A few months ago, I was contacted by an organisation (Fonden Vita) in Denmark about the introduction of Person Centred Active Support as a service model and a couple of weeks ago they flew Christine Rose, our Lead Active Support Associate, and I, over to meet with them; to review their service structure and teach them more about the benefits of Active Support and how it will improve the lives of the people they support.
The service we visited is a supported living provision, called Faellesbo in Grindsted, near Billund (and the HQ of Lego!). There are 8 residents and 6 staff, some of who spoke impeccable English. (Actually, at one point they used their linguistic abilities to mention the England loss to Iceland in the recent Euro Championships, Scandinavian’s unite!)
During our visit, one of the things that struck me was the difference in the language they use to describe job roles compared to here in the UK. For example, front line Support Workers are called Social Workers, the Manager is called a Leader, subtle differences but noticeable all the same. Danish ‘Social (Support) Workers’ have to be qualified to a minimum standard and in the service we visited it was apparent that staff turnover was low. The pay grade for a Support Worker is the same as a skilled worker over there – in line with that of a carpenter or a plumber. Interesting stuff, yet nothing we haven’t already lamented about in the UK.
The atmosphere was all very relaxed but the 2 days we spent there were intense, getting to grips with the ‘lay of the Danish land’ and working through how ARC could assist them with the implementation of Active Support. The Leader of Faellesbo, Peter Ladekarl Hansen, is extremely keen to change the culture in the service. Not that it is bad, it isn’t, from what we saw anyway. The staff team seem great: friendly and open. The flats are modern and clean, the days of their ‘residents’ (as they call people who access their service) full of activities. But it’s that old analogy – ‘It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’.
We observed the staff for a while, they have a very caring attitude, but they use the old ‘hotel style’ of support. The people they support are high functioning people with a learning disability, some with behaviours that concern and some on the autistic spectrum. These are people who could potentially clean their own flat, make their own dinner and go to the shop or the doctors independently. It was interesting that 2 of the support workers who spent some time with us could instantly see the benefits of Active Support, the difficulty they acknowledged was for them to ‘let go’ and change their own behaviour, from carer to enabler. A perfect example was, as they were all getting ready to go on a bike ride. One of the team we were observing started to wash the bike of someone they support, pump up the tyres etc. When we asked her to step back and enable, instead of do, it initially seemed unnatural to her but very quickly everyone could see that the young lady, whose bike it was, was capable of, and enjoyed, getting her bike ready herself. A small change with a huge reward.
The ethos of Active Support doesn’t ask staff to do more, just do different; it’s a change in approach, which to those workers who are most ‘caring’, can be challenging. But, the benefits, as our Danish friends have already witnessed are massive to the people who receive support. It seems Active Support is not used in Denmark as yet, but it looks like with our help that is about to change.
In the UK we know that many providers have undertaken Active Support training in the past. The question I often ask is, is it being implemented effectively? When I ask this question I often get a “yes”. So my second question is, how do you know?
With the focus on health and wellbeing, community inclusion and greater integration, adopting Person Centred Active Support will be of benefit in so many ways, the most important is truly offering people being supported the opportunity to be involved in their own lives. It actually has most benefit for those with profound and multiple disabilities.
We know that Commissioners are looking at Active Support very positively too. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a model that empowers people to create an ordinary life for themselves.
If you would like to know more about Active Support and how we can introduce it to your staff teams or have previously had some training but would like a refresher. or to understand how to evaluate the difference it is making to the lives of the people you support please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
As for our Danish colleagues, the next step is for them to visit a couple of services here. Let’s show them what we are made of.
ARC England Director