EFFECTIVE SUPPORT, 04/06/2008 (Some thoughts prompted by Mary Kealy, CEO, Brothers of Charity, Clare presentation to Offaly Association for the Intellectual Disabled, Tullamore, May 13th 2008)

Mary Kealy had outlined their exclusive emphasis on “one person at a time” and had discussed at some length how the unfolding of opportunities (both role opportunities and opportunities in respect of developing natural networks of support) tended to happen spontaneously – often serendipitously – on a “we don’t really try and orchestrate things… but we are noticing that if we place ourselves in the right kind of situations one thing seems to lead to another.”

This general precept of Mary’s was linked to the view that “the way to become lucky in business is to get in the traffic.” By “getting in the traffic” was meant putting oneself about, introducing oneself to a range of people, soliciting advice, attending conferences and seminars, making connections, developing networks, writing letters, returning phone calls, et cetera. Things happen, opportunities surface, possibilities become evident when one is in the traffic. One of the really unhelpful consequences of the traditional service-provider model of support is that people are segregated from the normal opportunity-carrying traffic flows.

This in turn led on to a discussion on models of supporting people. What lies at the heart of successful applications of the person-centred ethos is a very intentional focus on

  1. Supporting the person to access the normal traffic flows, the zone where opportunities bubble up, where “one thing leads to another”,
  2. Very consciously scanning for such opportunities and ensuring that they are taken. This involves a high level of awareness about what is happening – and what might happen if sensitively supported. It also involves a high level of self-awareness about not over-supporting the person – we do not want to end up acting as an invisible membrane-barrier between the person and the opportunity.

The particular challenge for staff members whose orientation has been formed within the traditional system is to recognise such opportunity and to adroitly step back, get out of the way, so that the opportunity may “take.” The concept of “a service with holes” was discussed. If we don’t consciously create spaces, gaps in which we need and require a response, a dig-out from people in the neighbourhood or community, it will never happen. (As I am writing up these notes, I recall a conversation with a colleague who uses a wheelchair. After a recent evening time meeting in Dublin, I offered to walk him back to his car so that I could transfer his wheelchair to his boot. He insisted that there was no need for me to do this as some passer-by would be happy to oblige. Worried that it was getting dark and that the area mightn’t be that safe, I asked “But supposing there is nobody there?” His immediate response was “Brendan, there is always somebody there.” Reflecting on his comments and relating it to the ingredients of effective support, one of the things he is saying is that not only do we have to create the opportunity, we also have to have a certain trust and confidence that others will respond. Often those of us who have been steeped in services are very pessimistic about the general public. We need to put our pessimism to the test or, to steal one of Michael Kendrick’s comments, maybe we just need to maintain “a vaguely open mind” about the responsiveness and no-big-deal generosity of others to respond if approached and asked in the right way.)

Signed: Brendan Broderick, CEO

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