Placements lead to homeless Occupational Therapy service

Issue date: 24 January 2011

A student placement partnership between the University of the West of England and charity Places for People has been so successful that the charity has recognised the value of occupational therapy (OT) and now employs two full time occupational therapists.

Prior to OT student placements the charity had not used occupational therapy as a way of helping the people living at Redwood House, a homeless hostel run by Places for People (PfP).

Ruth Barnham and Fiona Stoppard have recently taken up the two new OT posts at Redwood House. Ruth worked with homeless people before training as an OT at UWE so the new role fitted her perfectly. She said, “I found outreach work with homeless people very rewarding but the need for long term professional security led to a decision to train as an OT. When the job came up at Redwood House it was a perfect opportunity.

“There is a big value in what we do – we help people with lifeskills before they move into permanent tenancies by advising and supporting them with anything from anxiety management and community integration to basic lifeskills that will help people back on their feet again.”

Jon Fieldhouse, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at UWE, explains, “We are delighted that our placement scheme has resulted in the establishment of a professional OT service at Redwood House.

“These OT placements were somewhat unusual. Working at Redwood House was quite unlike traditional apprenticeship-style placements where a student learns from an onsite OT practitioner who already has an established role. The placements required students to think on their feet and to be far more resourceful as they were effectively setting up a service from scratch. We found that this stimulated deep learning about service users' needs and about the kind of OT that could address these needs.

“We have been championing this kind of training, known as 'role emerging' placements, where there is evidently a need for a service. These placements get intensive professional supervision from lecturers at UWE and/or practitioners working in other settings. Places for People have now also contracted UWE OTs, Vanessa Parmenter, Alice Hortop and Jon Fieldhouse to provide professional supervision to the two new OTs for the duration of the project and to help PfP evaluate the new service.

At PfP the students work with hard-to-engage homeless people who need support in accessing existing services (such as GPs, alcohol and drug services and mental health care) and in acquiring the life skills needed to maintain a new tenancy or to access meaningful occupation, training or employment.”

In the homeless sector OT plays a valuable role in helping support a person back into independent living and helps to put a halt to lives trapped in repeating patterns of tenancy breakdown and homelessness.

Therapy through training, recreation and employment can help people to define their identity, improve their motivation, self esteem, confidence and life skills by tackling psycho social challenges.

Dave Peregrine from Places for People said, “We have always been impressed by the impact that UWE OT students have been able to have in the homelessness sector during their role emerging placements, so when the opportunity to access funding for a project like this came up we were obviously very enthusiastic. For many of our service users the support needs that they present with, such as substance misuse, poor mental or physical health and issues around offending behaviour, are all inter-related. The holistic approach inherent in occupational therapy practise makes it an ideal way in which to enable service users to effect change in their own lives. It also ensures that support provision focuses not only on a service user's needs, but also on their strengths and aspirations – something that has often been too easily forgotten in the homelessness sector.

“As far as we are aware, there is no service operating in the UK that provides floating OT support to residents of hostel or supported accommodation so the support from Jon and his colleagues at UWE has been invaluable in setting up a service for which we had few points of reference. Ruth and Fiona have taken to their challenging roles excellently and we are looking forward to the learning that we will gain from this project and, more importantly, the changes that we hope to witness in the lives of our service users.”

For more information see: Occupational Therapy at UWE

FFI: Jane Kelly or Mary Price, Press Officers


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