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Launch of new brain injury ID initiative in Northern Ireland

Tue 26 Jun 2018

Vulnerable adults living with the effects of brain injury in Northern Ireland should now receive better support when they come into contact with the criminal justice system thanks to a new ID card initiative.

The Brain Injury Identity Card scheme has been launched by leading brain injury charity Headway and is endorsed by Police Service Northern Ireland, Public Prosecution Service and The Northern Ireland Appropriate Adult Scheme.

The card is designed to help the police to identify brain injury survivors at the earliest opportunity, ensuring they receive suitable support and are diverted away from the criminal justice system where appropriate.

The card, which is part of the charity’s wider Justice Project, has the additional benefit of breaking down social exclusion, providing card holders with renewed confidence in the knowledge that they can easily explain their support needs should they require assistance in everyday situations.

In helping launch the card, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd, Police Service Northern Ireland, warmly welcomed the initiative as a means of not only supporting vulnerable adults but also save precious resources.

“Headway’s Brain Injury Identity Card will be very useful to officers who might come into contact with brain injury survivors,” said Assistant Chief Constable Todd.

“The card will help to ensure that our police officers and custody sergeants can identify brain injury survivors at the earliest opportunity.

“This will not only save valuable and limited resources in many cases, but more importantly will ensure vulnerable adults are given the correct support for their often complex and fluctuating symptoms.”

The clinically-verified photo ID cards list some of the often hidden and misunderstood effects of brain injury that are experienced by the individual card holder.

Peter McCabe, Chief Executive of Headway, said: “We are delighted to be able to officially launch this vital project in Northern Ireland and we are very grateful for the support we have received.

“The often hidden and widely misunderstood effects of brain injury can often lead to difficulties for survivors in their everyday lives.

“Many people are assumed to be drunk as a result of having slurred speech or an unsteady gait, with attempts to explain the effects of their brain injury often in vain.

“Sadly, this can lead to brain injury survivors being arrested as a result of their disabilities not being recognised.

“This card helps police to quickly identify brain injury survivors, saving precious resources and enabling frontline staff to provide appropriate support.

“The card also has the additional benefit of breaking down social exclusion, with card holders having renewed confidence in the knowledge that they can easily explain their support needs should they require assistance in everyday situations.

“It is a simple solution to a tricky conversation.”

Attendees at the launch also included brain injury survivors who have encountered difficulties in everyday life and are now benefiting from carrying a Headway ID card.

‘Having an invisible injury can be difficult to convey to others’

Councillor Noelle Robinson, 59, from Newtownards, sustained a brain injury in 2011 from a ruptured aneurysm.

The bleed left her with a number of problems including aphasia, fatigue and memory issues. These symptoms have brought many challenges.

“At times, people can be very impatient with me especially if I am trying to communicate with them and having one of my ‘cloudy’ moments,” said Noelle.

“I often struggle to get the right word out – particularly if I am being rushed or I’m struggling with fatigue, which is not uncommon after brain injury.

“It is not helped by the fact that my injury is invisible and often people struggle to understand why I may appear a little ‘woolly’ at times. I may appear a little daft to them.

“For this reason, I really love having my ID card with me at all times.”

Noelle, who is a local councillor and chairs the disability forum on the Ards and North Down Borough Council, said she finds carrying the card reassures her.

She said: “Those who know me well don’t need to have sight of my card, but for anyone new, or if I’m in a potentially stressful situation, the card is invaluable in helping them understand.

“Knowing it is there really gives me a lot more confidence. I keep it in my wallet and I know it’s there if I need to show it. It gives me peace of mind. I used it at the City Airport recently to ask for assistance and the staff went out of their way to help me.

“The card means that if I go a little ‘vague’ I can produce it to help people understand why.

"Having an invisible injury can be difficult to convey to others, but this card gives me all the help I need.”

Stephen Herron, Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “We fully support Headway’s Justice Project and Brain Injury Identity Card.

“The ID card will undoubtedly help to improve identification and make sure brain injury survivors with complex or hidden effects are provided with the correct support when they come into contact with the criminal justice system.

“A greater understanding of brain injury will help our staff to ensure survivors’ difficulties are taken into account before deciding upon a course of action. 

For complainants this will involve conducting an individual needs assessment, and for those accused of criminality alternatives to prosecution will be considered in appropriate cases.”

Stanley Booth MBE, The Northern Ireland Appropriate Adult Scheme Manager, said: We fully support this vital initiative, which will help to ensure adults living with the often hidden and complex effects of brain injury are provided with the appropriate adult support they need when they come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Tim McGarry, said: “I am delighted to host the launch of Headway’s Justice Project. It is vital brain injury is identified and understood as a disability in order for it to be taken into account and for survivors to be provided with the support they need in the criminal justice system.

“Headway’s Justice Project and Brain Injury Identity Card will undoubtedly help survivors as well as the police and many other people both inside and outside the criminal justice system to understand brain injury and respond accordingly.”
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"I was being treated like a common criminal"

Dominic Hurley was arrested three times for being drunk and disorderly but in each case he was simply showing symptoms of his brain injury. Dominic now benefits from a Headway Brain Injury Identity Card to help avoid misunderstanding and raise awareness of his condition.

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Headway - the brain injury association is registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Charity no. 1025852) and the Office of the Scottish Regulator (Charity no. SC 039992). Headway is a company limited by guarantee, registered in England no. 2346893.

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