Celia Tennant: Lucy's smile is like diamonds for supporters

IT proves that self-directed care really can work, argues Celia Tennant

Picture: Inspiring Scotland

To see Lucy smile, you would never imagine she had overcome a drug addiction which had damaged her teeth so severely she covered her mouth when she spoke.

Lucy lacked all confidence and was unable to maintain eye contact with others. Because of this her life had become increasingly restricted, compounded by the fact she didn’t have a driving licence. Lucy felt increasingly isolated and dependent, which was hampering her recovery from methadone addiction.

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Fortunately, Lucy lives in an area of Scotland which was piloting an idea to provide participants with a budget of £250 to overcome personal barriers and achieve or change something in their life for the better.

Working with a local charity, she was able to use her personal budget to pay for dental treatment, with the remainder used to pay for a provisional licence and a couple of lessons.

This opportunity set off a series of very positive events. Delighted with her teeth and on her way to passing her driving test, Lucy’s confidence increased dramatically – she gained a sense of self-worth and felt she could now contribute positively to her own development, and to those around her.

Encouraged by the support she had been given through the programme, she became involved in the independent support organisation which had helped her. After training and registering with the Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme, Lucy is now self-employed as a mentor and supporter. She has also been able to secure a private let, which has benefited her family as a whole.

This is just one example of how a small amount of personal funding can be literally life-changing. This story was possible thanks to Scottish Government’s Social Care (Self-Directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2014 – an approach to ensure individuals, carers and families should be enabled to make informed choices on what their support looks like and how it is delivered, making it possible to meet agreed personal outcomes.

Having this choice and control is not only empowering, but necessary if people are to be equal partners in making decisions which affect their lives.

It’s a big change to the social care system, which has traditionally provided managed budgets on behalf of people rather than giving them a say in what they spend their money on. It’s not without its challenges – with pressures on social care budgets, there can sometimes be resistance to wholesale change. However, across Scotland, charities and support organisations are working with local authorities, care providers, and individuals to understand how best money can be spent to increase quality of life, and encourage independence. Inspiring Scotland is happy to be involved in self-directed support as Scottish Government’s investment manager of 55 projects helping people access and manage support.

After one year, we have already seen how the self-directed support process can lead to significant outcomes for people, families and carers; how simple and small changes can make a difference. We have also seen the immense benefit of independent support organisations which can spend the time understanding the wider needs and aspirations of people who need support to live a full life.

Charities, Inspiring Scotland and the Scottish Government are all committed to sharing learning from self-directed support; demonstrating the difference they are making, but also raising awareness of different models of care which self-directed support can facilitate and how to overcome barriers to implementation.

As with all new policies, self-directed support requires a change of mind-set and culture to make it work effectively, and implementation has not been without its challenges. However, Lucy’s story shows the difference this approach can make to a person’s life – putting choice and control at the heart of social care decision-making.

• Celia Tennant is chief executive of Inspiring Scotland