One of our services in Romford is a residential care home that supports 6 people with learning disabilities, many of whom are non-verbal. In 2018, the service celebrated 25 years since opening their doors! The home had been running smoothly for those 25 years, and the people we support and staff have always been extremely happy, however, early last year they felt they could excel even further.
Val Farrelly, the service manager, radiates positivity and a true care for the people supported at the service as well as her dedicated staff team. The positivity runs throughout the entire home and can be felt as soon as you step through the door. Val says “everyone’s focus is on the people who live here. The happiness here and the success we enjoy is all because of all of that.”
The search for continuous improvement
Although they felt the residents were happy, Val and the team wanted to understand them better and find new ways to overcome the barriers that come with non-verbal communication. They set out to delve deeper into how the home runs and how the residents are supported. The goal was to gain a “360⁰ picture of what we do, how we do it and why we do it the way we do” said Val.
The initial plan to achieve this was to break down the standard annual review questions into a number of more detailed sub-questions. This new set of questions were finalised and sent out to the relevant people, and the team eagerly awaited the responses. As they’d hoped, the responses provided a deeper insight, however, something was still missing.
Finding the missing element
Val and the team continued to rack their brains on how to identify what they felt was missing. While participating in the Living Leader programme, suddenly inspiration hit! Val enthusiastically shared her new insights with the team and together they reflected on a typical day. They realised that although they all had the best interests of the residents at heart and do everything they can to ensure they are happy, they didn’t truly understand what they felt.
Val started to get an idea in her head and it soon became clear how to gain this understanding after working closely with one of the residents. Val noticed that Paul, who is non-verbal, would always want new staff to sit with him. They figured out this was because he wanted them to get to know and understand him. In his own way of communicating, he was saying “sit with me, talk to me but most of all listen to me.” It suddenly clicked for Val, she said “before you can try to ever understand how I feel or how I want to be supported, walk a mile in my shoes.”
The team’s journey to true understanding
The team at our service spent 3 weeks completing their walk a mile in my shoes initiative. It involved the staff becoming someone we support for a day – they had to depend on the other staff and experience life as a resident at our service. They also spent time shadowing the residents to closely observe their interactions and reactions. After each session, the team would have a debrief and share feedback.
Everyone who took part in walk a mile in my shoes found it extremely insightful and valuable. The two key outcomes were time and listening. The team have learnt that although they have other responsibilities within the home to complete on a daily basis, such as required paper work, they need to remember to give the residents their time when they want it and to truly listen and understand to what they have to say, even when words are not used.
Each resident now has their own life book / story. Each story describes how each resident likes to be supported, how they communicate, their likes and dislikes, as well as sharing fun experiences they’ve had, such as holidays. The life books can be used for new staff to gain an easy understanding of each individual and how best to support them.
Val is extremely proud of the team for going above and beyond, to really make the service the best place it can be. She said “it’s a fabulous and consistent team that work here. We all have the same aim and I don’t think there is a better team out there.”
One key take away that Val would like everyone to remember is “one size does not fit all!”
“I have worked here for just over one year. The first thing I noticed was how the people we support were treated with such respect while always being empowered to make their own decisions, living the way they wanted to live.” – Jill, Support Worker
“My sister has lived at the service for many years. The staff team there know her every need and want, and work tirelessly to accommodate these. She is treated with respect while being supported to live the life she wants to live. She loves living at the service.” – Sue, family member
*Some details have been changed for confidentiality reasons.