How can we kick start radical change in a care and support system which is suddenly starved of money? Perhaps an equally valid question is, “How can we not?” This second question can only be asked if we genuinely believe that there are ways for communities to face their challenges which aren’t entirely reliant upon services.
Local Area Coordination (LAC) is now at the core of care and support in Australia, after twenty years of development and numerous evaluations. Ralph Broad, who has worked in Australia and the UK remarks upon the fact that outcomes in Western Australia are better than those in the UK, despite the fact that even a recession-hit UK is still better resourced than Western Australia has ever been. LAC is a way of recognising that people are not passive “clients”, “service users” or “customers” of a social care system. It puts professionals in new roles: working alongside people. Local Area Coordinators in each small locality have an open door, access to information and small amounts of funding, but most importantly a remit to nurture local solutions and keep people strong. They help people to access services where they are the only option, but they see services as the last thing to consider, not the first.
LAC is not an initiative to ‘drop in to’ the existing system, with its preoccupation with gatekeeping services for those deemed needy and vulnerable enough to qualify. It is best used as a way to transform the whole system, starting with moving the “front end” of the service system from “assessment, funding and services”, to diverting people from the service system; building their capacity to become more self-sufficient and to stay strong.
People are scared. In many areas, long-established services are cut, whilst policy makers talk of their aspirations for charities to ‘step up’ and their belief that there is a ‘Big Society’ (Conservatives) or ‘Good Society’ (Labour) out there, if only we could find it. LAC recognises that people and communities who have always relied upon services rarely create new networks of support or find new forms of self-reliance in isolation, and that services will remain necessary for some people, some of the time. But many people can find better ways of living a good life if they have the right allies. Allies who have an overview of what exists already in an area, the time to foster new solutions and connections and an unswerving belief that everyone has something of value to contribute.
LAC fits well with our philosophy at Shared Lives Plus, which is about helping people to find what they value and are good at, not just identifying their needs. Good Shared Lives carers don’t just meet a person’s support needs, they help that person to form new friendships and relationships with a much wider circle. People who use services are forming their own micro-enterprises as ways of taking charge and contributing something new to their community. All of these approaches need each other if we are to create real change.