Extraordinary times, exceptional circumstances: Larkins families and carers group

Featured article - 07 September 2020
Written by the Larkins families and carers group

Head-shot of the author, Written by the Larkins families and carers group

How a group of families and carers helped ensure the continuous running and future of a small and much-loved care home in Staffordshire

The Larkins Families & Carers Group rose out of the pandemic, to protect the human rights and safety of residents with complex learning disabilities living happily together in the care home they and their families loved. The home was co-led by a mother and daughter team, but on the unexpected death of owner ‘mum’ in August 2019, daughter Kate was told by a CQC member of staff that The Larkins must re-register within 12 months or face closure in August 2020. Kate was disappointed when her application to reregister failed for want of a care manager with recognised learning disability qualifications being an updated CQC registration requirement for such homes in response to the Winterbourne scandal.

And then the pandemic happened. How would The Larkins now attract, interview and appoint a new manager, to ensure it satisfied the many requirements to show the CQC that residents would receive safe, effective and quality care in line with best practice?

Fruitless adverts, staff uncertainties, care home lockdown. Kate shares this with us, the families. We are deeply distressed. Yet unable to even visit. How do you explain to your loved ones via Skype, that in just three months they will lose their home, their stability, their extended family, their community in Brown Edge? As families we were besides ourselves with worry. Kate too, recently bereaved and trying to maintain morale among her staff, themselves facing unemployment. In short we were all in a living nightmare from a complex set of difficulties that would never have arisen in more normal times. And that is the moment when Kate approached the families to form a virtual group with herself and her staff. The Larkins Families and Carers Group (LFCG) rapidly established by phonecalls and emails. Within ten days we held our first virtual 'Zoom' meeting (mid-May). The next meeting will be our eighth. All this within three months.

These Zoom meetings were pivotal in empowering us as families and staff to unite in purpose. Within days we established a positive dialogue with the CQC - this included direct phone conversations with local CQC - more recently by Zoom; and direct communication with their national inspectors. A local nurse with learning disability qualifications was identified by our group - applied and appointed - indeed meeting us by Zoom despite lockdown and even before commencing work. The CQC eventually explained that the Home had been wrongly advised about the Government Regulation relating to change of Home ownership, and prioritised the re-registration process in a most open and helpful way - even interviewing some of the families by Zoom to circumvent the impossibility of face-to-face discussion.

The Larkins’s reregistration was finally approved, just weeks before the August deadline. Forming the LFCG proved the turning point. Its success built on the open culture of Kate and her team. Indeed the Larkins is stronger and we all feel restored. Moving forward, we intend to ‘Zoom’ every three months as a forum to air concerns, solve problems, and support each other. We are already engaging in more normal support like helping in the garden and some summer house maintenance. We might even have a celebration together, hopefully not ‘virtual’, before long!

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