitor commented on the home, and how impressed they were – especially with the fact that there was a bowl of fruit for the residents and, moreover, one topped up with fresh fruit, not moulding bananas and shrinking oranges. The advocate was equally impressed.

It’s great to hear, isn’t it, that there’s a bowl of topped up fresh fruit in a care home? But what does it say about our expectations that we’re impressed with a bowl of fresh fruit? Why should it come as a surprise, or be noteworthy? 

The answer is, sadly, that this is not really about fresh fruit, it’s about our expectations. 

Most of us who work regularly in care homes don’t expect to see bowls of fresh fruit, or many of the things that would make a home feel like a person’s home and not an institution. 

Good care homes do exist, but they are often the exception. The bowl of fruit was not the only impressive thing about the care home. It was good in many other ways, too. The environment was homely, designed specifically to appeal to people of an older generation, surrounded by familiar scenes and pictures which might tap in to warm memories of bygone years.

This bowl of fruit came up in one of VoiceAbility’s safeguarding communities. And it fed quickly into a discussion about our expectations, how easy it is for advocates to become normalised or used to impersonal institutional care. Homes’ that do not feel like homes at all. 

And what we realised is that good advocacy, protecting people’s rights and safety, is about having good expectations on behalf of our clients. Not allowing our standards to be deflated by our experiences, but ensuring that our standards feed into and improve the experience of the people we support.

It’s a safeguarding issue, too. Environments that don’t meet the needs of the people who live in them impact on mental and physical health – they may cause distressed behaviours, creating cycles of distress. 

Setting our expectations, consciously, deliberately, independently, can inform how we see the environments that we visit our clients in. 

It can help to ensure that we help prevent abuse by identifying and taking seriously concerning conditions that may cause harm.