On The Ground: Yarrow Housing

Ana Paula Nacif

Scheme: Pathways to Communication

Funding: £128,000 from the Three Guineas Trust

Objectives: To empower people with learning disabilities and limited verbal skills to better communicate their desires

People with learning disabilities who cannot talk are often unable to communicate their decisions to others.

To help them become more independent and communicate their choices, Yarrow Housing created Pathways to Communication. The project started in 2002 and is run in partnership with social services and the Hammersmith and Fulham Primary Care Trust.

Yarrow employs a speech and language therapy assistant, as well as a psychology assistant. After a thorough assessment of Yarrow's homes, they produced individual plans for service users, who were also issued with a 'communications passport' that lists their likes and dislikes, any phobias they might have and how they like to communicate.

Various communication tools have been produced, such as visual timetables, picture books, photo menus and shopping lists, to help service users to make choices and be more independent. Some residents have also learned sign language.

It is a long-term commitment and the speech and language therapy assistant and psychology assistant have been working with staff and clients to ensure that the programme is successfully implemented. The project is due to end in the middle of 2005, but Yarrow is assessing how the work already done can be integrated into the culture of the organisation.

Raj Mungur, Yarrow's head of care and support, said: "In the past, the benefits gained from intensive speech and language therapy were rarely maximised. The NHS simply does not have enough resources to provide long-term support for all users. We often lacked the specialist skills required to carry forward the work prescribed by therapists and, when it did exist, the knowledge could be lost when staff moved jobs. All these factors often combined to limit the ability of service-users to communicate their wishes."

Pathways to Communication has benefited 26 clients in nine homes. Some of them are now taking part in Yarrow's tenants' forum.

Mungur said: "This project has really helped to change things. Our homes are now much more visually-oriented, so even if you can't communicate verbally you won't be excluded. The skills of staff have also been enhanced, making us less dependent on outside specialists.

"Our understanding of users' communication needs is now much more in-depth, and we have the systems to ensure that this knowledge is never lost.

"Yarrow's culture has changed and more than half of the people targeted so far by the project are more independent."

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