Aug 182011
 

Last week we brought you the first installment of a six part tragedy by Jonathan Russell concerning the decimation of services for disabled people in Aberdeen and what we can do to reverse the destruction.  This week we look at the excellent things that existed – and have been snuffed out. By Jonathan Russell.

The Growth Of  Community – ‘Aberdeen Social Work  Team Praised For Good Practice’

The Community Placement Team was set up to provide alternatives to day centre provision for people with learning and/or physical disabilities. The workings of the team were progressed through the development and operation of a business plan well ahead of such developments in other services.
The evolution of this plan involved staff, clients, council sections, and all relevant outside agencies. 

It set forward a vision with targets on a whole variety of areas including work opportunities, training, leisure, finance, fundraising, client involvement, promotion through the media and training of staff. There were also service developments requested by clients including a craft business, a cafe and horticultural opportunities.

A voluntary organization ‘Access to Training and Employment’ was set up by our clients to help progress these client-led resources. The response from management at the time in Social Work was that the objectives in the plan were unrealistic and would not happen.

In reality over a ten year period we achieved all our objectives and went on to improve and expand further opportunities for people with disabilities. Staff and clients were empowered to take on responsibility within clearly structured areas of responsibility. Each member of staff was given responsibility for particular areas of work. At the height of our work we were providing services for 480 clients.

Achievements included:-

  • Receiving the highest possible quality assurance marks for our Department of Work and Pensions scheme, supporting people with disabilities into real, fully-paid jobs.
  • Rapid increase in permitted work and voluntary placements. Work involved seeking out work placements and then supporting and reviewing the placements. People in the main were however supported by employers and their staff at no cost to the council. To resource this expansion as well as the hard and creative work of staff and supporting employers, we received funding for three European funded projects and one from the Scottish Executive, particularly aimed at young people.  A joint project was set up with Cornerstone Community Care which allowed this agency to get further European funding as well as funding from the private sector, which could not be applied for by a local authority. The Cornerstone Employment team was managed by a worker from the Community Placement Team which had an outstanding track record of finding work placements
  • We had an excellent partnership with Aberdeen College who provided pre-employment training courses.  The College was receptive to providing new courses dependent on need. The courses had no cost to Aberdeen City Council except referral and review work. The College also provided lecturers for Community Outreach classes in community settings

Services set up and developed included:-

  •  Crafty Things – making wooden, textile and art goods this grew and grew and was awarded the first Scot Rail award for Social Enterprise
  • Choices Therapeutic Gardening  – a special garden was set up for the physically disabled; allotments were run, and we helped with the
    setting up of the Manor Park Garden. Choices Therapeutic Gardening was awarded the Grampian Television Overall Adult Learners Award
  • ‘Inclusion for All, – a project aimed at including people with disabilities in Community Centres. As well as integrating individuals into the wider activities of Centres, we also became involved in coordinating 12 Aberdeen College Community Outreach classes from computing to job clubs
  • Café Cairncry– a café run by young people with disabilities for a group of Senior Citizens in the local community
  • ADAPT – a project aimed at providing training in disability awareness for employers
  • Va –va -vroom – a highly successful drama group run with the Lemon Tree and putting on a whole
    host of successful stage productions

Access to Training and Employment, along with the Community Placement Team, were also involved in organizing two major conferences.  Out of the first conference a business breakfast was organized with the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Enterprise.

All of these exercises aimed at promoting employment for people with disabilities in Aberdeen. They were well supported by politicians and local representatives of business. As was so often the case, Social Work Management at the time showed no interest and would not get involved.

Leisure and Social activity groups were set up for people with physical and learning disabilities including:

  • Two leisure groups where people progressed from one group to another depending on ability, and were given the opportunity to try out a number of activities. Those involved were actively involved in putting together new programmes. Wherever these groups went they were welcomed by the organizations who owned the facilities.
  • An Independent leisure group run by clients but with back-up support from the team
  • An evening social group
  • Two bowling groups
  • A swimming group

All of these groups were well attended  and operated on a philosophy of fostering independence and progression. Groups were developed based on the demand of clients. The team made good use of volunteers and worked with other agencies where appropriate in operating these services making the services of good value.

The Community Placement Team also worked closely with Adult learning which (until re-organized into three Neighbourhoods and then was dramatically cut), ran group learning and provided individual tuition.   We also worked closely with the Workers Educational Association Reach Out project which ran more informal educational groups ideal for those who found it a challenge to fit into more conventional educational situations and Inspires Local Area Co-ordination which worked primarily in Northfield and the Bridge of Don.

The team identified a gap in services for those with disabilities moving from children’s to adult services. This concern was ignored by social work management until the report by the Social Work Inspectorate in 2008 which raised major concerns.   The Council’s Education Department did employ a consultant, but after a number of (costly) meetings as sadly so often the case, nothing ever materialised — wasting even more valuable, scarce resources and time.

We worked closely with Schools, Skills Development Scotland and Aberdeen College to try and progress the situation for young people in transition. We managed to get some funding via Scottish Enterprise, European funding and from trusts, and developed a structure with Skills

Development Scotland so that duplication of responsibilities for individuals between the agencies involved did not take place. Hazlewood School organised a conference ‘Moving On’ with which a whole variety of agencies were involved: yet again management at the time in Social Work and Wellbeing showed no interest.

Crucially there was no financial analysis in the Aberdeen Strategy of what money was available

On top of this the team also provided a considerable Social Work and Care management role.  This included supporting clients and their career, helping with housing and welfare rights, finding, supporting and reviewing paid for placements with Social Businesses; and attending a whole array of multi-disciplinary meetings.

Like all working situations the Community Placement Team faced its challenges.  It did however have high morale and staff were supported by weekly team meetings, regular supervision and yearly appraisals. Appraisals and informal supervision were also given to part-time staff employed through Access to Training and Employment and Aberdeen College.

All client services were reviewed and this included active involvement of clients with this process. We also worked closely with carer’s and parents and tried to create an ethos that was one of where all concerned parties were working together as part of a team.

The Scottish Executive had an excellent strategy called the ‘Same as You,’ which is presently being reviewed throughout Scotland whose aim was to include people with disabilities in the wider community. The Community Placement Team were involved in developing this agenda, there was, however, a distinct lack of support from management at the time.

As the Social Work Inspection pointed out management failed even to mention the ‘Same as You’ strategy in Aberdeen Councils own Learning Disability strategy.

Crucially there was no financial analysis in the Aberdeen Strategy of what money was available, nor how they could best provide services within financial restrictions. Management was out of touch with the developments that were taking place in other council areas across Scotland and were in effect burying their heads in the sand.

The Community Placement Team was well supported by outside agencies, the major challenge that the team faced however was the lack of support and involvement from middle and higher management within Aberdeen City Council.

Considerable effort was put into trying to improve our relationship with management but to little avail.

So what happened next?  Read all about this over the forthcoming three weeks of Aberdeen Voice in a tragedy in three acts called A COMEDY OF ERRORS MEETS MACBETH

Aug 122011
 

Aberdeen Voice presents the first installment of a six part tragedy by  Jonathan Russell concerning the decimation of services for disabled people in Aberdeen and what we can do to reverse the destruction.

Services for people with disabilities have been a particular target in the cuts implemented by Aberdeen City Council. These have included loss of services through changes in eligibility criteria, the cutting of Classroom Assistants and Adult Learning provision, the closure of Day Centres  for the physically disabled and for those with a learning disability, and the closure of Alternative Day Community provision.

Given the over-spend that developed in Aberdeen Council in the last ten years, cuts were inevitable. However, some of these cuts have belied logic.

The development in Classroom Assistant provision had largely followed the cutting back in Special School provision. All across Scotland, in line with the Scottish Executive policy document ‘Same as You’, Day Centres had gradually been replaced by Alternative Day opportunities, with a particular emphasis on employment.

Ironically, now the cuts have come they are affecting the very services which were meant to be part of that alternative provision eg. Adult Literacy and Community Learning.

What follows highlights one crucial part of this target, the closure of the Community Placement Team which provided work, training and leisure activities for people with disabilities in the city.

In a damning report in 2008 into the Social Work Services of Aberdeen City Council one of the few teams that was commended for good social work practice and high outcomes was the Community Placement Team.

The Community Placement Team worked with 480 people with both learning and physical disabilities. In particular the CPT were involved in finding and creating work for disabled people, and training and leisure activities for those people, but importantly also providing a wider Social Work service for clients and their families.

The Social Work inspection evidenced the Community Placement Team as an example of good practice and stated:

“In 2006, 29% of adults with learning disabilities had employment opportunities compared with 16 % nationally. This was a major achievement by the service with the figure increasing from 17% in 2005.

“We met a group of people with learning disabilities who used CPT services. They spoke highly of the opportunities the Community Placement Team provided for employment, training and leisure pursuits.”

Within two years the very managers who had been criticised and asked to take urgent action to improve relations and rebuild trust between staff and managers in the Social Work Inspection report, had – with the agreement of the council administration – closed down the Community Placement Team.  This has left many vulnerable people isolated, and in many cases their families also.

  • In the coming weeks, five further articles will be published, written by the ex-Team Leader of the then Community Placement Team, documenting what happened, and making suggestions for the future of services for people with disabilities in Aberdeen city.
Jun 102011
 

With thanks to Morna O’May.

Contact the Elderly, the charity solely dedicated to tackling loneliness and isolation among older people, is delighted to announce the launch of a new friendship group in Aberdeen.

The charity, which aims to relieve the acute loneliness and isolation of people over the age of 75, organises monthly Sunday tea parties for small groups and volunteers within their local community.

Each older person is collected from their home by a volunteer driver and taken to a volunteer host’s home for the afternoon.  The group is warmly welcomed by a different host each month, but the drivers remain the same, that means that over the months and years, acquaintances turn into friends and loneliness is replaced by companionship.

The older members of the new Aberdeen group enjoyed their first tea party at new volunteer host Esther Milne’s home in Aberdeen on Sunday 27th March and volunteer group co-coordinator John Gall, hailed the outing to be a great success:

“The launch of this new group is not just a success – it is an amazingly wonderful success!  I’m just not sure who got more out of it – the older guests or us volunteers!”

New research released earlier this year has highlighted the link between loneliness and ill health in later life, including depression, certain heart conditions and even Alzheimer’s disease.  Contact the Elderly remains steadfast in its belief that its monthly Sunday tea parties, which offer a regular and vital friendship link every month, exist as one of the most effective preventative measures of tackling this growing issue.

Contact the Elderly’s Development Officer for East Scotland, Morna O’May, said:

“The new research out this month highlights just how damaging and depressing being lonely in later life can be, but happily the new tea party group in Aberdeen can go some way towards tackling this issue locally and on a practical level.

“Anyone interested in either volunteering for, or joining this new group, or one of the other 18 Contact the Elderly groups across the East of Scotland, please do get in touch with me.”

Aberdeen residents interested in volunteering for Contact the Elderly, or people over the age of 75 who would like to find out more about joining one of the charity’s local tea party groups, can contact Morna on  01786 871264 or email morna.omay@contact-the-elderly.org.uk

Web: www.contact-the-elderly.org.uk

Footnote:
Contact the Elderly is a national charity, founded in 1965, which aims to relieve the acute loneliness and isolation of very elderly people throughout Britain who live alone, without family, friends or other support networks nearby.

The Contact the Elderly model is based on a simple yet very effective concept – that of monthly tea parties for small groups of older people and other volunteers within their community – which brings people of all ages together, develops fulfilling friendships and support networks, and gives everyone something to look forward to.