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Time to listen?
It’s not often we are encouraged to have an input to the type of support and care proposed for people with learning disability. Back in the day, we moved thousands of people out of institutional care and into a variety of new services, both great and not-so-great, as part of Care in The Community initiatives. I don’t recall much consultation going on with the people we were moving back then and I wonder if those who could voice their feelings would have been listened to. I do know we got it very wrong in many cases.
On the one hand, care of people with disabilities has been found to be seriously lacking in recent years. Services for people with very challenging needs, or those who are in crisis, tends to be institutional and at a distance from their area of origin. Horrendous injustices have been done to vulnerable people in care.
Funding for social care has been cut to the extent that there is scant resource to pay for any kind of residential support, let alone the type that is personalised, responsive and small scale. Care providers have seen lean times with few referrals and cuts to community resources.
On the other hand, we are doggedly trying to include and involve service users in how their care is provided. In my service, we struggle to balance the need to involve young people in their transition to adult services, encouraging them to choose their support provider and working to get them into further education or supported employment, with a dire lack of opportunity. In recent years, I have seen teenagers moved into group homes with an average resident age of 50.
It’s a bit of a lottery to be honest. If you are living in an area with a wealth of supported living provision, you will be able to secure a tenancy and the help of a care team. If you hail from a rural county with scant development in this area, you could well end up in a larger group setting with people who have little in common with you.
It feels a bit hollow to ask people to air their views on the delivery of services when right now we cannot provide those people with a range of options to choose from. Is it really going to get better?
OK I’m being a bit cynical; my view is clouded by recent experience in the area I work. I’ve had a skim over the consultation paper and it makes interesting reading, even for the doubters out there. Interesting not because it really convinces me we will be able to offer more in the future, but more because we are at least giving people a say. We are acknowledging and supporting their right to choose.
And as my granny always told me, "You don’t ask, you don’t get".