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A summer of change

As some of you may know from reading previous blogs, my youngest son Harry has been supported by Dimensions since he was 18 – seven years ago. Harry was in a residential care setting, initially with three other young men with similar needs.

Martin and his sons Jack and Harry

All four of them are non verbal and can exhibit challenging behaviour. Of the four, Harry is the most social and whilst he does not speak, he is quite vocal and uses signs to communicate. Indeed, Harry takes every opportunity he can to engage with others, including random strangers, telling them about the latest activity he has done such as swimming, going to the farm, cookery classes or going to the disco.

This year, Dimensions and Harry’s family together decided that there was an opportunity for Harry to move from a care home to a supported living environment. We felt such a move would better suit Harry’s outgoing personality and alleviate one or two interpersonal issues that had crept in between the four housemates.

Supported Living, I discovered, is an arrangement which means that Harry, with me as his Court appointed Deputy, would be responsible for his own finances, budgets and securing and paying for the various services he needs.

First on the list was finding new accommodation. We agreed with the local Dimensions team, that bearing in mind Harry’s outgoing nature, we needed somewhere that he could engage and interact with others.

We worked with a local social housing provider used by Dimensions and with some difficulty found a house in Kidderminster, about 40 minutes away from where he currently lives. Harry joined three other individuals supported by Dimensions there who we think are likely to get on well with each other. Together, we identified one of the upstairs rooms that would work for Harry, albeit after some modifications and redecoration.

As you will know from your own friends or family with severe learning disabilities, any change in that person’s routine or situation needs to be managed extremely carefully. The move to Dimensions seven years ago was extremely difficult for Harry and triggered some very difficult and challenging behaviour.

Not being able to talk and with limited ability in signing, Harry often makes his feelings known by how he behaves. We knew that if not managed carefully, this could be a very difficult move, not just for Harry but his support workers and family. With this in mind, we decided to manage the move very carefully and not say too much to Harry too soon to help him manage the change.

Harry already knew the two of the people in the house and so we made a couple of visits to the house together to visit them. We also used positive language about the house with Harry commenting on how nice the house and garden was. This low-key approach worked well.

Martin and Harry enjoying time together

Much closer to the time of moving we took Harry over and explained the move and that this would be his new home. We were also able to show him his new bedroom and there was still time for him to tell us what colour he wanted his bedroom painting; he chose a very nice shade of light green!

Harry moved into the new house at the beginning of August.  Not telling Harry about the move too soon certainly helped with managing his anxieties and he seems to have settled in his new home.

What else has changed? Having gone from residential care to supported living now means that Harry has his own personal budget that I will now need manage as his Court appointed Deputy.

This has not been straightforward, as I have had to sign new tenancy agreements, contact the various benefits agencies about the changes and set up a new bank account for Harry to receive benefits and then make payments for the various services he receives.

At the time of writing this, mid-September, I have only just managed to set up a new bank account for Harry. I had not appreciated just how much is involved, not just in moving but moving from residential care to supported living in particular. I think that often those involved in providing care assume that as friends or family members we know what is involved. I have expressed to the team that more support would have been useful and I believe that some work will now kick off on this.

Harry appears to have settled quite well, although we did see some challenging behaviour after a few weeks. Whether this was related to the move is anybody’s guess. The move has upset some of his other routines including some of his activities; I think this will improve over time as he gets used to new staff and rotas are sorted out for transport and so on. The good weather has certainly helped as Harry has been able to spend a good deal of time in the garden or the summerhouse.

Looking back at the move, I would have done things slightly differently. I would have been more demanding of Dimensions in coming up with a longer list of properties and ensuring there was no break in his regular routine.  I would have asked more questions, earlier on, about what was involved in moving to a supported living environment. And I would have set up a new bank account for Harry much earlier on as it has been quite hard to do this and prove not only who Harry is but where he lives.

As ever, the various support workers at Dimensions have been great and are working hard to help Harry feel settled and safe in his new home.

By Martin A Boniface