Backing Your Life Choices

Margaret Blackwood Care and Support Services’ ‘Backing Your Life Choices’ strategy involves assessment, planning and evaluation to ensure we back the important outcomes and choices made by people we support. Using this person centred approach, we set out to work with two men ‘J’ and ‘T’ who have significant physical disabilities, their carers and local authority funders to support them to achieve their goal of living and studying at Stirling University.

We aimed to develop personalised, reliable, and flexible support to enable both men to:

  • achieve their ambition of studying and living at university
  • become full and active members of the student and local communities
  • build natural networks and relationships
  • maintain existing interests and develop new ones

J’s immediate goal was to continue his dream of a university education coupled with Boccia training. This was in jeopardy due to previous difficulties in getting the right support. T’s goal was to build support that enabled him to focus on his Master’s degree without having to worry about support arrangements.

This service will be further developed by promoting it as a model of good practice with the University, and local authority transition teams to assist with early planning. We plan to work with student support services to promote how our personalised approach can support students to meet their personal outcomes and achieve their academic potential. We plan to develop a recruitment strategy, employing staff from the student community to promote natural networks and relationships, creating employment opportunities and expanding students’ understanding of disability issues. We hope to extend this work to other universities.

Impact of Backing Your Life Choices

The impact of the project is clearly evidenced as both men are studying successfully, have active social lives and participate fully in the university community. J is supported to access the increased Boccia training time necessary for him to continue competing at high level. Staff have become proficient at the sport and challenge him. The quality, consistency and responsiveness of the service meant that within weeks of implementation, J’s mother returned home, having lived with him at university to mitigate previous difficulties with getting the right support.

T uses his Direct Payment to purchase support at the times he needs, ensuring he can focus on his studies and maintain links with family and friends. He balances his budget and staff hours monthly and can ‘bank’ hours for particular events and activities.

The service is innovative in its design. Staff work from a local ‘hub’ that provides a range of services and 24 hour availability across the area. This enables personalised, flexible support that responds quickly to changes to planned activities and capitalises on opportunities as they arise. It increases control and independence for J and T and avoids over support. Routine support is planned one week ahead and both men make direct contact with staff regarding any changes e.g. long lies, house parties. Local staff committed to maintain contact and respond quickly to any unforeseen events even if off duty. One member of staff studies at the university, providing increased spontaneity and flexibility.

Making it Possible

South Ayrshire Council transition team identified MBHA as a provider who could support J’s dream of academic study coupled with Boccia training. To ensure we designed a personalised service to meet J’s outcomes, significant time was invested in detailed discussions with the transition team, J and his mother to agree what outcomes he wanted to achieve and the support required to do so. A support plan was developed including risk assessments and mechanisms to balance routine support requirements with flexibility and spontaneity. T came from England to study, and having secured his direct payment, searched for a support provider. He identified 14 providers and chose MBHA based on our initial response to his enquiry and early evidence of flexibility e.g. arranging to contact his mother at the weekend. Detailed discussions and planning took place to maximise T’s direct payment and ensure the right level of support and flexibility.
Both men chose staff of a similar age to them, which they felt was particularly important

MBHA carried out detailed assessments and risk assessments which established both men could safely assist in transfers from their wheelchairs. This removed a previous requirement for two staff that curtailed spontaneity, and was a key factor in achieving flexibility, immediately resulting in greater independence for both. It also gave T more hours for his money and better value to J’s local authority.

The Benefits of Backing Your Life Choices

The benefits are that both men can now focus on studying and living student life without worrying about support arrangements. The service is supporting them to fulfil their potential and be fully included with a positive presence on campus and in the wider community. Parents are reassured that the service meets their sons’ care needs and supports them to participate fully in all aspects of university life. This is of particular benefit to J’s mother who previously felt she had to stay with him at university due to difficulties with his support. Family relationships benefit from maintained contact as both men are supported to visit home at weekends and out of term time. T illustrated the benefit of the service in stating it is ‘important not just for university but for living life’.

Involving People

J and T have been fully involved from the outset. Both chose MBHA as provider and actively planned and designed their service to ensure that each is individually tailored to support them to achieve agreed outcomes. Both are in control of how and when their support is delivered, contacting staff directly with alterations to planned rotas etc. T keeps his own timesheets that record the hours staff work, reconciling this at the end of each month.

Another significant indicator of individual involvement is that both have clearly chosen to be supported to meet their outcomes by staff of their own age; a point that was extremely important to them. We have engaged with both men to discuss their experiences of being supported at university to inform our future plans for developing the service.


Informal service evaluation is ongoing through constant dialogue and feedback to staff and managers from J and T and also from their parents. Any problems are worked through and both men have cited this as very positive.

Formal evaluation will be through a framework we have newly developed based on Talking Points which is linked to regular reviews involving MBHA key staff, care managers, parents and individuals to consider the flexibility of the service and whether agreed outcomes are being met. We are examining the framework to adapt it to the short term nature of term time support. Documentation such as time sheets are reviewed and monitored as significant indictors of the range of activities that are being supported, and the flexibility of staff working times.  T and J’s continued study at university is a strong indicator of the success of the service, particularly for J whose place was at risk.  J’s care manager has evaluated the service as responsive, quality and ‘enabling him to live his dream’.

Promoting Equality of Opportunities and Diversity

Our founder, Margaret Blackwood was a keen campaigner for equality of opportunity and diversity and this is at very heart of our services. The service promotes equality of opportunity and diversity by maximising opportunities for each man to have choice and control over how their service is delivered and by whom. Both men state this has been very important in portraying them in a positive role and not as a stereo-type of a disabled person with a carer. The service has supported both men to lead full and active lives as part of the student community, as well as supporting them to fulfil their academic potential, gaining academic qualifications and life experiences as a basis for future employment or further study. Additionally, the service has promoted equality and diversity by supporting the men in positive roles in the university and wider community, which in turn contributes to increased understanding of disability.

Demonstrating use of the SSSC’s Codes of Practice for Social Service Workers and Employers

The principles of the SSSC’s Codes of Practice were applied across the service, by focussing on maintaining dignity and respect, and supporting the rights of J and T to control their lives and make choices about their service and the outcomes they wish to achieve.  As employers, we reflected the Codes of Practice by supporting staff to develop the necessary skills to operate in a new environment and to understand the importance of maintaining professional boundaries in a situation where they share a great deal of social time with the men. Our safe recruitment procedures are effective in ensuring all our employees are suitable. All staff undertake comprehensive mandatory training that includes the Codes of Conduct and we are exploring ways to strengthen this through the Continuous Learning Framework. Our robust policy framework includes supervision, feedback and appraisal to support staff to meet the Codes of Conduct. All staff are trained in accordance with our Philosophy of Care which echoes the Codes of Conduct in upholding individuals’ rights to be involved in designing personalised, tailored support, and tackles discriminatory or exploitative practice.


Margaret Blackwood Care and Support Services’ ‘Backing Your Life Choices’ strategy ensures we work in partnership with individuals, carers and relevant agencies to develop personalised, responsive and flexible services that back individuals’ life choices to achieve their personal outcomes.

The strategy informed a new service to enable two young men, J and T to achieve their goal of fully participating as students living and studying at Stirling University. The personalised and flexible service has enabled J to continue at university where previously this was in jeopardy. It has also supported T to use his direct payment to purchase support at times that suit him, coupled with built in flexibility to accommodate student life.

Both men planned, designed and now control their service. They are successful students, accessing academic and social opportunities like any other. The service has been positively evaluated by the men, their parents and J’s care manager.

For more information contact:


Moira Goldie
Care and Support Services Development Manager
Margaret Blackwood Housing Association
Tel. 0131 317 0179