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14th LDAG meeting by Liz Majer

Liz Majer

I have attended three or four meetings of the LDAG now as representative of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) in Wales. The group has been together for some time and I feel I am just beginning to get to know people and how they feel about things that affect the lives of people with a learning disability. It is a very interesting group as everyone is very different, but it is clear that we are all committed to improving the lives of people with a learning disability and their families. I am encouraged that at this meeting people with a learning disability, their carers and professionals who work with them are treated equally and all listen to each other. The meeting starts with a reminder of the ground rules that members are expected to follow throughout.

As a Director of Social Services for Blaenau Gwent I am aware of the major cultural change that will be introduced with the Social Services and Well Being Act in April 2016 and feel this is a great opportunity for me to be engaged in something like LDAG. One of the items on the agenda was about collecting information in a different way so we are not just counting numbers of people but considering what difference services make to people's lives. There will be further work on this to ensure we collect the information we need to plan services better.

I was a little disconcerted when I heard at the meeting that the group comes to the end of its current lifespan in March 2016, but we will be planning for the next 12 months after that. As a result, we spent a lot of time talking about priorities for the future of this group and discussed important issues like employment and services for people with a learning disability who get into trouble with the police. We would also need to continue work to ensure people with a learning disability get equal care from health services as anyone else in the population.

This is an important group as it has the opportunity to speak directly to the Minister for Health and Social Services and Welsh Government, and to ensure that the people most affected by policies and services have a voice in how they are developed.

12th LDAG meeting and role of AWPF members by Joe Powell

At the February meeting of the Learning Disability Advisory Group (LDAG) the members reviewed the membership of LDAG. I suggested that it would be a good idea if we had someone with a learning disability from North Wales. The other members fell silent, but the civil servants seemed very enthusiastic. I was confused. Was my idea so silly?

After the meeting I didn't give this much thought. You never know what suggestions may be popular or what suggestions will be taken on board but to my utter delight, All Wales People First were contacted and asked to accept expressions of interest for a North Wales representative for LDAG. We had three strong applications from three very worthy candidates. My colleague Yvonne Boxall and I judged each application based on the criteria given to us by the Welsh Government and we decided that the application of Catherine Watchorn of Flintshire was the strongest. Catherine was delighted to be offered the role.
Her appointment had only just been confirmed shortly before the June meeting so she was unfortunately not able to attend but is looking forward to joining the group at the next meeting in September.

I expressed my thanks to the Welsh Government for backing this initiative and would like to articulate this in my blog. As National Director of All Wales People First, I always try my very best to represent the collected and individual needs of all self-advocacy groups across Wales at a national level, but the one thing I can never do is to give a personal and heartfelt experience of what it is like to live in each community across Wales. Only individual members can ever do that. Catherine now becomes the third member of LDAG to have a learning disability, joining the co-Chair Sophie Hinksman and myself. North Wales is often the 'forgotten' region in Wales and this is something I am very conscious of. Bringing her experience to LDAG is therefore very appropriate.

In my opinion, it is very important that LDAG is balanced. I personally don't believe that the sociological model is more important than the medical model or that one profession is more important than another. As important as it is to have third sector representatives at LDAG, it is also important that we have people who work in health, social services etc. Everyone's contribution is important and that includes people with a learning disability. No more and no less. The important thing about LDAG is that the Minister is given the best advice and recommendations about a variety of topics and issues, and that he (or she) has access to the best advice and information. I believe that the collective membership of LDAG complements one another and gives a broad and holistic viewpoint to the Minister.

Sophie Hinksman is coming to the end of her tenure as the co-Chair of LDAG. Sophie was interviewed for the position in 2012 and has been fabulous in the role. She is a natural chair, with a delightful, inclusive manner and fantastic social skills. Sophie's inclusion has been important, not only because she is a great chair in her own right but also because she reminds us all of the important contribution people with a learning disability can make. She has been a fantastic ambassador for people with a learning disability and I really hope she will consider standing for the position of co-Chair once it becomes vacant again. I also hope the example she has set will persuade and inspire many other possible candidates to do the same and apply for the position when it opens again.

At the 12th LDAG meeting in June, we were given presentations by the Welsh Government leads on specific parts of the Social Services and Well Being (Wales) Act: Gareth Griffiths (parts 4 and 5 ), Julie Annetts (part 6), Steve Vaughan (part 9) and David Clayton (part 10). They updated us all on the second tranche of consultations and there was time for questions after the presentations. This gave the members of LDAG a chance to understand the progress made in each part of the Act and to help us think about how we may advise the Minister in a joint consultation response on how to take things forward.

After lunch LDAG broke into two groups to discuss certain parts of the act in the second tranche. We talked passionately about what should be included, excluded and any weaknesses we felt needed to be addressed. All the comments of the members were noted and these will form part of the joint LDAG consultation response.

Members agreed to feed their individual responses to the co-Chairs who would meet with LDAG Information Officer Sam Williams to collate them and submit the responses by the consultation deadline of 31 July. I would urge anyone who reads this blog to also submit a response to these important consultations. Whatever your role and whatever your point of view, your voice needs to be heard. Let's help the Welsh Government get the new Act right and let's make a positive difference to the lives of people with a learning disability across Wales. After all, this is what we are all here for, isn't it?

10th LDAG meeting by Ruth Derrick

Ruth Derrick

I originally planned to catch the train to the LDAG meeting today, but there was nowhere to park at the station, so I drove onto the M4 towards the Cardiff East Park and Ride instead. I then discovered that the route has changed and the bus now stops on Churchill Way, but hey, I could do with the exercise!

An interesting meeting today and as a relatively new member of the group, I am still learning the rules of engagement. It is always difficult joining an established group, but a local authority colleague of mine will soon be joining too and I feel that this will help with the balance of the group.

Today we spent much of the time talking about the consultations relating to Parts 2, 3, 4 and 7 of the new Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act. It is safe to say that there is a huge amount to process relating to the Act across a range of topic areas. There is definitely a lot of reading and thinking involved.

It is really interesting to hear the views of others who have different experiences to me. I always try not to make assumptions about other people's views, particularly when I don't know people well and I hope that other LDAG members hold similar values.

Steve Vaughan from Welsh Government talked to us about the Continuing Health Care (CHC) framework. He wanted to know if we felt that the framework was inclusive and supported people with a learning disability to access the help they need. There were some strong opinions in the group and I hope that this was helpful to Steve's task.

Later, Joe Powell from All Wales People First raised the importance of discussing issues from a range of people, organisations and networks who we are all in touch with through our own personal and professional links. We agreed that although the LDAG is not a lobbying group, it is important that we discuss issues that are brought to our attention by others. This way, we can recognise any trends or themes that may be worthy of further enquiry.

On my way out of the Welsh Government building, Jim Crowe kindly offered me a lift up the road. It was damp and dusky outside but I declined the warm dry car on the basis that I really do need the exercise! I walked into the city centre, past Winter Wonderland. There was a lovely smell of candy floss, the lights looked very pretty, the skaters were laughing and I suddenly realised that it is only two weeks until Christmas - Nadolig Llawen pawb!

Christmas presents