Slow progress 'hard to accept'

John Cooke, 55, gave up his job as a foreman in a car factory five years ago to look after his daughter, Joanne, now aged 23.

Joanne suffered brain damage soon after birth and also has epilepsy. John is divorced from Joanne's mother and took over Joanne's care when she left school. He is now effectively a single parent. "There's absolutely no way I could have continued working," he said.

Joanne's special school concentrated mainly on trying to improve her intellectual capacity, says John. So, when she left at the age of 19, she had no practical skills, such as washing, using public transport and shopping. Joanne cannot read or write.

"I've had to work very hard fishing around for different schemes that would help Joanne," says John. "Originally, I thought that you just rang up an organisation like Mencap and said, 'I've got a handicapped child, what are you going to do about it?' Of course, it's not a bit like that."

Joanne is one of the lucky ones; she now works one day a week doing odd jobs at a garden centre, and also attends Wigan and Leigh further education college on a Mencap course that helps people with learning difficulties to find work.

"My hope is that Joanne will achieve some independence within a sheltered setting," says her father. "She now goes out on her own and uses buses; it's a risk, but it's better than keeping her in cotton wool. But when I look at what some parents have to cope with, parents with very severely mentally handicapped adults, I just can't understand how they manage. I don't think I could do it."

John says that he is immensely proud of Joanne's progress, but the frustrations persist: "I'm a very logical person and it's difficult to accept that there are some things that Joanne will never learn to do. You think she will, but she won't."

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