Active Support: Getting the...

Active Support: Getting the...

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Active Support: Getting the Balance Right

Helping out kitchen Active Support

Person Centred Active Support is a way of working that enables everyone, no matter what their level of intellectual or physical disability, to make choices and participate in meaningful activities and social relationships.

Since Person Centred Active Support (or simply ‘Active Support’) first appeared as an alternative to traditional custodial models of care in the UK in the 1960s, it has grown into a major global movement, helping thousands of people with intellectual disability to become more engaged in their own care, to set personal goals and develop real aspirations for a more independent future.

Victoria has been at the forefront of this movement, with researchers from La Trobe University, Dr Julie Beadle-Brown, Dr Emma Bould and Professor Christine Bigby, joining the late, great Professor Jim Mansell in leading research into the development of a practical Active Support methodology. In 2014, The Tipping Foundation was selected as part of a group of Australian disability support service providers to support this research, giving our staff and residents access to the very latest Active Support knowledge and resources.

The past four years have confirmed what Professor Mansell had long asserted: that the quality of life of people with intellectual disability derives largely from the quality of their support, and that truly engaged support workers in turn require strong leadership from their managers and organisations.

At Tipping, the last few years have seen a sustained swing towards Active Support, with a rolling program of on-the-job training, staff and client supervision, and reflective team-sharing at each of our 40 homes, overseen by Practice Leaders Sabrina Suhaid and Troy Howard.

“We use reflective practice that encourages staff to look at how they do things and the impacts this has on individual clients – rather than theoretical training, which doesn’t always relate to their real experiences,” says Sabrina. “I feel that we’ve seen a significant shift in attitudes and practices, with many teams becoming more engaged with their clients and sharing more honestly with each other.”

Wonders in Warunda

Warunda House residents at libraryAt Tipping’s Warunda House in Warracknabeal, the Active Support begins the moment the six residents get up in the morning and begin choosing their clothes and what they want for breakfast. The ladies take turns preparing the day’s meals, picking veggies from the garden, and collecting eggs from the resident chooks.

In each activity, staff provide just the right amount of support to help the residents push their own boundaries and – in the words of coordinator Gail Boyd – “to be the best they can be”.

All the residents at Warunda take part in the weekly shopping, and there are regular excursions to the local library to borrow books. Opportunities for getting out in the community are maximised: one of the ladies is part of a bowls team; another helps out at a nearby craft shop.

“These ladies deserve the same rights we all have,” says Gail. “We just love to see them achieve their goals – especially when they experience something new they really wanted to have a go at.”

Potential everywhere

Warunda residents active participation

Tipping’s teams focus on providing our residents with the minimal support they need to succeed in individual tasks, according to their personal abilities and preferences. Activities are delivered little and often, so residents are not overwhelmed and can take breaks and come back to an activity.

Active Support is based on the mantra that “every moment has potential”, not only for a person to be engaged, but to feel that sense of achievement we all get from acquiring a new skill or completing a challenge.

Active Support emphasises people being engaged in all areas of their lives – choosing new activities, being involved in group tasks, feeling the value and inclusion of contributing to a communal cause. As well as the obvious benefits of physical activity, there is compelling evidence that giving people with disability greater choice and control over how they spend their days can also lead to significant reductions in challenging behaviours.

Warunda house residents active participation

“The key aim is to improve people’s quality of life, to help them be more socially included,” explains Julie Beadle-Brown. “It’s about people not just being pushed around in a wheelchair but participating and being accepted as a part of their community.”

Christine Bigby says that, after laying the ground for more sustained Active Support practice and attitude change among its residential staff, Tipping is getting the balance right.

“What we’ve observed in a lot of organisations is that a lot of energy goes into special events and not so much into everyday engagement, so people spend a lot of time doing nothing while staff do all the tasks – and take up all the opportunities for engagement,” says Christine.

“[Under the NDIS] organisations are going to need to be able to demonstrate that they’re providing effective services. Both at an individual level and an aggregate level, organisations like Tipping [must] always gets good outcomes, and you need to be able to evidence that – not just have marketing spin – because families are becoming more attuned and informed as consumers.”

More resources:

A Day in the Life of Warunda House video

Every moment has potential – An online learning resource for disability support workers:

Christine Bigby in conversation with The Tipping Foundation CEO Graeme Kelly:

Julie Beadle-Brown talking about Active Support approaches:

Active Support resources from La Trobe University:

pdf-downloadDisability Services Booklet

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