Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Yarrow: a new model for supporting adults with learning disabilities

Raj Mungur, Director Care and Support, Yarrow

Yarrow has been supporting adults with learning disabilities and complex needs in London for more than 30 years. Social care has changed greatly over that time: in the past, services were ‘delivered’ to people with learning disabilities, and often they had very little involvement in the decisions that were made. At Yarrow, we have been working to turn this on its head. Our ethos is focused on putting control into the hands of the people that we support, working co-productively and empowering them to have real choice. We’re using the introduction of Individual Service Funds (ISFs) to act as a catalyst for further change.

In early 2018, we were awarded an ISF contract by Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council to support 55 people with their personal budgets. We began an exciting journey to evolve the way that people choose and commission their services.

One of the first steps was to give everyone the opportunity to have their say on what they want in life. We held three Planning Live days with 53 service users in total, alongside their circles of support; family, friends and other professionals. We talked about their strengths and their talents, their wishes and their hopes. The sessions were a great success and people had lots of ideas about what they would like to do.

For example, one gentleman came to Yarrow recently from a very difficult background, living in substandard accommodation and in poor health. Planning Live was the first time he had been asked what he would like for his future, and for the first time he began to understand the choices that he can make with his own budget. He is now hoping to get a voluntary job, he has begun planning a holiday and he is the heart and soul of our new singing group.

This summer we appointed our first full-time Market Shaper and Contract Coordinator, Maura Ireland, to support people to achieve their outcomes. Local authorities usually have the responsibility for developing and shaping the ‘care market’, so this new role is a unique opportunity for us to support people to use their personal budgets creatively.

Maura is focused on finding organisations and individuals that can provide the services needed. She has identified gaps in services and is forging new links to draw up an approved list of providers. She is supporting people through the procurement process to buy the services that they want to achieve their goals. She is also creating social stories to help people better understand ISFs and how the procurement process works.

Many people have shared outcomes and Maura is supporting them to pool their budgets. People have been empowered to take the lead and form groups. For example, a cooking club based around the Come Dine With Me television series format has been really popular. This is a great example of people pooling their resources into a group activity, sharing their skills, socialising and making new friends.

Many of the people we support aspire to have a job and we held an Employment Fair which was a great success: three people gained work experience and voluntary work as a result. We will repeat these fairs regularly.

We are also tapping into local community resources, recruiting local volunteers to connect people to their communities. Working alongside key agencies we are creating a diverse market as part of the wider strategic development in the Borough.

We believe this new approach will change the balance of power so that the people we support are truly in the driving seat when it comes to their personal budgets. We are turning the current system of procuring services for people with learning disabilities on its head.










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