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Practices that stretch boundaries to benefit the people who use our services

Ang Broadbridge is FLNG's Research and Evaluation Lead. Her team supports and delivers the learning element of our programme and runs peer research training for people with lived experience. In this blog, Ang talks about workforce development in the context of stretching boundaries, sharing examples of practices that might raise eyebrows in order to benefit the people who use our services.

Practices that stretch boundaries to benefit the people who use our services
Ang Broadbridge, FLNG Research and Evaluation Lead

A key area of learning on our programme has been exploring what makes a good multiple and complex needs worker.  As well as exploring skills, roles and responsibilities in our workforce development offer, it’s been really illuminating to explore with our staff team the things that they do that stretch the boundaries, practice which might be seen as unorthodox or that might raise eyebrows with other agencies.  These unorthodox practices are not written into role descriptions, they’re not widely spoken about, and sometimes they present as dilemmas to staff around boundaries or perhaps present tensions in the role.

My interest in exploring this further came from reading a blog piece from another Fulfilling Lives programme area, in a piece called ‘Exactly what is it the frontline staff do that makes a difference?’ Helen Gavaghan said “the ultimate person-centred approach is arguably to save lives (that want to be saved) and how one gets to that place with some of the most disadvantaged, complex and chaotic individuals may, on occasion, raise the eyebrows of those not immersed in this work.”

BoundariesI wanted to understand what practices staff are engaged in that might raise the eyebrows; delineating these practices might help other agencies to think differently about how they support people with multiple and complex needs and adds an interesting dimension to workforce development which often looks at the skills base and doesn’t always dig deeper to explore dilemmas that can sometimes present as opportunities in opening up different ways of working with people.  This felt like a risk as I wasn’t sure what people might share, or how that might make me feel compromised in my own role, but it paid off and we captured some really interesting examples.   It is testament to the team feeling trusted that they felt able to share a wide range of examples on a continuum of unorthodox practice:

“Engagement first, in other roles boundaries would be top of the list, in this role there’s more autonomy, and that’s great, as long as you feel in control and comfortable you can do great work with people with the trust of the programme.”

Our findings are presented in a report on What Makes a Good Multiple Complex Needs worker (you can read more here).  The staff team told me about a wide variety of practice based issues, including unusual practice or practice which sits outside of standard policy, for example collecting a client’s relative’s ashes:

“that was something I didn’t expect to be doing in this job; I carried this box of ashes on my lap on the number 40 bus…you just roll with it…I did it because it was for my client, he couldn’t face it.”

We also talked about practice examples which may raise eyebrows; examples which our workers sense would not be allowed by other agencies, like the luxury of being able to spend time doing normal things with clients: “I have a client who said: ‘I don’t want to talk about that.’ I knew she liked gardening so we went to buy some flowering plants… I said we will have to talk about that sometime [arrears] but we don’t have to do that today” and working with clients when they are under the influence where other agencies “might say ‘they’re not fit for us to work with them.’”

Workers highlighted that they wouldn’t be able to work with some clients without being exposed to this, particularly when visiting clients who drink in their own homes.

“If I arrive to take them to an appointment and they’re under the influence, well I think me visiting can still be a positive, as the professional you can call the agency and rearrange, then they didn’t miss an appointment, that’s a positive way to work with people with substance issues.”

We also discussed practice which stretches boundaries, interestingly the team are divided on some of these practices.  Some felt it part of their role for example to store a client’s personal effects while they were in transition between accommodation or to have a client’s spare set of keys because they lose them frequently.

At the point when this work was completed our workers were being hosted by several different host organisations with different policies.  Reflecting on this, we talked about how different organisations having different policies can also be confusing for the people we work with; what is OK for one project may not be standard practice for another. The team acknowledges that all of these examples present as short term solutions to problems that they had to “think on their feet” to surmount. They also recognise that these solutions may be disempowering to clients, and have worked together to find alternative solutions. For example the team successfully applied to St Martin in the Field’s Frontline Network Ideas Fund for funding for storage and removals for our clients.

The team talked about boundaries in relation to encouraging clients to do things that might be out of their comfort zone.

“It can be precarious, you try different approaches, sometimes it works, sometimes they disengage, just didn’t find the right approach for them on the day, I’ll say so to the client, we don’t have all the answers.”

As the programme develops our views on these practice examples are changing and developing, and the team challenges each other’s thinking on practice too.  I think it’s really important that we continue to discuss different approaches to working with people to achieve better outcomes for people who have experienced challenging circumstances.  Have you experienced similar dilemmas in your work?  Perhaps the questions we set out in the report might give a framework for discussing these issues with your own teams.  Please get in touch and let us know: join our conversation on Twitter or email me at ang.broadbridge@fulfillinglives-ng.org.uk.