News Opinion

Putting communities at the heart of social care could prevent disaster

Paul Allen Chief Executive, Vibrance

For those who receive social care support the last couple of years have been very difficult and there is no end in sight to the Government’s spending squeeze.

Many people with a disability, including those who live in registered care homes, receive less hours of support than they used to, but despite this grim picture, I believe there is a way that we can continue to improve services and the lives of those that need support by looking at a different way of providing support?

With limited support, and probably little disposable income, we need to look at what is around us in our local communities. I am sure we can all recall many acts of friendliness and support towards people with a disability, involving shopkeepers, churchgoers, the Post Office and more all of which were genuine and, hopefully, non-patronising. But those links are unlikely to happen without some assistance ao there is a role for providing support to enable people to tap into their community, to assist with creating links and ensuring they are sustained.

Relatives can provide part of the answer but I believe that more importantly the role of paid staff must change.

Traditionally support is provided directly by Support Workers but this needs to change and the role of those Support Workers needs to switch from providing the actual support to becoming a link for the individual into their community networks, bringing together and coordinating people from a range of backgrounds in order to provide a community place where the individual can receive non-paid support and contribute. This already happens to a degree but it can be grown and developed.

The process of Community Connecting is not new (it is well laid out in the Helen Sanderson Associates publication ‘Community Connecting’) but it is an approach which is well suited to the current state of social care. Community Connecting is a very simple idea that puts personal community relationships (again think shopkeepers, fellow churchgoers, friends) at the heart of any Support Plan.

A good starting point is to draw up a Relationship Circle to establish how much time a person spends with people who are not paid to be there from casual acquaintances to intimate relationships; the more people on this map the more fulfilled a person’s life is likely to be.

In order to make this vision a reality we need to lobby for a new strategy and framework for social care which acknowledges the new financial reality but argues that quality of life for people with a disability need not necessarily reduce if we focus on the role of civil society and “Community Connecting”.

Whilst former First Secretary Damien Green’s announcement last autumn of a Green Paper focussed almost entirely on elderly care, it did include a teasing reference to “wider networks of support” for which Community Connecting would naturally fit.

The future of social care can feel bleak. We need the upcoming Government Green Paper to address the issues being faced by people with a disability and one way we can do this is if all of us, as part of a civil society, step up to the plate and play our part. Bringing communities together and training social care staff to be able to work with communities to help those they support could relieve services, whilst at the same time bringing people together to make people’s lives better for those with and without support needs.






Edel Harris





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