What makes life worth living? Co-producing outcomes for the Named Social Worker project

Featured article - 03 November 2017
Linda Jackson, SCIE Associate

Head-shot of the author, Linda Jackson, SCIE Associate

In Bradford, a team of social workers are working directly with people with learning disabilities and autism to help define what ‘good social work’ means to them.

It’s just one of the six sites across the country, where the Named Social Worker pilot is supporting people with learning disabilities and autism in a new way. By having a named social worker as a primary point of contact for people and their friends and families, the pilot is looking to explore different models of social work and the different ways this practice leads to positive change.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been meeting with sites to design an evaluation plan, to pull out learning and evidence the pilot’s impact. As such, I’ve been asking sites, ‘what does ‘a good life’ mean for people with learning disabilities in your area?’ And what could be better – in the pilot’s true spirit of co-production – than having people with learning disabilities and autism answer this question themselves.

Shaping the vision

This was the opportunity presented to me during my recent visit to Bradford. The Named Social Worker team are working with Bradford Talking Media to engage self-advocacy groups to help shape the vision of the pilot and their wider work.

For the self-advocacy group, ‘good social work’ means having someone who they can trust, who knows about all the different aspects of their lives and who can mediate between them when needed. Someone who will stick up for them when things get difficult and advocate to make sure their point is getting across loud and clear. Or provide them with the information they need to be able to make their own decisions. And listen to what they have to say, properly listen, and then act on it.

And then we heard about what makes life worth living.

It means being able to go to Ikea, and eat meatballs and homemade soup in the café. And being able to go to bed at any time they please without asking permission. It means a sun worshipper can book a ‘dead hot’ holiday rather than having to go to Scarborough. And a speed-demon can make up their own mind about whether they can go on the fastest, most daring rollercoasters.

The good life

The principles underpinning a good life are the same, regardless of whether the outcome is going for a pint in Wetherspoons or something so fundamental as keeping a child living at home. These are the kind of things many people take for granted. The group taught me that their definition of a good life is just the same – and different - as everybody else’s.

And what better than having these principles brought to life – and so define the scope of the evaluation - by the very people the pilot is working to engage.

Thanks again to Bradford Talking Media and the advocacy group, who generously told their stories of what made their lives worth living.

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