Community-based day activities and supports for people with learning disabilities

Foundation stones - Breaking new ground

There have been significant new policy directives across the UK in the past 20 years confirming that people with learning disabilities have the right to expect the same opportunities as other citizens, with the support they need to achieve 'ordinary lives'. Valuing People (2001) reinforced the need for day services to 'modernise' in order to create community-based opportunities and more ordinary patterns of life. The 2005 green paper Independence, Well-being and Choice (see Policy) reiterated that people should have the opportunity to participate fully in the life of their community.

What research tells us

There has been little evaluative research at all into day services and supports for people with learning disabilities, and although significant changes have been taking place since the 1990s there has been virtually no formal research into community-based service models and day service modernisation. Employment provision has received more research attention, but the role of adult education and the further education sector, leisure services, and self-help initiatives, for example, have been virtually unexplored.

Research inevitably lags behind practice and knowledge develops from practice - as demonstrated through the King's Fund/NDT Changing Days programme 1995-2000. Availability of practice examples and accounts of successful practice are very important for commissioners, managers and practitioners who are trying to work in different ways to deliver community-based opportunities and support. Organisations and staff are busy 'doing it', but few have commissioned independent evaluation of the services they are providing, and as yet few people are writing about their practice experiences.

The growth in use of brief, individual stories to illustrate positive changes that people have achieved has helped to show that ordinary days can and are being realised. These stories demonstrate approaches that can help, but they are still relatively thin on the ground. When people and services are breaking new ground it is crucial to reflect and learn from practice, and then to share that learning with others.

And in practice?

People with learning disabilities are breaking new ground - opening doors in society that were previously closed. Many of the practitioners supporting people are innovating day by day. The work is challenging, and needs celebrating. It would be dangerous, though, to see it as special. Having ordinary opportunities and leading an ordinary life of your choosing is not special - it's what all people have a right to.

Commonly, innovators - those at the leading edge of helping people achieve ordinary lives - have many of the following qualities:

Some questions to ponder

  • Do you need to strengthen any of these innovator qualities yourself? What can you do to improve your skills, ability and support network?
  • How can you help other people to become more innovative?
  • How can you support people locally who are at the leading edge, trying to make ordinary things happen for individuals?
  • How can you share information about approaches and strategies that are getting results for people locally?
  • What can you do to ensure the basic quality of support at the same time as breaking new ground?

Practice examples

Some accounts of change and innovation:

Links and resources

For more practice examples and individual stories:

And the folllowing websites: