After the Winterbourne scandal in 2011 the government recommended that people with learning disabilities be move out of institutions and into the community. In Salford they had already been doing that for 10 years; Peter Connor, Assistant Mayor with responsibility for adult social care explains.
Ten years before the shocking abuse at Winterbourne View hit the headlines, councillors in Salford asked a very good question: “Why can’t Salford people with learning disabilities or complex behaviour live in the community in their own city?”
Traditional best practice then was to place people in residential homes and hospitals, even if they were a long way from home.
But Salford wanted to do things differently.
We told our staff to think outside the box and explore whether people wanted to come back to Salford to live in the community. If they did, how could we make that happen?
What kind of housing could we provide and what support? How could we help people with complex and challenging behaviour live successfully on their own or with others? What about health, transport and social activities? At the start there were many more questions than answers.
But we knew if we got it right it would mean people could live close to family and friends, in their own community and enjoy the everyday things that you and I take for granted – such as choosing their own meals or what they want to do that day instead of fitting in around an institution’s timetable. That spurred us on to find solutions to every challenge – and there were many challenges.
We quickly realised that we couldn’t do it alone. Since 2002 the council has managed a pooled budget with the NHS, via a Section 75 agreement, and an integrated team so we have a seamless join between health and social care.
Over the years our integrated team has expanded to include social workers, community nurses and mental and physical therapy professionals.
From day one our team worked with people to find out what they want and need. We also work closely with their family and friends and build a coming home plan around all involved. We provide a range of housing from single occupancy to supported living.
We’re very pro-active about managing risk to make sure people can lead fulfilling lives when they do come back to Salford and give our providers a significant amount of training to help people settle in well and avoid placement breakdown.
We now have 20 people living independently and our work in this field was highlighted as best practice by both the Department of Health and MENCAP in the Winterbourne View report – the only council in the country to achieve such recognition.
One of the council’s biggest challenges was to bring back 10 people who had lived together in a shared home in North Wales for many years. As well as individual needs, staff had to consider friendships within the group, health needs and where in the city might be best placed to meet those and the type of housing and ongoing support needed.
Michael, 33, spent 12 years in an assessment unit but now lives in a shared flat with 24 hour support from experienced staff.
“It was not nice being there. It had high fencing. I didn’t get out much. I don’t think it is a good idea for people with a learning disability to be sent away,” he said. “I am much happier now. I enjoy gardening, swimming and following my football team. I also enjoy visiting my sister and niece. I do voluntary work. I also like shopping, holidays and going to a youth club on Friday evenings.”
We’ve proved that, with the right support, people can come back home. They are happier and their health often improves as a result. It’s win win all round.
This post first appeared as an article in the August edition of C’llr magazine, which is now available for LGiU members.