Blog from an outstanding provider

Featured article - 09 November 2015
Dan Gower-Smith, Regional Manager, Avenues South East Services

Head-shot of the author, Dan Gower-Smith, Regional Manager, Avenues South East Services

“I’ve learned how to cope with my feelings better, I’m often out with my support worker, and I go to work twice a week.”

That’s Michael, who, like some of other people we support who have learning disabilities or autism, was previously in residential or inpatient care because of behaviours deemed challenging. I want to tell you about why people like Michael are living better lives and why we think that helped us to achieve an outstanding rating in all five domains with the Care Quality Commission.

Supporting people to take positive risks means they start to lead more independent lives. Positive risk-taking weighs up the potential benefits and harms of choosing particular actions over others. We then work towards the outcome the person wants, whilst seeking to minimise any potential harmful outcome. Behind our positive risk-taking is a clear and consistent message from the top that we are supporting people to live lives as ordinary as possible. Change comes from trying new things and seeing what makes a difference. Teams approach positive risk-taking confidently and safely because of the parameters and organisational support to do so.

Values, skills and relationships

Avenues’s values (respect, integrity, pride, excellence) are purposefully simple – every employee can relate to them. They are always there in the background and can hold a mirror to our decisions and interactions. We often ask: “Is this the Avenues way” of doing something. It can be surprising how such a simple question can shape our actions.

Staff and their mix of skills are used innovatively and there is time for meaningful relationships to develop. We have grown in confidence when involving service users in recruitment, for instance, and how we work with someone to identify the skills and interests that will make a difference to them. Where possible we will make a job offer subject to the candidate meeting the service user in the type of setting where they will be supporting them. We all have one page profiles – employees and service users – which identify common interests that wouldn’t always be apparent otherwise. For example, a support worker and service user have completed a 50km bike ride together, after working towards the goal for a while.

Personalised and consistent support

Person-centred active support and positive behaviour support underpin our work and we also emphasise community connecting to support personalisation. With Big Lottery funding, we ran a number of local events bringing together service users, other providers, businesses, and public services. The events amply demonstrated that we all have common interests and everyone has something to give, sparking new action and connections. As a result service users feel more welcome using mainstream services and have been introduced to local groups based on common interests.

In fact, the whole culture is person-centred. Our culture extends beyond service users, which fosters continual improvement. Employees are encouraged to develop according to aptitudes and interests as part of our workforce strategy. Relationships with other organisations bring new perspectives and keep our thinking fresh, individually and organisationally. For example, student nurses shadow support workers as do trainee police officers completing diversity training. We approach other support providers to co-support people if that means better outcomes. Training in mindfulness, developed with the Tizard Centre, aims to improve individual relationships and the effectiveness of support.

Avenues isn’t the only provider doing these things, just as ours isn’t the only supported living service that will be rated outstanding across the board by CQC. The real value of CQC’s report, though, is that it has raised the bar and provided a benchmark for what we do. We hope it can have a similar impact across the sector too.


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