17th LDAG meeting (and my last!) by Samantha Williams

Sam Williams

The 17th LDAG meeting, and my last, took place on 20 September 2016 in Cardiff. Topics covered included the Supporting People Programme, day services in North Wales and what support is needed to enable people with a learning disability in Wales to achieve their well-being outcomes.

Ceri Breeze from the Housing Policy Division within Welsh Government gave a presentation about a piece of work he is undertaking to look at the Supporting People Programme and how the £31 million a year is being spent. Supporting People funding is paid directly to local authorities who use it to commission housing-based support from providers such as housing associations. The fundamental role of the programme is to prevent homelessness, whether that is by providing suitable accommodation or supporting people to maintain their tenancies. Ceri will be carrying out an initial mapping exercise to establish what information is currently available on how the money is spent. His department will also be seeking the expertise of groups like LDAG to help them with this study.

Catherine Watchorn, representing All Wales People First, talked about some research she has been doing in North Wales to find out if people in day services were ever given the choice about what they do during the day. Most of the people she questioned did not remember ever being asked whether or not they wanted to go to the day centre and were not aware that they had a choice. Catherine now plans to talk to young people with a learning disability in schools and colleges in North Wales to find out if they are being given the opportunity to choose what they do next as part of the transition process. This is very important as one of the core themes of the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act is that people should have 'voice and control' in their lives, including the services they receive, so it will be interesting to see if this is actually happening on the ground.

After lunch, LDAG members were divided into two groups to look at the outcomes framework for delivering integrated support for people with a learning disability. We were asked to think about what services or tools were already in place in Wales to help people with a learning disability achieve the well-being outcomes, what gaps or barriers might prevent this from happening and what LDAG could suggest to overcome these barriers. This piece of work will help to inform any new policy strategy or statement and will also form the basis for LDAG's future workplans.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog post, this was my last LDAG meeting. After over 7 and a half years as Information Officer for the Learning Disability Advisory Group (and its predecessor the Learning Disability Implementation Advisory Group), my post comes to an end on 30 September. When I first started in this role, I knew very little about learning disabilities and my first few meetings were extremely daunting. Being in a room with so many experts who had years of experience in the field, either professionally or personally, was totally overwhelming. Half the time, I had no idea what was going on as I struggled to understand what people were talking about. It was a steep learning curve. In between meetings, I spent hours reading policies, guidance and best practice documents to improve my knowledge. I met with a wide variety of people including professionals, parents and people with a learning disability to ask questions and increase my understanding. I will always be grateful to everyone who took the time to speak to me and answer my seemingly endless questions in those early days, especially Yvonne Boxall from All Wales People First and Prof David Felce from the Welsh Centre for Learning Disabilities at Cardiff University, both of whom have now retired. Over the years I've been lucky enough to meet and work with so many amazing, passionate and dedicated people as part of my role. I've learnt so much and feel proud to have been part of a group that aims to improve the lives of people with a learning disability and their families.

While I will no longer be part of LDAG from 1 October, I will still be based at Learning Disability Wales as I have been since January 2009. I have recently started working on a project aimed at improving support for parents with a learning disability in Wales. As the Policy and Network Co-ordinator for the Working Together with Parents Network I will be working with parents and professionals from across Wales to find out how parents with a learning disability can be best supported to look after their families. There will be network meetings in both North and South Wales for parents and professionals to get together and talk about some of the issues and possible solutions. We will also be establishing an Expert Panel to look at how good practice can be implemented across services in Wales including social care, health and the criminal justice system. If anyone would like to be involved in the network or simply find out more, please contact me on 029 20681160 or email samantha.williams@ldw.org.uk. Details of the UK-wide network can also be found on the Norah Fry Institute website www.wtpn.co.uk.

15th LDAG meeting by Catherine Watchorn

Catherine Watchorn

My name is Catherine Watchorn. I am from Anglesey in North Wales.
I was selected to be part of LDAG to represent people with a learning disability from North Wales. I get support from advocacy to help me to go to LDAG meetings. I have attended 3 LDAG meetings so far.

We got the train at 10.40am on Monday 2nd March.  We had coffee and it was nice and sunny outside but it was funny because we got wet on the train - there was water coming in! When the conductor came round to check the train tickets I told him that there was water coming in the train so he said he would make sure they checked it when they got in to Cardiff. It took 5 hours to get to Cardiff. We had a talk with the train staff and I asked if they knew anything about the orange wallet scheme. We were looking at our map and they asked us where we were staying so we said the Novotel hotel.  They helped us to find it on the map and showed us what road we needed to take. They also told us it would take 5 minutes in the taxi to go to Cardiff Bay. They were nice people to talk to and very helpful.

We read our LDAG papers on the train to look over the work before the next day's meeting to see what we could bring up and what people were going to talk about in the meeting.  I was looking forward to meeting the Minister Mark Drakeford as he was supposed to be coming to the LDAG meeting to talk to us but we found out he was not coming because he was sick. The meeting was very good and we had a good talk about what the LDAG has been working on and what it wants to do next. After Wayne's presentation about parents with a learning disability, I talked about my experience as a parent and that things weren't explained to me properly. I was told I had to sign forms but I found out years later that I didn't have to sign them. It is important for parents to get the right support.

Everyone was very nice and welcoming. I can't wait for the next meeting with LDAG in May.

LDAG meeting March 2016

14th LDAG meeting by Liz Majer

Liz Majer

I have attended three or four meetings of the LDAG now as representative of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) in Wales. The group has been together for some time and I feel I am just beginning to get to know people and how they feel about things that affect the lives of people with a learning disability. It is a very interesting group as everyone is very different, but it is clear that we are all committed to improving the lives of people with a learning disability and their families. I am encouraged that at this meeting people with a learning disability, their carers and professionals who work with them are treated equally and all listen to each other. The meeting starts with a reminder of the ground rules that members are expected to follow throughout.

As a Director of Social Services for Blaenau Gwent I am aware of the major cultural change that will be introduced with the Social Services and Well Being Act in April 2016 and feel this is a great opportunity for me to be engaged in something like LDAG. One of the items on the agenda was about collecting information in a different way so we are not just counting numbers of people but considering what difference services make to people's lives. There will be further work on this to ensure we collect the information we need to plan services better.

I was a little disconcerted when I heard at the meeting that the group comes to the end of its current lifespan in March 2016, but we will be planning for the next 12 months after that. As a result, we spent a lot of time talking about priorities for the future of this group and discussed important issues like employment and services for people with a learning disability who get into trouble with the police. We would also need to continue work to ensure people with a learning disability get equal care from health services as anyone else in the population.

This is an important group as it has the opportunity to speak directly to the Minister for Health and Social Services and Welsh Government, and to ensure that the people most affected by policies and services have a voice in how they are developed.

13th LDAG meeting by new member Keith Brelstaff

My name is Keith Brelstaff, I am the manager for additional learning needs and inclusion in Powys, and I was very pleased to be able to join the Learning Disability Advisory Group as a representative of the Association of Directors of Education in Wales. I am particularly interested in the needs of young people preparing for adulthood and how the learning opportunities for people with a learning disability can provide a positive start to adult life and lifelong learning can continue that process.

The agenda for my first ever LDAG meeting in September 2015 was really interesting and it struck me that the 3 main discussions were linked in the following ways:

Ven diagram

This really shows how important it is not to simply look at each issue in isolation. Everything knits together to make what we could call an "ordinary life". The more we see links and patterns between areas of our work the better and that includes the relationships we have between services. I hope that what I learn from these meetings I can feed into the discussions among educationalists and providers. I hope that the discussions, especially those involving people with a learning disability themselves as well as those who work with them, will have a direct impact on policy making in Wales and I look forward to playing whatever part I can in moving this agenda forward.

12th LDAG meeting and role of AWPF members by Joe Powell

At the February meeting of the Learning Disability Advisory Group (LDAG) the members reviewed the membership of LDAG. I suggested that it would be a good idea if we had someone with a learning disability from North Wales. The other members fell silent, but the civil servants seemed very enthusiastic. I was confused. Was my idea so silly?

After the meeting I didn't give this much thought. You never know what suggestions may be popular or what suggestions will be taken on board but to my utter delight, All Wales People First were contacted and asked to accept expressions of interest for a North Wales representative for LDAG. We had three strong applications from three very worthy candidates. My colleague Yvonne Boxall and I judged each application based on the criteria given to us by the Welsh Government and we decided that the application of Catherine Watchorn of Flintshire was the strongest. Catherine was delighted to be offered the role.
Her appointment had only just been confirmed shortly before the June meeting so she was unfortunately not able to attend but is looking forward to joining the group at the next meeting in September.

I expressed my thanks to the Welsh Government for backing this initiative and would like to articulate this in my blog. As National Director of All Wales People First, I always try my very best to represent the collected and individual needs of all self-advocacy groups across Wales at a national level, but the one thing I can never do is to give a personal and heartfelt experience of what it is like to live in each community across Wales. Only individual members can ever do that. Catherine now becomes the third member of LDAG to have a learning disability, joining the co-Chair Sophie Hinksman and myself. North Wales is often the 'forgotten' region in Wales and this is something I am very conscious of. Bringing her experience to LDAG is therefore very appropriate.

In my opinion, it is very important that LDAG is balanced. I personally don't believe that the sociological model is more important than the medical model or that one profession is more important than another. As important as it is to have third sector representatives at LDAG, it is also important that we have people who work in health, social services etc. Everyone's contribution is important and that includes people with a learning disability. No more and no less. The important thing about LDAG is that the Minister is given the best advice and recommendations about a variety of topics and issues, and that he (or she) has access to the best advice and information. I believe that the collective membership of LDAG complements one another and gives a broad and holistic viewpoint to the Minister.

Sophie Hinksman is coming to the end of her tenure as the co-Chair of LDAG. Sophie was interviewed for the position in 2012 and has been fabulous in the role. She is a natural chair, with a delightful, inclusive manner and fantastic social skills. Sophie's inclusion has been important, not only because she is a great chair in her own right but also because she reminds us all of the important contribution people with a learning disability can make. She has been a fantastic ambassador for people with a learning disability and I really hope she will consider standing for the position of co-Chair once it becomes vacant again. I also hope the example she has set will persuade and inspire many other possible candidates to do the same and apply for the position when it opens again.

At the 12th LDAG meeting in June, we were given presentations by the Welsh Government leads on specific parts of the Social Services and Well Being (Wales) Act: Gareth Griffiths (parts 4 and 5 ), Julie Annetts (part 6), Steve Vaughan (part 9) and David Clayton (part 10). They updated us all on the second tranche of consultations and there was time for questions after the presentations. This gave the members of LDAG a chance to understand the progress made in each part of the Act and to help us think about how we may advise the Minister in a joint consultation response on how to take things forward.

After lunch LDAG broke into two groups to discuss certain parts of the act in the second tranche. We talked passionately about what should be included, excluded and any weaknesses we felt needed to be addressed. All the comments of the members were noted and these will form part of the joint LDAG consultation response.

Members agreed to feed their individual responses to the co-Chairs who would meet with LDAG Information Officer Sam Williams to collate them and submit the responses by the consultation deadline of 31 July. I would urge anyone who reads this blog to also submit a response to these important consultations. Whatever your role and whatever your point of view, your voice needs to be heard. Let's help the Welsh Government get the new Act right and let's make a positive difference to the lives of people with a learning disability across Wales. After all, this is what we are all here for, isn't it?

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