Blog post: Support networks and loneliness

14 June 2017

My time in New York has been amazing, it’s a fantastic city filled with some fascinating places and people. But looking at the Critical Time Intervention (CTI) model while being abroad has really shone a light on something I had rarely considered in too much detail back in London.

The idea of doing something new can invoke a whirlpool of feelings and emotion. But what I have found common throughout any period of change is the anxiety of rejection and isolation. You enjoy learning but are scared you won’t make any friends in the class, you enjoy sports but fear being judged as no good, you love your new job but worry your colleagues wont like you. These fears are valid and they are real, for all of us and especially for vulnerable clients.

When I first moved out of my parent’s house, I didn’t do so alone. My family offered me both furniture and advice on how to do so, friends helped me move my things and decorate, I had the knowledge to use Gumtree and Freecycle to get things for free and the money saved to buy what else I needed.

When clients leave supported housing they also have help. A support worker to help apply for furniture grants, to help set up a moving van, to advise on which utility provider is best, to maximise their network of partner agencies to help set that client up in their new home.

The difference between these two scenarios is that once I had moved in, my network of family and friends didn’t disappear. They kept calling, they kept visiting and at no point was I alone.

Unfortunately - and partly due to restrictions on the length of time services can offer support - once a client moves out of a hostel, at some point hostel staff will close that clients case. Support can never be indefinite. Loneliness is a real possibility. Our clients can, and do, become isolated.

In New York I spent a lot of time alone. Sure, I was at work every day visiting different sites and meeting different staff but these were fleeting visits. My evenings and weekends were shared between me and myself. And as entertaining as I find myself (I am hilarious), after two weeks I was ready to get back to my partner, my friends and my family. My support network.

CTI is a time limited phased support model where workers help their clients to engage with formal and informal community support whilst slowly withdrawing from the clients lives. To many in the industry, this sounds like casework 101, and on the whole services are great at tying clients into other services. But what about their long term support network?

If we truly want clients to become independent people who are fully integrated into society our aim shouldn’t be to tie them into other support services, but to steer them towards the same support networks we use every day.

So sitting in Central Park, alone, I stopped for a moment and thought – how do you make friends? I thought about my friendship group (it didn’t take long, it’s not that big) and realised all of my friends have come from three places – work, education or volunteering.

Part of this exchange program is looking at whether CTI would work back in the UK. The US and UK models of support are very different and you can read my report in full once published (watch this space). But from what I can see, CTI could be a highly focused, highly effective approach in supporting clients to transition not only from supported to independent living but also to transition from a client to whoever they want to be.

So, for me there are two lessons here that anyone can take away. The first is to know that everyone gets scared and everyone gets anxious especially during times of change. And that’s ok – but its why lesson number two is so important. Lesson two is to never underestimate what your friendship could do for someone else. You may be the reason that person attends class, why they turn up for football every Tuesday, how they get through their working week and maybe, just maybe, you could be the reason they don’t need support services like ours. 

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