Pursuing an Independent Living Pathway benefits everyone involved from residents with learning disabilities, their families, support workers and budget-squeezed local authorities as Sebastian Moh, Hightown’s Head of Care and Supported Housing for Buckinghamshire explains.

Even as we opened Stanton House in 2011, we were preparing for a future in which our service users may no longer need us. Our objective was to reach a point where residents feel empowered to live without onsite support, eventually needing only a minimal support package.

Up until earlier this year, the four apartments in the heart of Aylesbury town centre offered 24-hour care and support to four adults with learning disabilities.  Today, they all live independently in their homes.

Our plan was ambitious as none of the residents had previously lived independently and initially, were provided with round-the-clock support but, seven years later, the transformation to their lives is indisputable.

Around 38% of Buckinghamshire County Council’s annual budget will be spent on adult social care, health and wellbeing during 2018/19 and a sizable amount of this is allocated to funding care and support services like Hightown’s.

The social care sector is being squeezed from every direction. Pressure on budgets has intensified so it’s no great surprise that any cost savings are met with enthusiasm. For Buckinghamshire County Council, the funding authority for Stanton House, the remodelling of this particular service delivered annual savings of over £100k.

After years of building the confidence and skills they needed to live independently, the progress that had been made by residents meant that when the time came to reduce and eventually remove 24/7 staff support, it wasn’t so much a big change as the next logical step.

From the start we talked to residents, parents and carers about how we could support them as part of our ‘Independent Living Pathway’, phasing out the need for on-site support workers.

Firstly, we withdrew the sleep-in support worker, then the number of on-site staff hours were gradually reduced and finally, the office provision was replaced with an outreach support service and the space has created an opportunity for a new resident to receive support.

It was clear to us early in the programme that technology could play a key role in providing the support. Everyone had a mobile phone, so alarms and reminders were used to ensure that the residents were taking their medication properly. A resident who relied on a hearing aid was provided with a system that lights up and vibrates to ensure they are alerted to alarms or even the doorbell. Aside from the safety aspect, technology helped to reassure residents as they moved towards greater independence that help was never far away should they need it.

All four are now living independently and working, either as volunteers or in paid employment. They are all involved in their community, undertaking activities and classes, and each one has embraced the change in their lifestyle. Every member of staff has now transferred to work for other Hightown services across Buckinghamshire.

Staff found the experience rewarding as there were clear goals for each resident and progress was visible, especially in the latter months. Our project has shown that harnessing independence is a key aspect of how we must think about care.

It’s a positive outcome for everyone and we’re now exploring how we could learn from the success at Stanton House and apply our ‘Independent Living Pathway’ to other supported living schemes across our portfolio.

I think there’s a pragmatic approach support providers can take to help local authorities address the uncomfortable, but necessary, budget pressures while keeping service users’ interests at the heart of their approach. Proactive planning and collaboration with families, carers, Bucks County Council and staff – as we have done at Stanton House - suggests care and support contracts can be adapted to support individuals make a positive, managed transition to independent living.

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Sebastian Moh