Mark Goodman MyLifeIn this guest blog, Mark Goodman, chief executive officer of MyLife, a support service enabling people with complex needs to live independently in the community, looks back at how its services in Hartlepool and Surrey reached full occupancy.

MyLife opened in Hartlepool 18 months ago, and in East Molesey, Surrey, just over a year ago, and both have come a long way since we welcomed our first residents.

Establishing yourself as a new care provider is challenging, as you are an unknown to commissioners and the community: what standard of service will you offer, what kind of neighbour will you be and how will someone’s life change if they move in?

However, we opened our supported living services at a time when the Transforming Care agenda for adults with learning disabilities was gathering speed and our approach was consistent with the direction of travel for national policy.

We also felt we had a unique way of working. Our ‘Engagement for Living’ framework is more than a philosophy; it is an approach to person-centred support with a sound evidence base.  

It evolved from the ‘Engagement for Learning’ approach developed for pupils with learning disabilities by education expert and MyLife’s chairman, Professor Barry Carpenter CBE. Its focus on analysing the needs and desires of an individual gives them greater involvement in and control of their lives.  

By understanding our service users better we can improve their quality of life and support people in their own self-management of behaviours of concern without imposing more structure or restrictions on their activities. 

In both locations, we took time to prove ourselves and convince people to believe in our new model of working. We have always been open and transparent and there does come a turning point when commissioners begin to trust that you know what you’re doing.  

The funding crisis currently facing social care will increase the number of difficult conversations we have with commissioners, but we believe our approach represents a new and effective model of support, not an additional cost.

Staffing issues

Recruitment and retention of staff is a constant issue for every care provider and this will be a focus as we look to expand MyLife, as will making sure we have the skills and knowledge available to meet the demand for places as more and more adults transition from institutional settings.  

Barry Carpenter and I recently sat on Health England’s Learning Disability Expert Reference Group to help develop guidance for commissioners and providers to build the appropriate level of skills, knowledge and competencies among those who deliver direct support to adults with a learning disability or autism.   

We have begun implementing the recommendations and have brought in three assistant care practitioners whose level of education – predominantly in psychology – means they are better able to understand what’s impacting on service users’ behaviour, identify patterns and develop solutions that improve, not restrict, a person’s quality of life.

It’s already having an impact. For instance, one of our service users had been refusing to wash for two months. It was affecting his self-image and his engagement with other people.

His assistant care practitioner identified some significant underlying issues by observation and conversation, and learned he’d had a traumatic experience with running water as a child. So they re-structured the experiences offered to him, such as a pre-run bath, to take away the sound of running water, which caused him anxiety.

I’ve learned in the past year that you can’t run an organisation with a particular philosophy at its heart without knowing the staff understand it. I’m still involved in direct training and that we are now at capacity is an indication that our ‘Engagement for Living’ framework is working for people with behaviours of concern.

And we are never complacent. As an organisation we are constantly checking ourselves to make sure we are doing what we have said we will do and are doing it to the benefit of those we support.

For more information on MyLife, click here.