Learning Disability Today
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25 Cecil Pashley Way
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Leaving home for the first time should be an exciting moment in a young person’s life. Getting to choose where and how you live are rites of passage that many of us take for granted, but regrettably this isn’t the case for everyone. It is sad but true that many young people with a learning disability are denied this opportunity.
The transition from young people’s services to adult support needn’t be this way. Readers may be familiar with Learning Disability England’s Good Lives Framework, which focuses on ensuring everyone who has a learning disability can live the life that they want to.
At Look Ahead, we operate as both a housing association and care provider and we heartily subscribe to these values and aims. With this in mind, I would like to share my own thoughts as to how we as providers can make the transitional period in a young person’s life an empowering step towards their adult futures.
Understanding the aspirations of young people is key. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that young people who have a learning disability want to do the same things as their peers. To have the freedom to explore who they want to live with and where, to live more independently and have a bigger say over their life choices, to travel, to work, to socialise and build relationships, and to have new experiences. In short, they want to live the kinds of lives that anyone would want, and why shouldn’t they?
For those young people who wish to leave the family home, appropriate housing naturally sits at the heart of the equation; It is the springboard for meeting the rest of their aspirational goals. As the American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou so neatly put it, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”. A home is where someone feels comfortable, listened to, and supported. This lays solid foundations for young people to explore and develop the life they choose to live – in short, a good life.
Learning Disability England’s Good Lives Framework has paved the way by stressing the importance of supporting people to find the right homes. The framework makes a strong call to government to ensure that the pivotal role of housing is understood and that a creative and more comprehensive, integrated national and local planning and policy framework is in place for supported housing. It recognises the need for less bureaucratic ways to access vital grant funding and that people with learning disabilities should have access to a consistent housing benefit regime.
Of course, everyone is different, and exploring available options is paramount, from renting to buying, living alone, or having their own room in a shared home with a small group of others. At Look Ahead, we have recently opened a new service in Gravesend, Kent which is home for five people aged 18+ who have complex needs related to learning disability and Autism, who may at times experience behaviours of distress.
The site comprises of five individual, self-contained flats set across three floors, and a beautiful, large communal garden. All the flats accommodate bespoke assistive technology to promote independence as far as possible. We have incorporated all elements of a homely yet robust and fit for purpose service in which people we support can be proud to call home.
Our support is person-centred and underpinned by Positive Behavioural Support (PBS) and Active-Support approaches, developed via our organisational partnership with British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD).It’s services like this one that I am especially proud of, and I feel optimistic that every person we support will continue to be empowered to make their own choices and live meaningful lives.
Speaking more generally however, not only the home, but also the “infrastructure” surrounding it is equally invaluable too. Being able to live close to your family for example or having a consistent clinical community team in place if required, access to further education and employment opportunities within their communities, are crucial pillars of support and stability that can help empower a person in transition to succeed.
Of course, homes and support for people that is truly person centred is harder to realise without lasting political commitment. Which is why the Good Lives Framework, Look Ahead (and many other providers) maintain a commitment to ensuring that government legislation and policy is truly reflective of the needs of people with learning disabilities. It is in this way that we can truly empower more people to live good lives, lives that any of us would want to lead.
Anna Cameron, Deputy Director of Specialist Referrals and Growth at Look Ahead Care, Support and Housing.