Community connecting is a way of supporting people with learning disabilities to make lasting relationships based on shared interests and mutual benefit.
It consists of more than people merely being helped to be present in the community because it also helps them to take part in activities by matching their skills, talents and interests with the needs of local communities. The outcomes of connecting will vary according to the aspirations of the person involved, but may include getting a paid job, taking on a role in a local organisation or simply finding a circle of friends.
Successful connecting reduces people with learning disabilities’ reliance on specialist support services, improves self-esteem, and is a necessary step towards leading a more independent life.
Connecting is a form of brokerage, which means that an intermediary facilitates the building of links between an individual with learning disabilities and their community. The focus is on what it takes for people to make and sustain new relationships, and to be an active part of local life.
Connectors take care to understand the aspirations and motivations of the person they're supporting, but they must also go further in understanding the part that character, personality, passions etc., play in shaping someone’s life. Connectors then find ways for people to form relationships that will help them achieve their ambitions.
There is no prescription for how this is done; to achieve their goal connectors must use their initiative, their contacts and whatever resources are to hand. Connectors need to be creative, flexible and innovative in pursuing their task.
Crucially, they must have the skills to introduce people and foster a new relationship until it can sustain itself.
The aspirations of people with learning disabilities and their families have changed dramatically in the last 15 years. The aim is now for support to be tailored to their individual needs, and many now stress that jobs and relationships are the main priorities in their lives.
While this is widely articulated through good person-centred planning (PCP), service providers often struggle to translate plans into effective support. Connecting is designed to fill this gap.
The intensity and duration of a connector’s work will vary from person to person. Connecting does not replace other support that people need; connectors will often work with paid support staff, family and circles of support. This is important because connectors will only work with someone for an agreed period of time.
Help from a connector may be paid for in a number of ways. Some local authorities have contracted with organisations to provide this type of support for a limited amount of time. Some organisations fund connecting services through grants and donations. Personal Budgets and Direct Payments may also be used to pay for a connecting service.
The ‘Connecting People’ programme is the culmination of nearly ten years’ research and development by the Foundation on community-based support for people with learning disabilities. Our research has shown that people with high support needs rarely get the right help to make strong, enduring relationships in their local communities.
The emphasis of community connecting is less on supporting people to be ‘in the community’ or to do activities, and more about them building relationships based on reciprocity – what do people with high support needs have to offer, and what can be offered in return?
The Foundation can make connecting a reality through the following methods:
- Advice, mentoring and training to set up a service
- Business advice to make sure that your service is sustainable
- Support to use an individual budget or direct payment to set up a connecting service
- Training for commissioners, care managers, providers and connectors in nurturing local connecting services.