A future for social care where personal experience is REALLY valued

By Beth Britton

beth b

My life as a former carer to my dad, who had vascular dementia for 19 years (spending the last 9 of those years in 3 different care homes), gave me my passion for social care. It’s a passion that has won me an award, produced invites to meetings with some of the most prominent social care figures in the UK, and most recently resulted in me becoming a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider, but it’s a passion that has also given way to an impatience.

The existence of this blog and the #socialcarefuture movement for change consoles me that I am not alone. Reading what #socialcarefuture’s Martin Routledge recently wrote in an article for the Local Government Association (https://www.local.gov.uk/about/campaigns/towards-sustainable-adult-social-care-and-support-system/1-why-does-adult-social-5) was music to my ears. Talking about what a desired future for social care would look like, Martin described the vision shared by the authors who have contributed to the #socialcarefuture blog as:

“Human sized and shaped, facilitating support that starts from what is important to people and families. This support builds on what they have and can do, what can be offered by local universal services and what others in their neighbourhood and communities can bring in a spirit of reciprocity.”

My dad had none of this, but if we could live his latter years over again, this is what I am certain he would want more than the one-size-fits-all care home model we experienced until 2012 where doors were locked, meetings had about dad without dad, and care plans written without consulting dad or us as his family, the end result of which was poor care practices that led to dad aspirating on his own vomit five times and developing a catastrophic pneumonia that he never recovered from.

Unsurprisingly given how my life has evolved over the last 6+ years since my dad died, my vision for social care has the involvement of people needing support and their families at its heart. It also has another very important element – a strong emphasis on capturing, understanding and utilising the experiences people have had with social care after their or their loved one’s need for social care has ended.

That was my motivation for beginning my D4Dementia blog http://d4dementia.blogspot.com that has led onto all the work I do now. A key element in my application for my Skills for Care Endorsement was how I incorporate my experiences with my dad, and the numerous other people I’ve met who are living with dementia, into my training and mentoring to inspire social care professionals and help them to embed positive change in their own practice and within their organisations.

However social care is structured and funded in the future, we have a supreme duty to ensure that everyone working in social care has the education and knowledge that they need to be the very best that they can be, and I don’t just mean completing a few e-learning modules. For that education to be engaging and impactful it must have people being supported and their families at its heart – their voice, their experiences, their wisdom.

One of the most inspiring examples I’ve seen in recent months of this philosophy in practice was the York Minds and Voices ‘A Good Life With Dementia’ Training https://dementiafriendly.wordpress.com. This is training provided by people living with dementia FOR people living with dementia, and adds to the immense success organisations like DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project http://www.dementiavoices.org.uk) and Dementia Alliance International https://www.dementiaallianceinternational.org have had in driving the dementia peer support movement.

In my work, I do my utmost to ensure that the voices of personal experience run through everything I do, and not just by sharing my experiences with my dad. A recent example is how I used blogs published by members of Dementia Alliance International in a session I ran for care and support staff about learning from personal experiences https://www.dementiaallianceinternational.org/the-power-of-our-voices/.

It’s not high-tech. Nor is it ‘impossible’ as my toddler would say. All it takes is a mindset that says you are putting individuals and their experiences – and those of their families – front and centre in what you teach, and in a wider context, embedding that into your values, your culture and your organisational structures.

In that spirit, I want to conclude this blog with the words of Hilary Doxford, a lovely lady living with dementia who I was privileged to work with when we made our films for the G8 Dementia Summit in 2013. In her #socialcarefuture blog https://socialcarefuture.blog/2018/09/17/towards-a-better-future-for-people-with-dementia/, Hilary expressed everything I believe in when she wrote:

“A good future means listening to the people on the ground, they are not theorists and not just talkers, they are the experts with the experience and knowledge to make a difference.”

Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com

Beth is on twitter: @bethyb1886 https://twitter.com/bethyb1886

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