THE EXCHANGE PROJECT: INDEPENDENT LIVING SKILLS TRAINING

by Ciara McCarthy, Project Worker, Menni Services, St John of God Centre, Islandbridge

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A primary objective of Menni Residential Services is to increase social inclusion and quality of life for individual service users (Enriching Lives, Policy Statement 1998). In keeping with that policy statement, Menni Services is involved in developing a continuum of living options to provide a choice of lifestyle and providing the necessary supports to people who avail of the service. The available options include community-based homes, respite, and independent living.

One of the current developments is an independent living project. In the summer of 2002m Menni Services will take possession of 27 apartments at the Exchange Hall, Tallaght, in west Dublin The apartments will provide 38 men and women with intellectual disability the opportunity to live independently. Support will be available based on their individual needs and requests.

The Exchange Hall apartments are under construction adjacent to Tallaght Hospital and the South Dublin County Council Headquarters. There are 150 apartments in the complex; Menni Services will take possession of 27 one- and two-bedroom apartments. The remaining apartments have been placed on the property market. The project is funded by the Department of the Environment and Local Government’s voluntary housing scheme.

There has been great interest among St John of God Service users. The allocation of the apartments will be based on the individual needs of clients and whether independent living is their most suitable residential option. Service users interested in the apartments are given the opportunity to participate in the Exchange project regardless of their current living arrangement and level of independence. (HOW ARE CHOICES MADE—HOW IS DISAPPOINTMENT DEALT WITH—HOW IS THE PROCESS FACILITATED)

The Exchange PROJECT provides persons interested in the apartments with the opportunity to learn independent living skills. The aims of the project are to carry out individual independent-living assessments; to identify individual supports; to develop and implement an individualised training programme; and to evaluate the effectiveness of the individual training programmes.

The de-institutional model has fuelled a large body of residential research. Previous studies have identified a number of important factors for organisations and researchers to consider in residential care. Cullen et al. (1995) suggest that in order to truly adopt a ‘normalisation’ orientation it is crucial that people with disabilities are given the opportunity to learn social and community skills.

Emerson (1985) stated that it was crucial for organisations to focus on the provision of valued skills training to support individuals achieving positive outcomes, therefore moving away from ‘“if” community living works to “how” it is achieved’ (Cullen et al. 1995). QUOTES?

Nihira et al. (1993) stated that ‘the acquisition of adaptive skills is vital for individuals to lead a reasonably normal lifestyle’. He stated that adaptive behaviour is viewed as a combination of several coping skills that allow an individual to experience community integration (Nihira et al. 1993). Roesler, Brolin and Johnson found that an increase in adaptive skills was positively correlated with a person’s independence and quality of life (Cronin 1996).

Young et al (2001) state that residential services faced the challenge of maintaining and improving skills and behaviour that will improve the quality of life for service users. A number of researchers have concluded that people with intellectual disabilities do not learn adaptive skills on their own (Edgar 1997; Halpern and Benz 1987; Haring, Lovett and Smith, 1990; Sitlington and Frank 1990; Sitlington et a.l 1993; Wagner et al. 1991). Cronin (1996) used the term ‘living skills’ to describe independent living skills. She claimed that life skills were crucial to empower an individual to lead an independent lifestyle in adulthood.   ??????

In numerous studies the research utilised relocation as the independent variable (Young et al. 1998) without addressing how successful social interaction and increased quality of life are actually achieved (Cullen, Whoriskey, Mackenzie, Mitchell, Ralston, Shreeve, Stanley 1995; Young et al. 2001, 1998; Racino 1995, O’Brien et al. 2001).

Throughout western countries there is a general agreement among researchers and service-delivery professionals that people with an intellectual disability should be facilitated to experience a lifestyle that is as close as possible to other people in society (Young, Ashman, Sigafoos and Grevell 2001). Supporting service users to increase their quality of life and social inclusion is now a recognised hallmark of success in the provision of residential services (Howe, Horner and Newton 1998). The experience of ‘home’ is viewed as a vital contributor to a person’s humanity and their positive social perception by others (Annison 2000).

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