I have been a trainer of person centre practices for many years. The purpose of my work has always been to improve the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities through listening to what is important to people and supporting them to lead a lifestyle which is rich and meaningful.
I began this work during the time in the late 80's when the large institutions were closing and people were moving to smaller environments in peoples own communities. I was instrumental in a large training programme during the personalisation programme which offers individualised support through a personal budget for people who receive social support. The intention of both of these milestones in the history of people with disabilities in the UK was intended to offer a better more individualised life style to people, where they had more choice and control in what they did and how they received their support.
As a trainer my role has been to deliver courses to employees in provider organisations, the health service and social services. I facilitate workshops where participants learn the tools of person centred thinking and planning, so that workers understand the importance of personalised support, how they respond to people as individuals and explore more meaningful opportunities for people.
In the last 2-3 years I have returned in part to my original profession as an occupational therapist which first brought me into the lives of people with learning disabilities over 35 years ago. Once again I am visiting people in their own homes and, to my dismay, in too many situations I am not seeing the evidence of the transformation of services impacting on how people are living their lives.
In the UK in recent years there have also been a number of scandals such as 'Winterbourne', an assessment and treatment unit for people with intellectual disabilities where, following complaints from parents, TV journalists from the BBC Panorama programme infiltrated Winterbourne and filmed the horrific abuse which was taking place there.
It would be unfair to say that the situation hasn't changed, as 30 years ago a greater number of people would have found themselves living in large institutions instead of with their families. However, when taking into account the multiple person centred training programmes and the changes to the funding and support systems, too many people are living impoverished lives in 'mini' institutions throughout the UK.
I have observed support staff who are tired and demotivated, they tell me they are short staffed, and do not have the time to offer more personalised support; a situation which is increasing as personal care budgets are cut. This situation exists alongside a 'professionalisation' of the provision of support: by this I mean a culture where staff are required to respond to the people they support in a professional manner, devoid of body contact other than that necessary to provide personal care, as well as maintaining a professional relationship with 'residents' by not sharing personal stories or building relationships.
The consequences of hearing and experiencing these situations more closely than I previously encountered has led me to question the work that I do. I have made changes to the way I deliver 'person centred thinking training' bringing in the mindset elements of 'head' 'heart' and 'hands' from Theory U into my work and focusing more intently on our 'intention' as people who offer support. However my feeling is still one of tinkering at the edges and there is a need for more significant change in training and practice to re connect those of us who work in social care to the fundamental purpose of what we do by raising our awareness of our 'humanity' when we engage in support.
I have heard John O'Brien talk about 'human services' when referring to what in the UK we call social care. I have used this phrase on occasion but I will continue my own journey in the transformation of my own work with a commitment to raise the profile of 'human services', that being 'to act with humanity when we offer a service to our fellow human beings'.