By Mary Hastings, former peer support worker at People2People
Forty two years of life changed in an instant eight years ago. I have no memory of the experience, but it is believed that I went out early for a walk across the fields from the village where I live. I was found unconscious in the early evening with severe brain and facial injuries. It is thought that I was kicked in the head by a horse.
I am able to understand the enormous upheaval now from being a physically and emotionally fit single mother with years of experience as a teacher and art therapist, about to complete a masters degree, and loving life; to being labelled ‘a head injury’, living with epilepsy and losing memory, most of my sight, hearing, and my ability to drive or move without a wheelchair, process logically, eat, talk or write.
‘We can do better than this’
My early experience of rehabilitation and traditional social service support was very difficult and frustrating. My social worker saw how the care agency couldn’t help me even prepare a meal as they weren’t able to help me get out for supplies. Day services were more about ‘care’ than increasing my independence. I remember the social worker quietly saying: “We can do better than this. We are just about to trial personal budgets. You could look at creating and sourcing your own support”. My tears and anger subsided, and I never looked back.
Four years ago, a small group of social workers and other professionals in Shropshire were about to start a pilot to trial ‘doing social work differently’. They wondered if I and a couple of others would like to get involved, bringing the experience of people who use the service. From this emerged People2People.
I took on the lead for establishing a peer support programme, and another person took on a carer support programme. We would work alongside other members of the team with individuals who were going through the assessment and planning process and who were keen to have ‘peer support’ – someone who had been through similar experience.
Peer support in practice
We created a database of services, activities and organisations that were available locally. We helped them identify their needs using person-centred tools, having very real conversations about their lives and what they wanted in terms of independence. We provided support to help individuals make the process theirs and managed any ongoing tasks. The majority of individuals required only one or two sessions.
If an individual’s needs are complex and cannot be met immediately at the initial ‘let’s talk local’ session, they will be referred to a peer support planning session also involving a social worker. The peer supporter will prepare person-centred tools and think about any issues and concerns that may arise. The social worker may give direction in what to talk about. During the session, it is the job of the peer support worker to help the individual to voice their concerns and make the process work for them.
Our work gives the social worker space to see what is really important. We can also help make the process easier emotionally for the individual.
Taking confidence, responsibility and power
The social worker may ask the peer support worker to do more one-on-one work using a person centred thinking tool to explore things. The resulting materials will be shared with professionals to develop the support plan or one-page profile to create an action plan for the person. I have been incredibly moved to see people take confidence, responsibility and power for themselves.
I became chairperson of People2People’s advisory group where social workers, people using the service, external services and training organisations would meet to discuss working practise and take issues forward to the board of directors. This was empowering for all and influenced process and practise.
Removing the ‘dis’ from ‘disabled’
The ‘DIS’ part of disabled is terribly derogatory. Remove it; and you are left with ABLED. As a result of receiving and managing my own personal budget, and being part of People2People, I am now a very different person. Before, I was a ‘head injury’, now I’m an ABLED person, taking control for my choices and my daily and more long-term life experiences.
I have seen a huge cultural change over the past four years. Individuals used to be ‘DONE TO’ by social care professionals. Now, we can do for ourselves, and do WITH. As part of the pilot we experienced what didn’t ‘fit’ anymore, and could see change that was required in many areas.
I became part of this for me. But the process bought me back into society and community, and my endeavours have been towards meeting the needs of others.
Putting the human element back into social care
Others have found that change difficult; most are embracing it. The impact that individuals like myself have had in being part of a social enterprise is to re-establish the ‘human’ element back to social care. I feel heard and seen by professionals, my needs are acknowledged and addressed. I no longer feel ‘DONE TO’. I know that my concerns are important to managers, commissioners and policy holders and even the director of adult social care sees the human and not just the funding difficulties.
At first, this was quite a scary process (working alongside professionals) but persisting (and by challenging all the way!) I have reaped benefits I never imagined. I now function and live independently (with PA, support dog and assistive technology support), can access and manage a lot within my home and outside, thoroughly enjoy life and have MEANING.
Mary will be appearing via video at the National Children & Adult Service Conference with colleagues from National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi), People2People & Shropshire Council at 9am Thursday 15 October.