Dynamite individual budget project ignites Ealing

The Dynamite initiative is helping professionals and users get to grips with individual budgets in Ealing. Andrew Mickel finds out what progress is being made

The transition from children’s to adults’ services is a challenging time for service users and families. Introducing individual budgets at such a time of change has the potential to complicate matters, but Ealing Council in west London is helping families manage the change.

The council is one of 12 running the Dynamite project to introduce individual budgets to users with no experience of centrally provided adults’ services. In Ealing, eight young people are taking part.

Understanding how to broker services and manage finances will take time, but the project is helping users and staff think afresh about what is needed.

Tom Shah, 19, has severe learning disabilities and autism. His mother Christine controls the individual budget he now has through the project. They first became involved in summer 2007, when trying to work out what would be best for Tom when he left school a year later. “I didn’t know anything about adult services at all,” says Christine, “so it was hard to make decisions about where he could go. The problem I had with Tom was the cost of care, because he needs two-to-one care when he goes into the community. And as he got closer to leaving school it was very difficult to plan.”

The Shahs were assigned a facilitator from Mencap who, over the course of a year, helped Christine arrange a place at a day service for Tom and music therapy on Saturdays. “It’s something that benefits Tom and would be good to continue,” says Christine. “I’m hoping that, as a result of these IBs, there will be more services available as providers realise there are gaps in the market.”

Learning curve

It’s a steep learning curve for families with children moving to adults’ services, says Jutta Winkler, a senior practitioner on the adult learning disability team in Ealing who has worked on Dynamite since 2007. “It was hard work, it’s new for everyone. The families think about all the services they are using [through children’s services]. Once that is costed they realise they would need much more money, so they need to think about alternative services.

“It needs a lot of explaining, the advantages and disadvantages, and how to manage the money.”

To work around such decisions, the Dynamite project is staffed by a virtual team from the adult and children’s departments, and voluntary organisations, bringing a wide skill base to the project. It is being trialled with a mixed group of service user backgrounds and abilities, with final IB packages assessed at between £10,000 and £40,000.

Cheryl Batt, service manager of adult learning disability services in Ealing, says: “Dynamite is really good at being a supportive way of introducing IBs and afford us the opportunity of learning and supporting people to have more control.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that support planning takes time. It can come from a variety of sources, but it takes time to help people use IBs in a creative way to stay safe and well.”

Music therapy

Indeed, 18 months after the pilot started, not all the participants are yet on their full IBs. Initially, as a practice run, each of the eight participants had £200 to spend money themselves on a single day of activities in summer 2007. Christine found the music therapy sessions that Tom now uses.

At the same time, Paradigm, a consultancy focused on personalisation for adults with learning disabilities, trained the project’s staff. A lot of time was then invested in the support planning stage to ensure that people start with the right structures in place. The Shahs finally received Tom’s IB in November 2007.

But taking things slowly has allowed staff to learn more about IBs, says Winkler. “I was aware that it would mean more work and more meetings, liaising with more people, and always having an open ear for how the market is developing. It’s taken time to see how much support is needed, so time has been needed to fine tune the resources.”

Even with the time needed to adjust care packages, Dynamite has been funded from existing budgets and Batt says it won’t cost more than centrally sourced services. There are now more pilots in the pipeline for Ealing. “What it’s shown us is that in order to introduce IBs more widely, several of our practices are going to have to change,” she says. “We’ll have to think differently about things such as risk and safeguarding to ensure they stay safe, healthy and well.”

Top Tips

● Ensure that pilots have a wide range of professionals on them to create effective support networks and bring a range of skills.

● Invest in support planning to ensure the suitability and safety of the user’s plan.

● While markets and brokerage services are still developing, bring users and their families together to let them share their experiences.

This article published in Community Care magazine 8 January 2009 under heading Where to Start with Individual Budgets?

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