Ability West has a Service User Council in place which is representative of service users throughout the organisation. The Council has been in place since June 2010- The Chairperson of the Council is Jimmy Sweeney. The Council is facilitated by Eileen Costello-Conneely, staff member of Ability West. The Council has fourteen members and meets regularly (at least six meetings a year) with the main purpose of being a representative voice for service users and having a meaningful forum by which issues of common interest are discussed. Council members regularly meet with the Senior Management Team and other groups within the organisation. The Chairperson of the Council also meets regularly with Breda Crehan-Roche, Chief Executive of Ability West, and also with the Chairperson of the Board of Directors. The Council very much appreciates the support it gets from the organisation in doing its work.
The Council works under a code of practice with the main core elements of respect, confidentiality and everyone having an opportunity to share ideas. It has taken as its main theme of work the well known mantra in advocacy circles – ‘Nothing about us without us’. The Council is involved in a good deal of developments in the organisation, some examples are as follows:
• Development of Ability West’s Strategic Plan
• Drawing up Anti-Bullying Procedures for service users
• Helping the Human Resources Department with job descriptions, newspaper ads for jobs and the Code of Practice for staff
• Suggestions to the Senior Management Team about cutbacks
• Feedback to Senior Management Team on the draft Disability Policy Document
• Major Consultation Sessions (over 100 service users) for the past three years
• Various other consultations with groups and people, such as Human Rights Committee, Social Media, Fundraising
• Consultation and feedback on policies and procedures under development.
Since 2010 the Service User Council has held three very successful ‘Consultation Session Days’ which involve representatives from our services throughout the county. In 2012 this was held in the Claregalway Hotel on the 24th July. Approximately 120 service users attended. The day started with a presentation from the Service User Council Chairperson on the work done to date. The second edition of the Service User Council Newsletter was presented. This was followed by group consultation sessions, facilitated and supported by volunteers and staff members. A number of topics were discussed and feedback given, including overall services and what service users like, do not like, any improvements, person centred planning, e-learning, social media, Human Resources standards and communication. The feedback was presented to the Chief Executive and Senior Management Team.
This year the consultation day was a great success, particularly as it was almost fully organised by the Service User Council members and presentations were given by the Council members. Previous to this, a good deal of the work involved was undertaken by staff, but in 2012 the staff took a ‘back seat’ and the service users were to the forefront!
For the coming year, the Council will be continuing its work in terms of consultation and feedback on developments and important aspects of the organisation. Another development that the Council is looking at is facilitation of the group; this is currently undertaken by a staff member, and appears to be fine for the early stages of development. However, the Council is looking at the idea of independent facilitation, for example, through an independent volunteer.
In conclusion, we feel that the Council has made an impact on the organisation and feel that moving forward ‘nothing about us without us’ is of crucial importance, particularly taking the current economic climate into account.