How three projects are improving the lives of service users in Wales

Community Care catches up with three innovative projects in Wales, to find out how play, coaching techniques and multimedia can be used to improve social services

How three projects are improving the lives of service users in Wales

Credit: Gary Brigden
Tristan Donovan
Wednesday 18 September

Project: Theraplay
Location: Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire

Founded in 1998, the West Wales Adoption Service unites the adoption services of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire councils, allowing each authority to access adoptive placements in the others without the usual out-of-authority placement fees. While this regional approach is now being embraced across Wales and beyond, the service has continued to innovative, not least through its award-winning use of Theraplay.

Developed in the US during the 1960s, Theraplay aims to help adoptive parents bond with adopted children through some deceptively simple techniques. “It’s about enhancing attachment, self-esteem and trust in a child and parent through positive engagement but it’s very, very simple,” says Norry Hutchinson, manager of the West Wales Adoption Service, which first began using the play-based approach in 2008.

“An example would be touch. You might have a child that has never had any physical nurturing and can’t bear to be cuddled. So it would be something simple like using a moisturiser after a bath and saying to the child ‘you’ve got lovely skin’. That may sound a bit odd but it helps the child to build up trust and start to think ‘someone does love me’ and can get positive results in quite a short timescale.”

Theraplay often uses games to encourage attachment between adopter and child, such as its ‘Row-Row-Row Your Boat’ game. “You hold hands facing each other and rock,” says Hutchinson. “That encourages eye contact and touch, and learning about speech and rhythm. The feedback we’ve had from adopters who have used this is very positive.” This approach won the service a British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Cymru Innovative Social Work Award last year.

Project: Recovery for All
Location: Flintshire

In the past five years, Flintshire council’s mental health support services has rethought its approach to service users through its “Recovery for All” initiative. The approach, which won an award from the Care Council for Wales, shifts the values of the service from being about providing services to service users to working in partnership.

“Traditional services were almost a power relationship – ‘we will do this for people’, whereas now it’s like a coaching relationship,” says team manager Rhian Evans. “One of the main principles to the recovery approach is that we work alongside the service user and try to help them achieve the life they want outside of our services. It is about recognising our limitations as a service and looking at pathways out of services so they can live as fulfilling and independent a life as possible.”

These principles have seen Flintshire alter everything from evaluations, which now draw on service user surveys and focus groups, to the frontline, where staff now attend training with service users to improve their understanding of the people they support. Each of the mental health support services’ six teams now have a ‘recovery champion’ charged with promoting the recovery approach among their colleagues and social workers attend training sessions that are co-facilitated by service users.

Evans says the approach is delivering results: “Last year we supported almost 300 people and over half of them went into volunteering, training, education or paid employment, which is quite an achievement given that we are working with people with serious and long-standing mental health problems.” What’s more, it is relatively cheap. “I think any organisation or project large or small could achieve similar results because the key is in the value base,” says Evans. “It’s about the way you approach the support you are providing. It isn’t all about having the money.”

Project: DVD consultations
Location: Swansea

Swansea council had concluded that its approach to involving people with learning disabilities in commissioning decisions wasn’t working. Every month its participation service would help a group of two or three service users gather the views of their peers, who they would then represent in the council’s service planning meetings. But it wasn’t working out for the council or the service users. “They would come to the meetings, sit there and struggle really, because the nature of the discussion at that level is very complex,” recalls Lisa Banks, planning officer for learning disabilities at Swansea. “We made a lot of effort to simplify it by using traffic light systems and very simple language, but the amount of business we had to get through and the nature of some of the discussions meant people basically voted with their feet and said we’re not interested and don’t want to be part of this anymore.”

Swansea’s solution was to get service users to create DVD films, using low-cost and easy-to-use Flip video cameras, where they talk about their lives and what they would like the council to do for them. These DVDs are then shown at the start of each meeting and answered with a DVD film where the council officers explain their thoughts on what the service users raised and what they plan to do next.

Banks says the approach, which has been praised by the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, has proved highly successful. “It’s working much better in terms of the influence people have in the planning process,” she says. “The people making the decisions hear what they have to say by watching them, in context, talking about their own lives and so they are much more responsive to the needs of service users using the DVD method. One of the best things about the DVDs is the humour and character people demonstrate when talking about what is important to them. This humour and individual character ties us together and focuses us on seeking solutions together.”

The DVD approach also means that more service users can give their views directly to the planning meeting, rather than relying on others to do it for them. Banks adds that services users like the DVD feedback they get, too, because “they feel that they have been listened to and can see that we have taken action as a direct consequence of the issues they have raised”.

Another bonus is that service users now have more control over the agenda. “It is interesting how the DVDs have shifted the content from people responding to the questions we ask them to them asking us how they can be supported to help other people in the community,” says Banks. “It is much less passive and more empowering.”

Would you like to work in Wales? Find out more by reading our social work careers guide.

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