An evaluation of the Assist Trust, Norwich: A voluntary service for adults with intellectual disabilities
Project dates: December 2014 – March 2015
Research team: Dr Penny Sorensen, Sue Bailey, Dr Pippa Belderson
Funder: The Assist Trust, Norwich
Day services for adults with intellectual disabilities are often viewed as underperforming although there is very little evidence of evaluations of such services. Day services that purely provide a space for people to be kept busy are not likely to offer much other than company for the people attending and respite for the carers. However, services that are able to provide a wider range of activities and more integrated and diverse settings are more likely to enable people to form relationships within their communities. Options available within day services should include work experience and placements, voluntary work, training and social and leisure opportunities. In addition, day services can provide an advocacy role and take lead responsibility for negotiating with other agencies.
The aim of the evaluation was to provide a deeper understanding of the work at Assist to gain a clearer picture of what elements of the service appear to make a difference and for whom as well as the barriers and opportunities encountered. The research questions included:
- What is already known about provision of day services for adults with intellectual disabilities in the UK?
- How is the service at Assist experienced by members?
- How do members of staff understand the ethos of the organisation?
In addition to the above research questions, questionnaires were designed for future use by Assist Trust staff to explore the following:
- How is the service experienced by carers?
- Why do some members cease to use the service?
The study involved photo-elicitation interviews with ten participants who were using the service. Photographs used during interviews were taken by the participants to document their time at Assist. Questionnaires were completed by all staff members, researcher observations of activities at both sites took place and questionnaires were developed for carers and service users who leave the service for Assist staff to use in the future.
The evaluation uncovered some promising outcomes for service users at Assist. They particularly expressed enjoyment at the opportunities to make friends and the camaraderie and banter with both staff and other service users. They valued their increased independence which usually involved travel training, internal or external work placements and a move out of home and into shared, supported housing. The work at Assist, therefore, appears very much in tune with current policy and recommended practice.
Staff worked hard to provide an appropriate and stimulating environment for the service users. They were always focused on the needs of individual members and those needs were catered for by constant consultation with the service users. Over 50 different activities, from gardening to Zumba and football, were available on a timetabled basis every four months.
A report has been produced with suggestions for some future changes and developments which could be considered by Assist. The evaluation adds to a very limited pool of independent evaluations of services for adults with intellectual disabilities.