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Supported living: A guide for social workers


‘Supported living’ is at the heart of modern social work, where individuals with diverse needs find the support they require to live fulfilling lives within their communities. As a social worker, you play a pivotal role in understanding and championing this concept, which holds the promise of empowerment, independence, and meaningful engagement for those you serve.

Supported living is more than just a concept; it’s a promise of independence, dignity, and community integration for individuals with disabilities or specific needs. This comprehensive guide, tailored specifically for social workers like you, will equip you with the knowledge and best practices to make a profound difference in the lives of those you serve. We’ll explore the essence of supported living, delve into best practices for individual support, offer guidance on coordinating services, ensuring safety, and even share tips on building partnerships. Your expertise and dedication can transform supported living environments into spaces of empowerment, growth, and fulfilment.

What is Supported Living and its benefits?

Supported living represents a visionary approach to providing housing and support services that priorities individuality and autonomy. It is a model that respects the unique strengths, preferences, and goals of each resident, offering tailored support while fostering community integration.

Supported living refers to schemes that provide personal care to people as part of the support that they need to live in their own homes. The personal care is provided under a separate contractual arrangement to those for the person’s housing. The accommodation is often shared, usually as a small group, but can be single household.

Supported living environments are as varied as the individuals who inhabit them, encompassing a wide spectrum of living arrangements, from shared housing with on-site support staff to individual apartments with intermittent assistance.

Personalised care and support are designed and provided according to the needs of the individual, with a focus on maintaining, or if appropriate, increasing independence. Visiting support workers will work with individuals to help them live the way they want to and access services and social activities as required. While meals are not provided, support workers can assist with shopping and cooking as needed.

Supported living enables adults with support needs to live in their own home with the help they need to be independent. It allows them to choose:

  • where they want to live
  • who with
  • how they want to be supported
  • what happens in their own home.

Supported living provides people with individual tenancies. This means that they have a home of their own and can benefit from a greater level of autonomy.

The staff team will support them and will create the kind of living environment that best meets their needs as far as design, lighting, and ambience are concerned. People in supported living are encouraged to maximise their independence and to engage in the activities internally and externally they enjoy. If they have particular wishes or needs, the staff will support them towards achieving their goals. Supported living has a lot of overlap with housing with care, but is typically considered separately.

Who does Supported Living support?

Supported living is a person-cantered approach that provides essential support and care to individuals with disabilities or specific needs, empowering them to lead independent lives while receiving necessary assistance.

Individuals who benefit from supported living:

Benefits of supported living:

Understanding the benefits of supported living is essential for social workers who aspire to enrich the lives of their clients. Supported living offers:

Throughout this guide, we will delve deeper into the concept of supported living, exploring best practices, coordination of support services, safety considerations, and strategies for building partnerships within this transformative model. Your role as a social worker is not just about offering assistance; it’s about empowering individuals to lead lives that are rich with independence, dignity, and the joy of community inclusion.

Best practices for supporting individuals with disabilities or specific needs in a supported living setting

Person-centred care planning

Comprehensive assessment: Begin with a thorough assessment of each individual’s unique strengths, needs, preferences, and goals. Involve the person, their family, and other relevant professionals to gather a holistic understanding.

Individualised support plans: Collaborate closely with the individual to develop individualised support plans. These plans should be customised to align with their specific aspirations, challenges, and abilities. Ensure that goals are clear, achievable, and meaningful to the person.

Regular review and adaptation: Continuously review and adapt support plans as needed. Encourage regular feedback from the individual and involve them in decision-making processes. Adjust plans to reflect changes in circumstances or evolving needs.

Building trust and rapport

Establishing trust: Building trust is foundational to effective support. Create a safe, non-judgmental environment where the person feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, concerns, and preferences.

Active listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention, demonstrating empathy, and validating the person’s feelings and experiences. Show that you respect their autonomy and choices.

Effective communication

Clear and accessible communication: Use clear and simple language when conveying information, especially when explaining complex concepts or procedures. Adapt your communication style to meet the individual’s specific needs, which may include using visual aids, sign language interpreters, or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.

Communication consistency: Maintain consistent communication with the individual and their support team to ensure that everyone is on the same page regarding goals and progress.

Encouraging self-advocacy

Empowerment: Educate the individual about their rights, responsibilities, and available resources. Encourage them to advocate for themselves and make informed decisions about their lives.

Skill-building: Provide guidance and support to help the person develop self-advocacy skills. Teach effective communication, problem-solving, and decision-making techniques that empower them to voice their needs and preferences.

Showcase examples of residents who have developed self-advocacy skills with the guidance of social workers.

Promoting skills development and empowerment

Regular skills assessment: Continuously assess the person’s skills and abilities. Identify areas where they can further develop and set specific, achievable goals that align with their interests and aspirations.

Incremental challenges: Gradually introduce new challenges and responsibilities to build a sense of accomplishment and self-efficacy. Recognise and celebrate their achievements, reinforcing their self-worth.

Share success stories of residents who have acquired new skills and gained confidence in their abilities.

Community integration

Community engagement: Support the person in actively participating in their community. Identify local resources, organisations, and events that align with their interests, and facilitate their involvement.

Social connections: Encourage the development and maintenance of social connections and friendships within the community. Assist in building a supportive network that enhances their quality of life.

Emotional support

Mental health awareness: Be vigilant about the person’s emotional wellbeing. Recognise signs of distress or mental health challenges and provide appropriate support. If necessary, connect them with mental health professionals.

Emotional resilience: Help the person develop effective coping strategies, stress management techniques, and a positive self-image. Encourage emotional resilience and self-acceptance.

Monitoring and advocacy

Regular progress monitoring: Continuously monitor the person’s progress and wellbeing. Address any emerging issues promptly and make necessary adjustments to their support plans.

Advocacy: Advocate for the person’s rights and needs within the supported living environment and the broader community. Stand up for them in situations where they may face discrimination or unequal treatment.

Collaborative care

Interdisciplinary collaboration: Foster strong partnerships with healthcare professionals, therapists, and other service providers involved in the person’s care. Ensure that all aspects of their well-being are addressed comprehensively.

Family involvement: Involve the person’s family when appropriate and with their consent. Family members often provide valuable insights and support.

Crisis intervention and prevention

Emergency preparedness: Develop and regularly review crisis intervention and prevention plans. Ensure that staff and the person are well-prepared to respond to emergencies and challenging situations in a safe and effective manner.

De-escalation techniques: Train staff and the person in de-escalation techniques to manage potentially difficult situations peacefully and safely.

Documentation and record-keeping

Accurate and detailed records: Maintain accurate and organised records of assessments, support plans, progress, and any incidents. Document all interactions and decisions related to the person’s care.

Privacy and confidentiality: Adhere strictly to privacy and confidentiality standards to safeguard the person’s personal information and maintain their trust.

Guidance on coordinating support services, promoting independence, and ensuring safety in supported living settings

Coordinating support services involves conducting comprehensive assessments, interdisciplinary collaboration, regular team meetings, and effective service coordination.
Promoting independence entails skills development, creating a supportive environment, goal-oriented planning, empowerment, and community integration.

Ensuring safety requires thorough risk assessment, emergency preparedness, medication management, safety training, regular monitoring, and adherence to safety protocols.

Assessment and planning

  • Begin with a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s strengths, needs, preferences, and goals. Collaborate with the individual, their family, and relevant professionals.
  • Develop an individualised support plan that outlines specific goals, roles, and responsibilities of the support team, and a timeline for achieving milestones.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

  • Foster strong partnerships with healthcare professionals, therapists, and specialists involved in the individual’s care.
  • Establish clear communication channels to share information, updates, and coordinate services effectively.

Regular team meetings

  • Schedule periodic team meetings to review progress, adjust support plans, and address emerging challenges.
  • Encourage open and collaborative discussions to ensure alignment among team members.

Service coordination

  • Coordinate services such as medical care, therapy, vocational training, and recreational activities to minimise disruptions in the individual’s routine.
  • Ensure that appointments and activities are scheduled to accommodate the person’s preferences and daily routines.

Promoting independence

Skills development

  • Identify specific skills that align with the individual’s goals for independence, such as daily living skills, vocational skills, communication skills, and mobility skills.
  • Design skill-building activities and exercises tailored to the individual’s abilities and interests.

Supportive environment

  • Create a living environment that fosters independence and autonomy. Ensure accessibility and safety in the physical layout.
  • Gradually introduce new responsibilities and challenges, allowing the individual to gain confidence and self-sufficiency over time.

Goal-oriented approach

  • Develop clear, achievable goals that hold meaning for the individual. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps to facilitate progress.
  • Celebrate each achievement, regardless of its size, to boost the person’s self-esteem and motivation.

Empowerment and self-advocacy

  • Encourage the individual to voice their preferences, make decisions, and advocate for their needs and rights.
  • Provide guidance on self-advocacy skills, such as effective communication and problem-solving.

Community integration

  • Support the individual in actively participating in their community. Identify community resources, organisations, and events that align with their interests
  • Facilitate opportunities for volunteering, socialising, and pursuing hobbies or interests outside the home.

Ensuring safety

Risk assessment

  • Conduct regular safety assessments of the living environment, identifying potential hazards or safety concerns taking a positive risk management approach.
  • Address safety issues promptly, such as installing safety features, improving lighting, or securing medications.

Emergency preparedness

  • Develop and periodically review emergency plans with the individual and the support team. Ensure everyone knows their roles during various emergency scenarios.
  • Practice emergency procedures, including fire drills, evacuation plans, and response to potential crises.

Medication management

  • Establish strict medication management protocols (in line with medical professional recommendations), covering proper storage, administration, and documentation.
  • Ensure the individual receives information from the relevant persons about their medications and potential side effects to promote informed self-management.

Training and education

  • Provide training to staff and the individual on safety procedures, including fall prevention, handling emergencies, and recognising signs of abuse or neglect.
  • Offer education on personal safety, such as online safety or recognising scams, when applicable.

Regular monitoring

  • Continuously monitor the living environment and the individual’s wellbeing to identify safety concerns or changes in their needs.
  • Encourage all support team members to report safety issues promptly.

Addressing evolving needs and ensuring holistic care

Regular reassessment

  • Conduct periodic reassessments to account for changes in the individual’s health, abilities, and aspirations.
  • Modify support plans accordingly, ensuring that they remain relevant and effective.

Adaptive strategies

  • Be flexible and open to adapting support strategies as the individual’s needs evolve. Adjust goals and interventions to align with their current circumstances.

Psychosocial support

  • Address the individual’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.
  • Provide access to counselling or therapy services when necessary.

Advocacy for evolving needs

  • Advocate on behalf of the individual to ensure their evolving needs are met within the supported living environment and the broader community.
  • Stay informed about evolving service options and resources that may benefit the individual.

Family involvement

  • Involve the individual’s family in discussions about evolving needs and changes in the support plan.
  • Ensure that the family’s input is considered in decision-making processes.

By following this guidance, social workers can effectively coordinate support services, promote independence, ensure safety, and address evolving needs while providing holistic care in supported living settings. This approach empowers individuals to achieve their goals and live fulfilling, independent lives while receiving the necessary support and care.

Information on funding options and financial support for supported living

Funding options and financial support for supported living play a crucial role in ensuring that individuals with complex needs can lead independent and fulfilling lives within their communities. Social workers are often at the forefront of assessing individuals’ needs and determining suitable solutions.

Individuals in supported living have their own tenancy agreement and are responsible for their own bills and cost of living. The personal care and accommodation parts of supported living are covered by separate agreements. To help cover costs individuals may be entitled to a range of funding options and financial support available below.

The cost of some or all of a person’s care and support may be available through the local authority or sometimes via NHS funding.

Local authority funding

Adult social care assessment: The process begins with a comprehensive assessment of the individual’s care and support needs by the local authority’s social services department. This assessment is typically conducted by social workers or care assessors.

Personal budgets: Based on the assessment, individuals may receive a personal budget if eligible for local authority funded care and support. This budget is designed to give them more control over their care and support. It can be used to purchase services, including supported living arrangements. In line with the Care Act, Councils need to assign a personal budget to all eligible persons so they can have more control over their support.

Direct payments: In some cases, individuals may receive direct payments instead of a personal budget. These payments allow them to arrange and pay for their support independently.

Housing benefit or universal credit: Individuals living in supported living accommodations may be eligible for housing benefit or universal credit, which can help cover housing costs, including rent and some service charges.

Local welfare assistance scheme: Some local authorities offer discretionary payments or financial assistance through their local welfare assistance scheme. These funds can help individuals facing exceptional or unexpected financial hardships.

Disability benefits

Personal Independence Payment (PIP)

PIP is a benefit for people with long-term health conditions or disabilities. Social workers can assist individuals in applying for PIP, which can help cover the additional costs associated with housing and support services.

Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG)

DFG is a means-tested grant available for individuals with disabilities who need to make essential adaptations to their homes. This can include modifying a property to accommodate specific needs, making it suitable for supported living.

Charitable organisations and trusts

Numerous charities and trusts offer grants or financial assistance to individuals with specific needs. Social workers can help individuals explore these options.

Independent Living Fund (ILF)

While the ILF in its previous form was closed to new applicants in 2010, some local authorities have developed similar schemes to provide financial support for people with high support needs living in the community.

NHS continuing healthcare

In cases where an individual’s primary need is health-related, they may be eligible for NHS continuing healthcare, which covers the full cost of care, including supported living accommodations.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, up to state pension age only)

ESA is designed to provide financial assistance to individuals who are unable to find and sustain employment because of their health-related limitations. It serves as a replacement for incapacity benefit and income support paid on health grounds.

Attendance Allowance (AA)

AA is a non-means-tested, tax-free benefit provided by the government to support individuals who have a severe disability or health condition and require assistance with their care needs due to their disability. It is intended to help with the extra costs associated with daily living and care that result from a long-term illness or disability.

Access to Work Scheme

For individuals with disabilities who are seeking or already in employment, the Access to Work Scheme provides financial support to cover the costs of adaptations, equipment, and support workers.

Assistive technology and equipment grants

Some individuals may require specialised equipment or assistive technology to live independently. Grants and funding may be available to cover the costs of such items.

Legal aid

In certain situations, legal aid may be available to help individuals access appropriate housing and support services.

Social workers play a vital role in guiding individuals and their families through the complex process of accessing funding and financial support for supported living. They can provide information, complete assessments, and advocate on behalf of individuals to ensure they receive the necessary financial assistance to maintain their independence and wellbeing.

It’s important to note that eligibility criteria, available funding options, and application processes may vary across different regions and may change over time. Therefore, social workers should stay informed about the latest policies and resources available to support individuals in their communities.

Tips for building partnerships with support providers and local communities

Building partnerships with support providers and local communities is crucial for the success and integration of supported living programmes. These partnerships can enhance the quality of care, provide access to resources, and create a more inclusive environment.

Here are detailed tips and guidance for social workers on how to build these partnerships effectively:

Identify key stakeholders

Support providers

Identify and establish relationships with local support providers, including care agencies, disability service organisations, and non-profits. These organisations can offer vital services and resources to individuals in supported living.

Local community leaders

Connect with community leaders, such as local government officials, school administrators, and leaders of community organisations. They can advocate for inclusivity and support community engagement efforts.

Communicate clearly and effectively

Open communication

Maintain transparent and regular communication with support providers and community leaders. Establish clear lines of communication to address issues promptly.

Active listening

Listen actively to the concerns, needs, and suggestions of support providers, individuals in supported living, and community members. Demonstrating attentiveness fosters trust and cooperation.

Establish common goals

Shared objectives

Collaboratively set and prioritise shared goals and objectives with support providers and community stakeholders. This ensures alignment and a collective focus on positive outcomes.

Mutual benefits

Emphasise how partnerships can benefit all parties involved. Highlight the advantages of supporting individuals in supported living within the community.

Foster collaboration

Regular meetings

Organise regular meetings and forums that bring together support providers, individuals in supported living, and community representatives. These meetings provide opportunities to discuss progress, challenges, and solutions.

Interdisciplinary approach

Encourage a multidisciplinary approach that involves healthcare professionals, educators, therapists, and social workers working together to meet the holistic needs of individuals in supported living.

Promote inclusivity

Community education

Develop and deliver educational programmes and workshops about disability awareness, communication, and inclusion for local community members. Increase awareness and understanding.

Encourage individuals in supported living to actively participate in community activities, events, and initiatives. This can help build positive relationships with neighbours and local organisations.

Promote inclusivity

Educate local community members about supported living and the contributions individuals with disabilities can make. Promote inclusivity and acceptance.

Advocate for accessibility

Advocate for accessible public spaces, transportation, and services within the local community to facilitate the inclusion of individuals with disabilities.

Collaborate with educational institutions

School partnerships

Work closely with local schools, colleges, and vocational training centres to ensure individuals in supported living have access to appropriate educational and training opportunities.

Inclusive practices

Advocate for inclusive educational practices that accommodate the unique needs and abilities of individuals with disabilities.

Engage in community activities

Community engagement

Encourage individuals in supported living to actively participate in community events, volunteering, and recreational activities. This facilitates social integration and promotes positive relationships.

Showcase abilities

Organise events or exhibitions that showcase the talents, skills, and achievements of individuals in supported living. Celebrate their contributions to the community.

Seek funding and resources

Grant opportunities

Explore funding opportunities, grants, and resources that can support community engagement and integration initiatives. This may include grants for inclusive programmes and accessible facilities.

Partnership agreements

Consider formalising partnerships with support providers and local organisations through Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) or partnership agreements. These documents can clarify roles and responsibilities.

Advocate for inclusivity

Policy advocacy

Advocate for local policies and initiatives that promote inclusivity and support individuals with disabilities in their community. Participate in local council meetings and advocacy efforts.

Raise awareness

Share success stories and examples of inclusive practices with local policymakers and community leaders to demonstrate the positive impact of supported living.

Offer training and workshops

Community sensitisation

Provide training sessions and workshops to educate local community members, businesses, and service providers about disability awareness, communication, and inclusion.

Skills training

Offer skills training workshops for individuals in supported living to enhance their independence and employability.

Evaluate and adjust

Regular assessment

Continuously assess the effectiveness of partnerships and community engagement efforts. Seek feedback from all stakeholders and make necessary adjustments to improve outcomes.

Celebrate progress

Acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and milestones of individuals in supported living within the community. Highlight the positive outcomes resulting from collaboration. Building partnerships with support providers and local communities is an ongoing process that requires dedication, patience, and a commitment to the wellbeing and integration of individuals in supported living. Social workers play a pivotal role in facilitating these partnerships and promoting inclusivity, ultimately enhancing the quality of life for those they support.

Case study: Down Syndrome, autism, and supported living


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