I started with my first Blog and good intentions in January. Its now July and I have only managed 3, So much for one a month. It has however been a busy half year and one that I blame for stopping my blog output before it even got started. I am in awe of those out there that regularly find time to blog, stir the debate and raise issues. These are a staple of my week and help protect me from the sounds of big brother or some other unreal reality show so oft watched by my teenage sons.
For me, a little like Twitter, this blogging takes some getting used too. The ideas for blogs pop in and out of my mind on a regular basis and, as is so often shown by those proficient in the art, are based on the activities of the day, a story overheard and an experience felt. Alas by the time I am home the words that had formed so clearly in my head whilst driving around or walking from meeting to meeting elude me. As does the confidence to put finger to keyboard. If I tell the story it will be of little interest and one that could be told much more deftly by those who are seasoned practitioners of the art of the Blog.
However I find myself on the eve of leave with a laptop in front of me a black coffee and a determination to write something that may make people smile but may also sow a seed. Over the last year or so I have come to learn that the little stories are so often the ones that mean so much and shine a light on the journey that social care, and for me social work, needs to travel. This morning I found myself telling a story to a group of nurses who were at a workshop to hear about our social workers drive to support personalisation and true citizenship for people with a learning disability. The story is one I tell often but one that has made me think about how important and wonderful an ordinary life truly is. A life, sadly though, that is still out of the reach of so many. This story amongst many others also got me thinking about the way we measure successful social care and social work. KPIs and performance targets tell as much, normally quantative, about how systems work and responses are delivered. The number of assessments and support plans delivered per month may be key data but what does it tell you. It doesn’t tell you that those interventions were person centred, it doesn’t tell you that they worked and I’m sure it doesn’t tell you that the plan allowed the person to enjoy support that drove inclusion and citizenship. So what to do? The story below got me thinking that we really could start to measure more diverse data to prove service delivery like say Kebabs!
So here is my story, or more importantly Ben’s, and my attempt to write my fourth Blog. Let me introduce you to Ben a younger man with an insatiable interest in all things x factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Added to this is his unnerving knowledge of coronation street and love for musicals. It is fair to say that Ben is a man with a passion for the performing arts and has these skills that he wishes to share. What you also need to know about Ben is that he has a learning disability and lives in a reasonably big residential unit with nearly 15 other people. Ben as you might have guessed attends a day centre regularly. He lives in “the community” but I would question whether he was part of “the community”. Ben historically doesn’t “challenge services” (as services like to say) but he does require a lot of support in his daily life.
Ben has no family and lives a life where his relationships with other people are with those he lives with and paid support. He is cared for and has always appeared “happy & safe”. Then one day Ben got “suspended” from his day centre, “how does that work” you may say, but that is probably another blog altogether. One thing is clear and that is that Ben is suddenly becoming “challenging” and over the days, weeks and months these challenges increased. Meetings were arranged, 1:1 was put in place and extra night care was needed. This was mainly because he wants to watch TV (Britain’s got Talent & Corrie recordings) all night long and when asked to turn it off he again becomes “challenging”. Ben may even need to move as his needs, everyone is saying, are no longer being met.
Now there are some very obvious facts about Ben and ones that he will never cease to tell you. Firstly he loves singing, secondly he wants to be an actor on Corrie and thirdly his day centre doesn’t run Britain’s Got Talent sessions so he doesn’t want to go anymore. Now I suspect everyone is reading this (assuming anyone is) and thinking well this is a bit obvious do we really need to write about such things, any decent social worker worth their salt would engage with Ben and find the obvious answers with him. Thankfully they did.
One thing I have learnt over the last year is how many social workers are active members of amateur dramatic groups and societies, a lot. In fact as we have been mapping community groups I have been astounded by how many such groups exist in our area. It’s a thriving activity with I suspect many additional social benefits, and yes here was a potential answer for Ben.
After a number of meetings with his social worker Ben and said Worker hatched a plan. They found a local Am Dram group based in a church hall not 15 minutes walk away, sessions twice a week to almost every night as productions drew closer. Contact was made and Ben with much anticipation attended his first session. Now Ben as mentioned lived in residential care and supporting him to go out at night to a local Am Dram group proved a little to radical for the residential rota and staffing ratios. So more 1:1 was funded and off he went to see if he could tread the boards and cut it with the best of the best local thespians.
Ben clearly could cut it with the best of them. He took his roles seriously as well as his responsibilities to be involved in the running of the group as a whole, the tidying up as well as the acting. It is fair to say that the group was a little apprehensive at the outset but none the less very welcoming. The apprehension soon dissipated and was replaced with what was in reality friendship and expectation. Ben was welcomed into the fold not because he had a learning disability or because the group felt they had “to do there bit” but because he was bloody good at what he did and contributed in full. It didn’t take long before we stopped adding additional 1:1 support to get Ben to the group as the members of the group started to give him a lift or knock for him as they walked to the rehearsals. There is another blog to be written about the saga of whether services thought these people were safe to pick up this vulnerable man. In reality the biggest risk was probably listening to the dodgy show tunes streaming from the car CD player.
All in all a good outcome made, connections with real people, true relationships developed and Ben got to gift his skills back to the community, contribute and finally achieve some of his dreams to act. Ok it wasn’t TV but there is time for that yet. Ben appeared happy, his “aggression,outbursts and defiance” started to disappear. Yet there remained a problem. Ben was still challenging and challenging in a way that would endanger his home or placement as we like to call it!
The unforeseen issue, one that was not considered, was one of geography as well as what I suspect is the true reason for the existence of Am Dram groups. You see the journey from the hall that the group operated from back to the residential home had two key and major risk factors. Firstly there was a pub, a pub that would-be thespians liked to frequent for an hour or so after rehearsals. As part of this group Ben did his bit in joining the group for a drink. The second and more worrying risk factor was that also on the journey home was a kebab shop. So we now had a night of rehearsals followed by, possibly, a few drinks and almost certainly the collection of large donner kebabs on the way home. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Ben insisted on inviting his slightly well lubricated and kebab clutching friends into the home so that they could eat their delicacies and be introduced to the waking night care. Now I’m sure you can imagine this did not go down too well with staff and some authority figures. The social worker was soon faced yet again with a request for additional waking staff to deal with not only Ben’s “challenging behaviour” kebab in hand but what was also perceived as inappropriate relationships.
Now obviously there are some potential issues here before I get many a comment. But the key should be to start from the positive risks that can and were taken and the fact that these new friends probably kept a much closer, protective eye on Ben than some social care or health services ever would. Ben was happy, had friends introduced these friends to his fellow residents, had people who helped him when needed and people he could help in return and for me most importantly had people that he could share an ordinary life with.
Ordinary lives are there for so many of us without a thought. However they are probably not an option for so many marginalised non citizens that still live within but not as part of our communities. So surely the time has come that we start to count how many kebabs were shared, pints were talked over or lattes were ordered when measuring KPIs and quality indicators of service. The measure of such mundane daily activities for so many people can be the difference for many others that turns the institutional life into the wonder that can be the ordinary life.