Working Together – Trust and Communication
C-Change was specifically set up to work with people with a learning disability and or mental health issues whom services found ‘challenging’ to support. Another term for this group of people would be ‘freedom fighters.’ People who know when the support they are getting is not good enough and will tell you, sometimes in subtle ways most often not, that you need to do better.
What we learnt in those early days, and it hold true to this day, is that to do effective work, we must work in collaboration with others. More so if we are going to approach situations in a less orthodox manner.
The keys to good collaboration and partnership working are developing trust and honest effective communication.
Trust must be earned by doing what you are say you are going to do. Always practicing to exacting standards and being honest and up front when things go wrong. Also, offering solutions as how to put things right.
Effective communication must be practiced constantly. It is better to share information and ask for feedback ahead of time than explain after the fact. To be effective partners health and social care colleagues must be kept in informed. When we do this, we are better able to make sometimes difficult person focussed decisions.
Here is one such example.
R had spent most of his life in institutional care of one sort or another. He had spent time in secure units and spells in prison. Along the way he had acquired a significant reputation for doing things that other people found difficult.
He had learnt all sorts of ways to challenge the system to achieve his short term aims. Many support arrangements had broken down resulting him returning to hospital.
We committed to support him and to try to change his destructive life-cycle. He put us through the wringer. Every couple of weeks as we got to grips with one challenge it would morph into another. Physical assault, verbal assault, threatening his neighbours, going on hunger strike. At one point he took on the persona of Bobby Sands, the IRA hunger striker, and refused to wear clothes and had a dirty protest (yes, s**t on the walls). This was followed by a stint as native American Indian (“I ain’t eating no white man’s food”), a hunger strike; he went missing for three days and he also set his house on fire.
He had set fire to things previously and we had planned for this eventuality; he had a sprinkler system installed in his house. It activated and the fire was extinguished, however his house was a bit damp. There was a suggestion that he should be readmitted to hospital.
The less orthodox approach, we suggested, was that we install dehumidifiers in his home, and he remain there. What better place for someone with thoughts of arson than a damp house with a functioning sprinkler system?
And that is what happened. It was possible because we had extraordinarily good and trusting relations with our multi agency colleagues, who were all equally committed to help R change his life pattern. We also had honest and open communication about the challenges we faced working together to help him overcome a lifetime of adversity, and to begin to lead his good life.
Together we succeeded in supporting R to live out the rest of his life in his home, in a community where he was known and regarded. He taught us as much as any textbook about holding the faith, and that better is possible. He also reaffirmed our commitment to partnership working based on trust and honest communication. We cannot do such demanding work without these foundations.
Thank you R.
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