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The arts for staff development: The Impact on Flintshire Social Services

Interview with Luke Pickering-Jones, Flintshire County Services. Written by Dr Katherine Algar-Skaife, Research Officer, Bangor University.

What impact do you and Flintshire Social Services feel that Creative Conversations has had?

The most important impact of Creative Conversations is on the wellbeing of residents due to an increase in confidence and skills of care staff involved in the programme. Monitoring teams have witnessed this and reported them in the following case studies:

“One gentleman was excessively agitated every morning which made for a really poor start to the day for him, and became difficult for staff to distribute their time across everyone else in the home. He couldn’t communicate the reasons why he was agitated and the potential for a change in home was being explored. The staff experimented with certain aspects of his morning support using creative approaches, after attending the Creative Conversations sessions, to find out if this could be improved. Through this they identified that rather than listen to music after he had breakfast, he preferred to lie in with his music on for an hour, and have breakfast in his room. The outcome of this was that the person’s voice was heard despite significant complications to communication, and they were able to start each day in the way they wanted to.”

“The use of Creative Communication tools are evidently assisting staff to provide meaningful support based on their creative listening and learning. One manager told us about a lady with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease who was distressed after an emergency admission. She had occasionally left the residential home without informing staff and there were significant concerns for her safety. Using the communication techniques using the tablecloth it was found that this lady had always been a very keen gardener. The manager reported that staff are now working together to support this lady to make some sense of what is happening to her, seeing her as a person in need of purpose, and not someone they have to stop leaving the building unaccompanied. This has undoubtedly improved the lady’s well-being.”

Another impact has been on the engagement of the care homes in other activities. After participating in Creative Conversations, Flintshire Monitoring teams have noticed an increased involvement from the homes with different activities and their communities.

What were the reasons for being so supportive of the project in the first place?

We were invited to be partners on the project from the initial stage of writing the bid so it was a clear partnership from the very beginning. All of our suggestions were taken on board so we were supportive throughout.

Being involved in the project gave an opportunity for care homes in Flintshire to have access to a specialist individual to help care staff to develop their skills using the arts to benefit the people living with dementia. The project was aimed at supporting and upskilling the whole workforce, giving opportunities to those who aren’t normally given consideration such as domestic staff.

Another aspect was that it was something to get all homes together to become passionate about because they are usually quite isolated a lot of the time. Creative Conversations was an opportunity for homes to share best practice. The programme was different to standard training where staff would be talked at and asked to learn specific details so we were interested in learning new approaches.

What advice wold you give other social service units who might be thinking about supporting similar projects? What would be your key messages?

Ensure time commitment has been approved before the project starts. I was named on the proposal which gave the advantage of being able to commit the time needed to maintain the partnership. Having someone from Flintshire Social Services support the recruitment and delivery of the programme was beneficial as care homes can be wary of new initiatives. However, that individual needs to be the right person. They need to already have links with the care home but be from a wellbeing or activity engagement role rather than monitoring.

Supporting this project has benefitted everyone. It has led to the improvement of care in Flintshire, and created opportunities for all the partners. From the perspective of Flintshire Social Services, the project linked with current legislation and practice so the project supported current and aspirational initiatives and was used in evidence for the Older People’s Commissioner report.

What challenges did you encounter/ overcome along the way?

As with a lot of things, engaging care homes really depends on the support of the managers, staffing levels, etc. Working together helped overcome any challenges. There was fluid communication between the University team, delivery team, and Social Services which resulted in a smooth delivery of the programme. Even when faced with challenges, the team were flexible when required; for example, putting on an extra session for a home that hadn’t been able to attend several sessions.

Some participants withdrew from the project due to other commitments, illness or personal circumstances, but we were able to recruit more from other homes. The whole home has to be behind the project for there to be successful engagement from the staff. However, some care homes aren’t as far along in their development as others and those that aren’t were more reluctant. Overall all care homes we engaged with wanted to change and improve people’s lives.

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This article is from the free online course:

Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

UCL (University College London)