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Beyond coronavirus - valuable long term lessons

symbol of hands supporting a family

New ways of working, enhanced support

I work for a small charity, Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OXFSN), supporting families with learning disabilities. Like everyone else, we have had to develop a totally new way of working. However, this enforced change has actually enabled professionals and families to communicate much more efficiently and speedily.

Right at the start of lockdown, we organised Q&A zoom sessions where families could put questions directly to professionals, including the Deputy Director of Adult Social Care and the Special Educational Needs (SEN) Director.

Subjects discussed included Covid related health arrangements, direct payments, transition into adulthood and going back to school/college. This opened up direct contact with the decision makers and has given the Local Authority a unique and invaluable insight into what families truly need.

Working towards better relationships

In addition, we ran a workshop called “Working with Families”, designed by our Programme Manager, Gail Hanrahan. The aim of the training is to help a wide range of care and support colleagues work in a way that enhances relationships with families. We share some simple practices and create a shared understanding that opens the way to good communication and cooperation between professionals and the families they work with.

Both sides train together enabling them to discuss their problems, frustrations, fears and concerns in a non-confrontational way and problem solve together. Everyone involved has found this way of working to be invaluable. A 100% of attendees said they would highly recommend the workshops to a colleague.

Pre-covid lock-down, I was at loggerheads with social services. It felt as if social workers, though trying to do their best, had little time to get to know the families on their caseload. There can also be a lack of communication, resulting in social workers not getting to the minutiae of a particular family’s issues.

Family having fun

Every family's story is different

Each family has their own fears, frustrations and hopes, no less for those families with members living with learning disabilities. In my particular case, my frustration has grown from transitioning my son from residential college to supported living. The Local Authority did not support us well in preparing for the transition, time scales were ignored, and the system felt like it was failing on all levels.

Ultimately though, COVID-19 has had some positives. For example, more time is being spent working together for the wellbeing of the individual.

Lock-down appears to have focussed minds on all sides to keep talking and connecting. It is essential these lines of communication, established during lockdown, are maintained in the long term.

On a personal level, transition is progressing, albeit slowly, but I’m pleased to say everyone is communicating: provider, social worker and family all working together in an open, clear, positive and transparent manner. Long may it continue!

Find out more

Visit Learning Disability England for information, advice and support.

This blog was written with Gail Hanrahan, a mother with 30 years' experience to a profoundly disabled child (now adult). In 2007, she co-founded the Oxfordshire Family Support Network and now manages the charity. As Programme Manager she oversees its projects and manages a team of family carers and volunteers.

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