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Chris Watson

Chris Watson

Chris has worked with people with intellectual disabilities for over twenty years. He started out as a support worker working alongside people labelled as having ‘severe challenging behaviour’ within NHS hospital institutions (they didn’t). After a couple of years, he became disillusioned with the negative impacts of institutional approaches and left to begin working for a national third sector charity organisation providing community based supported living services.

It was within these services that Chris started to realise that for people to have good lives they needed approaches to support that were designed around them as individuals, and that flexibility was really a key to this. Even in the community settings in which he worked he noticed that organisations (and commissioning systems) could still end up creating the conditions for mini institutions with the needs of staff (fixed rotas and shifts) often dictating the delivery of a person’s support. It also seemed to him that staff often fulfilled the role of friends (often spending time himself eating in pubs and cafes with the people he supported) rather than helping people to build and maintain their own friendships. Although this wasn’t quite a perfect way of working he still knew that community living was absolutely the way forward for everyone!

After a few years working in community settings Chris moved into a Local Authority based role supporting the work of the Learning Disability Partnership Board in Dorset where he spent time working on various development projects with a range of different and often inspirational organisations who were dedicated to improving local services and commissioning systems.

He was then lucky enough to be involved in managing a team charged with overseeing a hospital resettlement programme covering Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole – helping people to move out of locally based hospital units into their own homes in the community. It was through this work that Chris became familiar with the concept of Individual Service Design - which was used as a framework to help to design the housing and support systems that people needed to move on successfully. In this role, alongside families and experts by experience, he worked to develop one of the first purely ‘outcome based’ contract specifications that was designed to try to shift thinking away from time and task based approaches.

After the resettlement programme was finished Chris moved into a commissioning role and spent several years working on developing more person-centred housing and support brokerage systems – designed to increase the range of community living options available to people and to avoid the need for people with complex support needs to move away from their communities. He also got involved in projects that examined the value for money provided by different types of approaches to support including assistive technology. It was through this work he realised that trying to manage the costs of support purely through centralised commissioning activities meant perpetuating a system designed around contract monitoring and management rather than about building partnerships with people, their families and communities. In short, he realised that an asset based mode, working in partnership with communities to share responsibility and personal budgets was something that commissioners should aspire to create.

It was as a result of this learning and the timely introduction of the Care Act that Chris and his team then decided to try and build a new commissioning system that was based around the core principles of shifting funding away from just paid supports to outcome focussed approaches, flexible support and individual service funds.

At present Chris and the team in Dorset are actively engaged in trying to increase the number of people benefitting from using Individual Service Funds and flexible support approaches and would like to see this become the default option for everyone who passes through the social care system in future.

Chris currently lives in Poundbury, Dorset and loves the outdoor and coastal lifestyle it provides, he is also a keen weight lifter, paddle boarder, surfer and Thai Kickboxer in his spare time.

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