A residential school has formed a close relationship with a construction firm to help its children, who are all blind and have complex needs, move in to a new building. By Jackie Cosh
● Project name: Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Rushton School and Children's Home
● Aims and objectives: To ease the transition for the students and residents from the old school and home to a new purpose-built school next door.
● Number of service users: 25 children and young people
● Timescale: Two years
It is not often that social workers find construction companies are key agencies in partnership working. But the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) school and children's home in Rushton, Coventry has been working closely with building company Shepherd Construction, at times on a daily basis, for the past two years.
The children have severe learning disabilities and extreme complex needs. All have sight loss and need one-to-one intervention to manage daily life. They are accommodated in a 30-year-old building that has been modernised and adapted but was not purpose-built.
In 2008 work began on a new purpose built-home and school with bungalows instead of flats and everything constructed around the needs of the children. In order to limit the disruption this would cause, regular meetings took place with Shepherd's. Individual strategies have been put in place for every child to ensure they are not upset by the noise and that when they eventually move it goes as smoothly as possible.
Brenda Smith is head of care at the home. "Shepherd's have really taken on board our needs and tried to minimise disruption. They have never begrudged us the time to tell us what is going on. At the start we met every day. Now we still meet at least two to three times a week, usually in the morning to share information so we can brief staff.
"When Shepherd's came on-site they introduced everyone to the earthmoving equipment and to the demolition work at their own pace. It helped the children to familiarise themselves with the fact that it was going to change from a quiet place to a place of building. We celebrated the demolition by gathering for the first building demolition and helping the young people to sense and understand the vibrations."
Advance notice has also helped the staff prepare. "They have let us know of specific noises in order to prepare and explain to the children" says Smith. "The co-operation has been fantastic and has been critical in the process."
Each young person has their own written transition plan which forms part of their care plan. This is based on comprehension and ability to understand and is delivered in the manner and pace suitable to them.
"All the young people have complex needs," Smith says. "We had to think of them as individuals, all needing different pathways although we could do some collective work together to help them adjust.
"There are some young people we will take to visit the new building a fortnight before and some the day before because that is all they can cope with."
Recently, living arrangements have been changed in order to bring into groups those who will be living together in the new home. Social care worker Beverley Samways, one of the unit leaders, says that although some children have needed numerous visits to get them used to the environment, "the transition has been really about relationships".
"Each approach we take is completely unique to that young person. You have to break down how they experience the world, and how to communicate how change is happening. Part of the process is learning how quickly they will take it in."
Samways talks of one girl Olivia, who has a hypersensitivity to noise. "She finds it painful and difficult to tolerate, particularly if it is not related to her. The bulk of her plan involved spending lots of time in the new team. It went brilliantly and she didn't want to go back. But they were caught off guard when she didn't settle. She hadn't realised the move was permanent, and while she was quite happy visiting, she wasn't ready for a permanent move.
"This is often the danger with young people with little communication. She hadn't fully grasped what was happening, and the team acknowledge that they really need to learn from that. She is doing well now though, and progress is being made."
Despite the lack of sight, few changes have gone unnoticed. "When some significant trees were cut down, some of the children who usually pass that way stopped to ask what had happened," Smith says. "We explained to them and they accepted it.
"I guess at some levels the children are perpetually in transition," says Samways. "We are always conscious that they will be moving on to adult services at some point so always have that in our minds. It gives us the opportunity to see how they adapt to change. Transition is part of life and one of the best skills you can give is to equip them with how to deal with change."
Paul is deaf, blind, has cerebral palsy and has learning difficulties. Staff in the new team needed to be able to understand and read his signs and know how he communicates. They shadowed his old team working with him and when he moved to the new home, some of the old staff went with him.
He was given a sense of ownership of his bed via smell. He chose a smell he likes (Old Spice) and they watered it down and sprayed his bed with it every night. When he moved into his new unit with this bed he was able to recognise the smell.
Paul visited his new unit for a few days. By the fourth day it had become clear that he was ready to spend the night there. The first night he slept in the room all night. They took the same bed and linen. He sensed that it was the same - his bed but a different room. He felt ownership of the room and is now settling well.
Planning the transition
• Transition is a physical, emotional and sensory journey that takes into account the needs, wishes and aspirations of the young person.
• It is important that the journey enables the young person to carry forward known, loved and familiar possessions, routines and patterns but allows room for development and growth.
• Transition can be supported by the use of familiar, smells, objects and tactile and sensory clues. Smell can trigger many emotions. If they can associate it with something, it can bring a lot of reassurance.
• Deliver transition at a pace and manner suitable for the individual thereby minimising anxiety and stress.
• The bedroom is important. It is the place they can most be themselves.
• Transition should be planned by people who best know the young person, and involve future staff to optimise consistency.
• It is critical to involve families. Sometimes just a visit from the family can make a difference. Young people need family to know they have moved. They need to know that their family can find them.
• Transition is not an event, it is a process, and takes time.
Source: RNIB Rushton School and Children's Home
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails
This article is published in the 23 September issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Building trust