A ground breaking partnership which has helped Bracknell Forest’s vulnerable residents increase their independence was showcased at the world’s largest dog show, Crufts, on Friday 9 March, at the NEC Arena, Birmingham.
As part of the transformation of its adult social services, Bracknell Forest Council partnered with charity Dogs for Good in 2017 to provide intervention sessions with a specially trained community dog for people with learning disabilities or autism. The trial aimed to teach participants new or adapted behaviours and improve their independence through working with the dog.
As part of the project, which is the first of its kind in the UK, participants worked with a community dog, dog handler, occupational therapist and/or social worker for eight sessions where they were supported with carrying out every day tasks.
By the end of the trial, significant improvements were seen in participants’ health and mobility due to their increased activity levels, and their wellbeing improved due to being able to independently carry out tasks they were previously unable to. As a result, the council has been able to adjust participants’ support packages to reflect their new level of independence.
Bracknell Forest resident, Graham Hayward, has autism, learning disabilities and mental health difficulties that all contribute to him having a high level of anxiety. Graham was one of the participants in the Dogs for Good pilot scheme. During intervention sessions from Dogs for Good, Graham’s anxiety reduces considerably enabling him to access the community and respite care, use public transport and attend medical appointments.
Graham took centre stage alongside his mother, Rosemary, and sister, Jessica, in the demonstration arena at Crufts on Friday 9 March. Rosemary shared their family’s experience as to how the programme has improved Graham’s wellbeing and quality of life.
“Graham suffers from anxiety due to autism and severe mental health issues and learning disabilities. Through working with Dogs for Good, Graham has been able to carry out activities such as crossing a road safely, queueing for a bus (demonstrated in the arena at Crufts), using public transport, attending medical appointments, shopping and accessing busy public places while supported by an occupational therapist, support worker or a member of his family.
“The sessions with Dogs for Good have benefitted Graham considerably, improving his general wellbeing and quality of life. I would like to thank Bracknell Forest Council for including Graham in this initiative which has allowed him to make positive progress in his daily life.
“Graham was proud to represent Bracknell Forest in the arena at Crufts together with myself and his sister, Jess, alongside Ursa the dog and Selina Gibsone from Dogs for Good.”
Following the trial’s success, the council is now working towards launching a formal partnership with the charity which will see Bracknell Forest Council run the programme for other social care groups, such as older people, those with physical disabilities, sensory needs or mental health conditions.
Cllr Dale Birch, executive member for adult services, health and housing, said:
“The transformation of our adult social care services is all about making our services much more people focused and improving independence for the borough’s vulnerable residents, which is exactly what this project has achieved. It is a fantastic example of the innovative techniques we are using to provide our services in a different way and provide the right support to those who need it.
“By working with Dogs for Good, we have been able to transform the lives of people with learning disabilities or autism, enabling them to independently carry out tasks they were unable to do before, such as crossing a road by themselves, using public transport or socialising in group environments. It is fascinating to hear how the specialist team have enabled some of our most vulnerable people to learn new or adapted behaviours with a little help from man’s best friend. I am looking forward to seeing the project progress to allow us to support more people to get the best out of life.”
Peter Gorbing, chief executive of Dogs for Good, said:
“Our experience of training dogs to help people with a range of disabilities gives us a unique insight into the human-dog bond. Dogs can be great motivators and role models, supporting adults and children to learn and develop in so many ways. Our work is goal oriented and forms part of the individual’s care and support plan.
“Through a specially-designed programme of activity with the dog we help people to overcome specific challenges, improve wellbeing and develop life skills. Our work with the team at Bracknell Forest Council has demonstrated the role that the practice of Animal Assisted Intervention can play as part of the mainstream health and social care agenda.”
To find out more about this scheme or other projects within Bracknell Forest Council’s adult social care, health and housing transformation programme, please visit our transformation page.