Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Providers and Personalisation: the quick and the dead

Birmingham UK

As increasing numbers of people now understand, and regardless of the extent of availability of Individualised Funding, there is nothing stopping any service provider, better termed 'support agencies', from moving towards genuinely personalised services.  Nothing.

I've spent a fair bit of time in the UK talking with various support agencies who are currently working out how best to transition their services in line with a national government directive for disability support to be personalised, and with the target that 33% of the disability population have personalised support arrangements by 2011.

What is clear is that there are, of course, a number of practical considerations that a support agency must work through.  Once the agency has had its moment of clarity about doing the right thing, it is then prudent for that agency to undertake an audit of organisational capacity, especially in terms of strategic thinking, change management and, critically, organisational culture change.  Those UK support agencies who began such work early have been the ones who have enjoyed the smoothest transition so far.

These are important considerations. An agency needs to be able to think and act strategically if it is to move intentionally towards a vision that sees people living with disability receiving the support needed to live a good life.  Similarly, an agency needs to be able to not only technically manage a change process but to also have faith in it.  Such faith will come from the heartfelt belief that a person living with disability should have personal authority in his life, can participate as a citizen in the life of his community, and has potential to grow and learn.  These are true of all people living with disability.  If a support agency struggles with these ideas, it really needs to get out of the business.

And, an agency needs to understand what organisational culture is, how it comes about, what sustains it, and how it can be changed for the better.  The main way that support agencies assist people is through human power, so an agency's leadership has to be able to build the right culture among its people.

And then there is the relationship between the agency and each person it supports.  If the agency is to truly transform to personalised arrangements it has to reflect on its relationship with the people who use its services.  If you work with a support agency that hasn't begun to reflect on its relationship with its customers, then try these initial questions, asked from the perspective of the person living with disability: 

  1. How are you getting to know me?
  2. What do you know about what is important to me and what I want to achieve at this point in my life?
  3. How are you tailoring your available resources so that I am supported with the above, rather than just served as part of a group?
  4. How are you arranging safeguards (if we're all agreed that I need them) so that I can safely navigate the normal risks of life?
  5. What steps are you taking to match my support needs with staff who share similar interests to me, and do I get a say in which staff support me?
  6. What steps are you taking to assist me to build natural community connections and relationships, so that my daily life is not dominated by the presence of paid workers or other people living with disability?
  7. How do you know that your support is truly assisting me to live the life i want?
So, seven questions that can help a support agency begin to think through its relationship with the people it seeks to assist.

If you are a person living with disability (or a family member or friend of someone less able to speak up), try putting these questions to your support agency.  I'd be very interested to hear what response you get.

And if you work with a support agency, then Julia Farr Association would be very happy to assist you work through this stuff.  Because support agencies that are committed to delivering highly personalised support, are themselves worth supporting.  

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