Broadcaster JO WHILEY asks readers to support Mencap’s fight to protect the vital sleep-in service for adults with a learning disability

SLEEP-INS are widely used in the learning disability sector to provide essential care for vulnerable adults in their own homes, in the communities where they live. For a person with a serious learning disability having someone stay overnight ‘at home’ makes the vital difference between ‘living a life’ and spending the rest of their life in a hospital setting.

‘TWO years ago my family were in crisis. My sister, Frances, who has learning disabilities, had a breakdown and had to be ‘sectioned’.

We don’t know why, we don’t know what brought it on. We didn’t know what to do, we were absolutely desperate.

I wonder if it was a subconscious break-out for independence – that at the age of 47 she didn’t want to live with my parents anymore, she wanted to be allowed to grow up and live as an independent adult.

Frances has always had sleep issues. For as long as I can remember she simply hasn’t wanted to go to bed and could go for days and nights without sleep, which is fine, it’s just that she wouldn’t let anyone else sleep either.

We used to tell her stories all night long. If you dared to fall asleep you’d be woken with a hefty smack to the head. We tried everything – but she was pretty destructive.

She tore up curtains, wallpaper and bedcovers – overturned her bed so we had to nail it to the floor. She’d paste the walls in -turn with whatever she could, vomit, urine, faeces. Her room was a battle zone.

She moved to a residential home where everyone worked tirelessly on her sleep issues. To no avail. At one point she managed to break open a window and climb out. The first staff knew about it was when she walked in with a broken hip asking for a cup of tea!

Thirty years on and Frances is older and wiser but still has issues with sleep. After her breakdown, when she was sectioned, she moved into a Mencap house where they have helped her settle.

She often refuses to go to bed and will prefer to sleep downstairs rather than in her own bed. She’s strong and loud and it’s impossible to placate her when her mind is made up about where she wants to sleep.

The only way Frances is able to live in her new home rather than with my parents is because she is cared for by Mencap staff who sleep in overnight.

If they weren’t there, she would simply escape from the house and who knows what would happen? She has little road awareness and would disappear into the night and into danger.

I can’t emphasise enough how crucial sleep-in care staff are to Frances’ safety and wellbeing. It’s been a long painful journey for all to get her to where she is today – living independently – but happily and safely.

Please support the Royal Mencap Society’s #StopSleepInCrisis Campaign and sign our on-line petition. Mencap Direct: 0808 808 1111