Becoming an adult is typically an exciting time for any young person, and one which opens up the possibility of new opportunities. Early adulthood often brings changes in a young person’s education, work life, love life and friendships, and it can be a time when people leave home and live independently for the first time.

The same excitement, and the same opportunities, exist for young people with learning disabilities as they enter adulthood. For too many of them, however, this period of preparing for adulthood, often known as transition, is characterised not by excitement, but by frustration, as different agencies – social care, health, education and others – seem sometimes unable to support the young person and their family smoothly in the change from children’s to adults’ services.

This has proved a challenge for services for many years, and there has been no shortage of guidance over that time that has tried to point to better ways of working. Some of that guidance has focused on the whole system of care and support around young people, and certainly, for a good quality transition to happen, the different agencies need to work effectively together.

About this guidance

This guidance looks more specifically at the role of social workers, and what they need to do to help people with learning disabilities prepare for adulthood well. It has been commissioned by the Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults, and builds on recent work carried out by the Innovation Unit and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), looking at whether a Named Social Worker (NSW) approach might improve support to people with learning disabilities generally, including those in the transition process. A series of NSW pilots explored how ongoing relationships between confident, well-informed social workers and the people they support could make life better for people with learning disabilities, as well as increase satisfaction for social workers. It also demonstrated the potential positive effects for everyone involved.

A practice framework for social workers

In this resource, we have developed a practice framework for social workers and their employers to use, when supporting people to prepare for adulthood. The resource draws on different sources of information:

The framework consists of five elements which together can help social workers in this field to play their part in supporting young people. The elements are:

In each section of the framework, we explore the context in which social workers are operating, recognising that the context is often a challenging one. We then look at what can be done to overcome the challenges, with reference to the NSW lessons, and identify pointers towards a better way of doing things. These pointers are then set out in brief as top tips to consider. Where appropriate, each section includes people’s stories, and resources for social workers to consider in their practice. Comprehensive lists of resources and tools relevant to this area of work are included in each section of the guidance.

National policy and improvement checklist

This resource includes two other elements. One is a review of significant national policy and practice guidance relating to preparing for adulthood, which rates it in terms of:

The second is a checklist, based on the guidance, of what a social worker will need to have in place to do their best work, but also what they need to do themselves to support young people effectively. We recommend this checklist as the basis for supervisions and team meeting discussions.

The term ‘transition’ is often used to describe this period in a young person’s life. In this resource, we primarily use the phrase ‘preparing for adulthood’ for two reasons. Firstly, young people with learning disabilities are readying themselves for being adults; this is much more meaningful than merely the transition from children’s services to adults’ services, which is just one aspect of a young person’s life, and far from the most significant. Preparing for adulthood is a process, not an event; not a transition that just takes place on someone’s eighteenth birthday.

Preparing for adulthood: The role of social workers
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