Learning Disability Week - What is a Partnership Board?
The West Berkshire Learning Disability Partnership Board has a very creditable list of achievements in support of improving the health and welfare of people with a learning disability.
I find it hard to see where these improvements would have come from if it had not been for the LDPB. The LD would be worse off if this Board did not exist. It endeavours to ensure those with a learning disability are not lumped in with everyone else, probably meaning they would sink to the bottom.
When given their rights and proper entitlement, they can float to the top, flourish and lead a fulfilled life.
From a parent carer of a person with LD
Learning Disability Partnership Boards are the opportunity for self-advocates, carers and those who work with people with a learning disability to work together to improve people’s lives.
The LDPBs were initiated in 2001 after the government made it a statutory requirement, and all local authorities were given an initial injection of funding. Over time the funding available decreased and the funding structure changed, so that money was available but within adult social care budgets for local authorities to use as they saw fit. In 2011 the statutory obligation was dropped, and a lot of the boards ceased, or were replaced by alternative projects, but those that were already well established were able to carry on.
“Not all local authorities have continued to run boards, those that have been do so because they know how successful they can be,” says advocate Alex Osterritter, who has been involved in the West Berkshire LDPB since 2012.
“Without the boards, all those voices just wouldn’t have been heard. One of the main differences that they have made has been in communication.”
The West Berkshire LD Partnership Board has more than 100 members, of whom between 30 and 40 will usually attend the in-person meetings, held every other month.
The board is a completely independent body and its membership includes people with learning disabilities, parents, family members and carers, representatives from organisations providing services, the head of adult social care and senior figures in the local authority, and health sector representatives.
As partnership board officer, Alex’s role is to be the conduit between these various groups, making sure that there is a free two-way flow of information.
The fundamental purpose of the board is to allow a platform for people with learning disabilities to say what is going badly or well and to have a meaningful input into new services and policy.
“What we don’t do is challenge people and tell them they’re doing it wrong. We give honest feedback about what’s going on at ground level.”
Another important job of the board is to be the place where up to date information on issues and services affecting LD adults is shared.
“One of the biggest problems with Learning Disability Partnership Boards is that they can be a bit professional heavy. We’ve turned this around in the board in Royal Windsor and Maidenhead, so that now we’ve got user groups regularly feeding into it. We make sure that there are sections of the meeting that either adults with learning disabilities have chosen, or that they present. It’s our job to make sure that the platform is totally open and we draw that feedback in.”
Members lead on the topics chosen for meetings and whenever an issue is raised, even by one person, Alex will canvas others to gauge if this is a topic that ought to be discussed.
One great example was a recent discussion on ‘Living in a cashless, contactless world’.
“Many adults with learning disabilities don’t have debit cards. We knew that this was making it very difficult for people to use their local leisure centre. We looked at ways of working with leisure centres to see if there were ways to solve this – it’s not about going in with a challenge, it’s about understanding both sides. There were reasons why the leisure centres had adopted the contactless policy, but we were asking if they were aware of the knock-on effect.
“The outcome in West Berkshire was that the local authority firstly offered free entry for around four months to regular users, and after looking into it, they have now enabled people to take cash.”
For the last word on why the Learning Disability Partnership Board is so very important, we hear from a parent who has been part of the West Berkshire Board for many years.
The WBDPB gives voice to probably the most diversely disadvantaged group in our West Berkshire community. For years it had been identified that this group of people needed an arena of its own to express its concerns and struggles.
This arena is even more important today as the isolation of Covid has caused so much social damage. People with learning disabilities still feel excluded as many others return to ‘normal’.
The Board continues to be recognised by carers and professionals as well as third sector groups and bodies providing the LD community with support and services. However, those same bodies and groups have often allowed the needs of this group of vulnerable people to be unfulfilled, and solutions diminished or indeed removed, often in the name of efficiency: another reason the Board is so necessary.
Although the Board cannot be identified as a campaigning body, it does provide a platform to call for explanations, unfortunately falling short of being able to call for account.
The LDPB has a large and diverse membership. This diversity provides an excellent tool to monitor the community, disseminate information, keep abreast of change, raise issues early, provide feedback and answers fairly quickly, find and contribute to solutions and measure success or failure.
It gives a voice to those who are often so disadvantaged that they find communication and understanding very difficult or indeed impossible.
The Board has always had at its heart the need for improving the outcomes for people with a learning disability through advocacy and clear communication. It endeavours to ensure the rights, independence, choice and inclusion of people with a learning disability, together with those of their carers, are given and protected.
It endeavours to ensure those with a learning disability are not lumped in with everyone else, probably meaning they would sink to the bottom, rather when given their rights and proper entitlement, this allows them to float to the top, flourish and lead a fulfilled life.
As a parent/carer I rely on the LDPB for current information, not just at the regular meetings but also being kept informed by email. I do believe some senior organisations with responsibilities for the learning disabled fall very short in their ability to communicate effectively - sometimes at all. This situation existed prior to Covid but has certainly been exacerbated by the pandemic.
We have good and varied topics at the Board meetings and individuals are free to put items on the agenda. We can request that representative officers from organisations attend meetings to present information, be open to questions and have issues drawn to their attention.
The Board’s Health subgroup has provided a raft of information over many years and is a resource for health professionals. It has a very creditable list of achievements in support of improving the health and welfare of people with a learning disability. I find it hard to see where these improvements would have come from if it had not been for the LDPB. The Learning Disabled would be worse off if this Board did not exist.