Relationships are tricky things for many of us, including myself, and sometimes I think it’s a case of we can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. This year has been challenging for us all and it has certainly shown me that I can’t live without relationships, even if they have to be virtual. If this is how I am feeling, I’m pretty sure that it is the same for the majority of citizens throughout Scotland and beyond.
Much of my adult working life has been spent working with and supporting children and adults with learning disabilities and, more recently, inspecting the services that provide this support in a range of ways. Enabling and supporting people to develop and maintain relationships with others has always been a key focus of that work. As an inspector over the years I have seen first-hand the benefits that keeping in touch with family, friends and partners continues to have on people’s wellbeing and sense of belonging.
“As an inspector over the years I have seen first-hand the benefits that keeping in touch with family, friends and partners continues to have on people’s wellbeing and sense of belonging.”
COVID–19 has placed immense restrictions on us all and how we maintain our relationships, but for people with learning disabilities and the services and people that support them, the challenges have been immense. Sometimes it’s been hard to remember that guidance and rules have been put in place to protect us, especially when I hear about how someone’s regular visits home to parents have been curtailed as 14 day social isolation cannot be achieved on return.
I’ve been lucky to work alongside some very experienced and knowledgeable people across different services and teams. As time has gone on we’ve been able to look at individual circumstances and show compassion in developing ways and means of supporting as much contact between people as possible, and I hope this is making a difference for some. I include not just family relationships and friendships, but intimate relationships as well.
The temporary closure of day services for adults with learning disabilities will, without doubt, have had an immediate impact on people’s lives in terms of routine, and the friendships people have made there. It’s been good to see alternative arrangements being made to offer some outreach support to people to maintain relationships even if it is the support worker relationship!
All these challenges have got me thinking about the bigger picture in terms of relationships experienced by people with learning disabilities. The Care Inspectorate is often in an ideal place to see things on a wider scale and we can play a key role in promoting good practice and positive outcomes for people. The restrictions placed on all of us by COVID–19 has led to challenges for the Care Inspectorate, and we have focussed heavily on the impact and experiences of older people in care homes. At the moment I would not be able to give an informed answer as to how services are supporting people with learning disabilities to maintain their relationships with people that matter to them. I am asking myself what can I do about it?
“At the moment I would not be able to give an informed answer as to how services are supporting people with learning disabilities to maintain their relationships with people that matter to them.”
I think it’s time to find out a bit more about the experiences of people with learning disabilities who receive services in Scotland during the pandemic, the impact restrictions have had on them, and what they are doing or how they are being supported to make the most out of life. Some of this research has already begun and I am working with a colleague to analyse the data we hold about services, any outbreaks of infection they have had, the number of incidents and allegations of abuse. I am looking for any rises particularly in incidents, as so many people have had to stop their usual routines and may have found this stressful.
This is only a small picture though and I am keen to hear about life in the community whether that is a care home, supported living or independent living tenancy. This is where inspectors come in handy! Throughout the pandemic they have been having regular contact with services to support managers and find out what is happening and how everyone is dealing with and adapting to the restrictions placed on all of us. I hear on the grapevine that there’s still lots going on and services are using innovative ways to support people to maintain relationships, their friendships, and their family connections. I’m hoping to get some feedback from inspectors that we can share.
To bring everything to a conclusion, what I’m really aiming for is to share the stories of relationships – the challenges, sad news, limitations and restriction, but also the good stories, the fun and laughter, and the sense of achievement that have come out, as I know they are there too. The challenge for us, the Care Inspectorate, is to keep the prime importance of relationships right at the heart of the services we work with and support.
Team Manager of Adult Services