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Bracknell Forest: Man’s best friend can save care services money

bracknell forest community dog lexi outside time square
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A key aim of our transformation review of adult social care services is to make the care people receive more centred on their individual goals, letting them maximise their independence and lead more fulfilling lives. Faced with increasing demand for social care and a need to make savings, we looked at innovative ways to transform the support we provide to vulnerable residents.

  • Project: Bracknell Forest BC’s community dog service, in partnership with Dogs for Good
  • Objectives: Let more people with a learning disability, autism or dementia live as independently as possible, reducing demand for more serious interventions or long-term care.
  • Timescale: Pilot for six months, followed by ongoing formal partnership
  • Cost to authority: Pilot: £8,105; Formal project: £99,159
  • Number of staff working on project: Four
  • Outcomes: Participants achieved greater independence after intervention sessions with a Dogs for Good community dog, letting them independently carry out tasks they were previously unable to and access services more effectively. As a result, the council could adjust some participants’ support packages to reflect their new level of independence, and justify investing in a community dog and handler full time.

Following positive feedback on the impact a pet dog was having on the development of an adult with autism, we looked at how we could replicate this for more people with a learning disability or autism, by working in a planned and structured way with a specially-trained dog. We contacted the charity Dogs for Good, which runs a community dog service supporting people with autism, learning disabilities and dementia.

Working with the charity’s development team, we created a pilot scheme for the country’s first ever council-run community dog service to teach people with learning disabilities or autism new or adapted behaviours to improve their wellbeing and independence through working with a specially-trained community dog.

During the pilot, eight people with a learning disability or autism participated in intervention sessions with their social worker or occupational therapist, a specially trained community dog, and a Dogs for Good handler. This group supported participants in carrying out everyday tasks they previously struggled with.

By the end of the trial, the wellbeing of participants had improved due to being able to independently carry out tasks they were previously unable to. As a result, the council could adjust some participants’ support packages to reflect their new level of independence.

We worked with one man with learning disabilities who couldn’t access respite care due to high levels of anxiety. Following a six month programme with the community dog under the direction of his occupational therapist he can now access respite care independently and regularly. As a result, he has been able to stay living at home with his parents – the outcome everyone wanted.

The results of the trial let us to put together a strong ‘invest to save’ business case for having a community dog and handler as part of the Bracknell Forest team full-time. We wanted to expand the remit of the service to support people of all ages with physical disabilities or mental health conditions, as well as older residents.

In November we launched the UK’s first council-run community dog service with the golden retriever-labrador cross Lexi and her handler Lucy, working with our social workers and occupational therapists.

The service is already in high demand and is allowing us to work with other teams across the council to find innovative ways of preventing more costly interventions. We know that social isolation is detrimental to people’s health so are planning to work with older people, those in residential homes and people with early onset dementia to get them out and about with Lexi in the community and in social areas of residential homes.

We’re already working with other councils to help them develop a similar service and our team has been asked to speak at several industry conferences to share best practice and our learnings from the projects. We have high hopes for the future of the service and plan to expand it further in the coming months with the potential introduction of a second community dog.

Hannah Doherty, assistant director for early help and communities, Bracknell Forest BC

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