The 'Lockdown' experience: Working together brings huge benefits for Tori & Emily

27/07/2020

Working with people’s families is essential to giving them the best support, and despite lockdown, shielding, and visiting restrictions, Avenues staff have been determined to find innovative ways to maintain these relationships and connections with lasting positive results…

Mandy and Nigel Mullett are regular visitors to the flats of their daughters Tori and Emily who are both supported by Avenues in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Their support is fundamental to making sure ‘the girls’ are living their best lives. So when Covid-19 struck and visiting was restricted Avenues staff and family were understandably concerned how everyone would cope.

 

                         Tori & Emily pre-Covid-19 lockdown in their local community

With a world in the grip of a global pandemic and a husband ‘shielding’, Mandy Mullett felt torn as to how she would see her daughters, and if she couldn’t, how they would manage.

 “We were worried the girls would be bored because they didn’t have a routine and how this would affect their behaviour. It was important to put something in place quickly” says Mandy.   

 The implications of staff illness was a concern, “I had a long chat with the Service Manager in the beginning. We talked about how if staff got sick I would move in. But it was hard for me because my husband was shielding.” Understandably Mandy was also concerned about Tori and Emily’s health “My biggest fear was how vulnerable they were and I was thinking ‘how could I be in two places at once?’” 

So the team, together with the family formulated a plan “We had a plan B and C from the start” says Mandy “It gave me real peace of mind that, as a company, Avenues had that in place and I felt involved. It gave me a sense of comfort knowing that the team went way beyond what they needed to. They even explained what PPE was in the building, what they would be wearing and what they would be doing”.

Mandy made the difficult decision, for the sake of the girls and her husband’s health, to not visit the service. “We said that we were on holiday and the girls accepted that. They knew something was different but didn’t quite understand it. I know Tori would get very anxious if she thought someone was sick. We decided to send postcards and my mum sent a card each week. Obviously we called the service regularly but the girls don’t like to talk on the phone”.

Another challenge hit when Kara, Assistant Service Manager, was told she should be shielding.  However she was determined to carry through the plan as normal, managing the team remotely “The team were really behind it. They understood how important it was and have done everything with a passion,” says Kara.

The next step was to plan how best to support the girls and adapt their routine with planned activities. Kara decided that to keep an active routine, both for Tori, Emily and the staff, in collaboration with Mandy, she would produce regular activity packs. These would be planned using the combined understanding and knowledge of both of the girls, plus regular feedback from the service.

 

Activity Packs 

 

Makaton Books

  The packs contained a list of activities that could be done on suggested days plus the accompanying activity instructions and a corresponding Makaton sheet. Team work was key. Kara explains: “I wrote the activity sheets and put the packs together at home and then Megan, a senior support worker, would come and collect them and take them to the service.”  In the meantime Mandy sent the practical materials, directly to the girls “Kara would send me a list of what was needed for the following week and I would go online and get it delivered to Emily and Tori ready for that week’s activities” says Mandy.  

Each activity was also risk assessed.

The concentration of activities, a suggested six per day, has proved hugely beneficial for both of the girls. “With a plan of activities, there has always been something for them to look forward to, but we deliberately didn’t put a time limit on the activity” says Kara.

Varied activities, ranging from decoupage and nail art to gardening and outdoor games has meant that both of the girls have had a chance to experiment “They have experienced so many different things, they’ve been able to find out more about what they like and don’t like as individuals and express that” says Kara.

 

Importantly, each activity is adapted to the individual. “They’re so close and love being together, but it’s so important to remember that the girls are individuals. For example Tori likes games in the garden, whereas Emily may like a more sensory activity. One activity was a sensory map of the garden with photographs which Emily loved.” Mandy seconds this “I feel they are getting what they need at the right level through a person-centred approach. Often there will be one activity and the girls will approach it in entirely different ways.

 “With nail art for example, Tori will have her nails painted but Emily will have nail art stickers that can be removed easily, as she doesn’t like things that can’t be easily removed”.

 It’s this knowledge of the sister’s individual characteristics, shared by the team and family, plus attention to detail which has been key to planning successful activities “We would feedback to Mandy how the activities have been, whether successful or not, and her advice is invaluable. We were in constant contact”, says Kara.

 Mandy, Kara and the support team have seen positive skills develop in both of the girls. “When Emily first started to produce art work, she would always put it in the bin, now she shows us what she has done. Before it was a chore for her. She is very proud of the end result. She’s finally become confident in her own ability” says Mandy “Tori is also very proud and wants to show Nigel what she has been doing.”

 

Lockdown hasn’t been without its challenges for both of the girls who are also very active socially. “Tori has found not going out quite tough as she regularly used to go to a club night” says Mandy. However the team adapted once again with support worker Joy giving Tori a dance class “Joy knows what music Tori likes and interacts with her a lot and brings the best out of her” says Mandy. Kara adds “Yes Joy is an amazing dancer and Tori just loves to dance”. In addition “As they haven’t been able to go to restaurants, once a week they’ve had a takeaway pizza evening where everyone joins in so it’s a social experience” says Mandy.

 When they missed their family during lockdown the sisters were encouraged to pick up the photographs from the fridge, signing ‘love, family, whole world’”, says Mandy. 

 Having a united core team that know the girls has been key. “Kara is so focused and determined to get them what they need” says Mandy “It’s been great sharing ideas and collaborating. There’s a lot of active support which can be challenging for staff but it’s so rewarding”

 “The staff have just been fantastic. For example Emily had a temperature, which at the time was a big worry but I spoke to Jenny, the support worker and in an hour Emily had antibiotics. Jenny knew something wasn’t right.

 “Another time Jenny went shopping and happened to see a certain brand of chocolate swiss roll that hadn’t been available and is Emily’s favourite, so she bought three packs! Well Emily screamed with delight when she saw them, she was hugging them!  It’s the little things that show they know the girls.” Says Mandy.

 “The team have become a lot closer and the girls have benefitted from that”.

 Kara couldn’t be prouder and more grateful to the team. “None of this would have worked without them. Knowing that I have had to work from home has been frustrating but they’ve just been brilliant. They are all so competent.”

 Post-lockdown Mandy hopes the focus, investment in active support and collaboration will continue. “It’s a great example of what can happen when people work together. They are two girls with very complex needs and I want it to be a shining example of what can happen when we get it right. It’s about creating a new routine and a new normal. We have two happy ladies and one happy man and woman.”

  Kara concludes “Tori and Emily are so fun and inquisitive and have interacted with everything which is also a huge part of why this works. I am just so happy that they are happy. It’s just such a privilege to work with them, you just smile every day. ”

 Mandy puts it simply “They are two young ladies having a blast.” 

 

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