Community-based day activities and supports for people with learning disabilities
Messages from 'Having a good day' - Workforce development
Staff skills and attitudes make a real difference. Staff need to work in person-centred ways and their time needs to be organised so that it's focused on people's personal goals. New job descriptions, career opportunities and training are required, particularly to develop skills in social inclusion, community mapping and community bridge-building.
- Modernised day services largely have enthusiastic staff who are working in a wide range of new roles and with new responsibilities, such as 'community bridge-builders' and 'inclusion workers'. Many staff with 'traditional' day service job descriptions and contracts are also working differently through goodwill and good team management.
- One of the features of the best community day services is that they have a clear 'ordinary life' value-base that permeates all levels and systems.
- People with learning disabilities and family carers are delivering training to staff in specialist and general community service, and it's helping to win hearts and minds and make change happen.
- Recruiting and retaining staff is an issue for some services and for some individuals using direct payments. Many services are using agency staff to plug the gaps, and some are using them deliberately to reduce costs or to maintain flexibility. There is little evidence that they are doing this within a framework that will ensure quality of service as well as good employment practice.
- A more strategic approach is needed at practice level to help people achieve community connections and inclusion. Teams of staff, including supported employment teams, need to know and agree what their strategies are, and they need training and support in putting the strategies into practice (see Key task 6: Achieving inclusion in community life).
- Developing people's independence is important, both in terms of life skills and decision-making. They are an aid to ordinary life. Staff in employment services use structured approaches for skills teaching and fading support, and it would be helpful if more community day service staff were skilled in using such approaches (see Key task 8: Helping people learn and develop).
When setting up a new service think, first about the ordinary life outcomes the staff team need to achieve, then about the things that need to be done to achieve them and where they need to happen - and then create the job description. It may take longer, but job descriptions give staff focus and direction from the start, so they are important. Involve people with learning disabilities in the recruitment process for both staff who are going to be supporting them, and the people who will be managing that support. Why not find a way of using the list of innovator qualities in Breaking new ground? But be careful to create teams with staff t hat have a range of strengths. People need to be able to challenge each other.
Make sure that information about person-centred planning and approaches, and ways of helping people build community connections are an integral part of staff induction and training programmes. Don't leave it to chance - make it a requirement that staff attend. You could also make links with community development or community work courses, and fund staff to attend chosen modules or even the whole course. Building community connections takes time, so think about career structures and what your area can do to keep staff.
Create support networks for staff who spend time working on their own around the local community supporting people, including those funded by independent living funding or direct payments. Consider twinning staff so that they can bounce ideas off each other, discuss practice dilemmas and give back-up when needed.
Build in time for team development days so that staff can reflect on progress towards ordinary lives. Ensure they are well structured and focused, and lead to a 'next steps' action plan.
Focus on recruiting staff who know the local area and community, and target recruitment within black and ethnic minority communities to achieve diversity. Use local papers, local radio and networks to let people know that there are jobs. Don't rely on people seeing adverts in papers.
Develop projects with local schools, colleges and universities to attract young people into work with people who have learning disabilities. Young people are expected to undertake community projects as part of their PSHE (personal, social and health education), International Baccalaureate and citizenship national curriculums - get in on the act!
Think about ethical employment practice, especially in relation to use of agency staff. Community support services need flexibility but they also need people who can give ongoing support over time - flexible contracts are a more ethical solution than long-term use of agency staff.
Some examples of new roles:
- inclusion workers in Essex
- personal assistants within community day services in Thurrock
- community bridge-builders in Newham.
- Look out for a future report from the Skills for Support project (WECIL/NFRC) about direct payments and personal assistance, specifically how personal advisers can give good support to people with learning disabilities.
- Have a look at Options for excellence: building the social care workforce of the future, DES/DH October 2006. There are some helpful ideas such as the Thurrock Council Care Ambassadors' Scheme to improved recruitment and staff retention.