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A Model of Specialist Welfare Advice and Advocacy at VOICES

VOICES CAB report
VOICES Stoke-on-Trent seeks to empower people with multiple needs such as mental ill-health, substance misuse and homelessness to change their lives and to influence services. The programme is aimed at testing alternative approaches to supporting people with multiple needs through casework and assertive advocacy to help people access services, with Service Coordination being at the core of the programme.   A Citizens Advice (CA) adviser in work and benefits from Citizens Advice Staffordshire North and Stoke-on-Trent (CASNS) is funded by VOICES and embedded full time in the VOICES team. This report presents the findings of a small-scale independent evaluation of this model of  providing benefits advice to people with multiple needs. The findings are based on analysis of monitoring data, case studies and interviews with the CA Adviser, a VOICES Service Coordinator and the VOICES Director.     To find out more about how VOICES and Citizens Advice North and Stoke-on-Trent are working together and how this impacts on the support we are able to provide click here and read the full report.… Continue Reading

A visit to Wrexham NPS taskforce and community hub

VOICES NPS taskforce
By Steve Willis, Service Co-ordinator, VOICES   Stoke-on-Trent Police recently organised a visit to Wrexham where they have set up a taskforce to address the difficulties faced by the rise in use of Novel Psychoactive Substances. I attended this on behalf of VOICES to find out more about what has been done, it’s effectiveness and what could be learned to help problems with NPS that Stoke-on-Trent is currently experiencing.   18 months ago Wrexham was gaining infamy amongst the national and international press for their ‘Spice’ problem which seemed concentrated in their town centre, most notably around the bus station. Initially the Police had tried to combat the issue by using Public Space Protection Orders resulting in fines for individuals going against the requirements of the order. They found this route to be ineffectual; most individuals did not have the money to pay the fines and instead it served to put them into deeper debt than they already were. Ultimately it had no effect on the behaviour of individuals involved and no clear results for businesses suffering the ill effects of anti-social behaviour. The Police were finding that most of their time was being taken up with this and repeatedly with the same small… Continue Reading

Small change to system change in Stoke-on-Trent

VOICES small change to system change
Lee Dale – Expert Citizens C.I.C. Mandy Jago – Volunteer VOICES and Expert Citizens C.I.C. Board Member Sharon Sharman – Learning and Evaluation Manager VOICES   A Psychologically Informed Environment (PIE) “…is one that takes into account the psychological makeup – the thinking, emotions, personalities and past experience – of it’s participants in the way that it operates” (Robin Johnson http://pielink.net/ 2012).   Many of the customers homeless services work with may seem to have difficulty managing their emotions, can appear impulsive and may not consider the consequences of their actions.  They may also appear to be withdrawn, isolated and seemingly reluctant to engage with support and / or exhibit anti-social type behaviours.  The purpose of PIE is to help staff understand where these behaviours are coming from and, therefore, work more creatively and effectively with people. (adapted from Psychologically Informed Environments; Westminster City Council 2015)   How can we create a psychologically safe environment in our Emergency Department for people who have experienced multiple emotional traumas and are experiencing homelessness?   This conversation started some time ago with Julie Norton, an Accident and Emergency (A and E) consultant from the Royal Stoke University Hospital.  Julie had approached VOICES to seek ways of supporting departmental staff in developing best practice to support… Continue Reading

The benefits of checking benefits

VOICES benefits of checking benefits
By Karen Dunn, Specialist Benefits Advisor, Citizens Advice Over the last four years VOICES and Citizens Advice Staffordshire North & Stoke on Trent have worked in partnership to provide in house specialist benefits advice for our customers. Working this way provides VOICES customers with the expert advice and support that they need, when they need it, ensuring claims are up, running and correct and any queries or appeals are dealt with promptly.   Karen Dunn, specialist benefits advisor of the Citizens Advice Bureau, explains why ‘getting it right’ the first time and checking/maintaining claims is so important, as well as the interconnected nature of access to finances and other potential support needs.   The advantages of resolving welfare benefits issues for customers experiencing multiple complex needs is widely recognised however, when support workers are few on the ground understandably the focus can be on the more visible needs of the customer.  Add to this the complex system of welfare benefits (Universal Credit has not simplified things at all) and, new entitlements are missed, existing awards are not maintained, and claims are terminated or sanctioned.   For example, a customer moves into supported accommodation, they are asked if they are receiving any benefits, and quite rightly, a claim… Continue Reading

Hard Edges 2018 – Stoke-on-Trent

VOICES Hard Edges 2018
In 2015 Lankelly Chase published the Hard Edges report to explore the prevalence, nature, geographical spread and costs associated with severe and multiple disadvantages (SMD) in England. The report had great resonance with those seeking to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness, substance misuse and offending in our city.   In 2016 Hard Edges Stoke-on-Trent was produced (which can be found here), based on data from 22 customers of the VOICES service, replicating the methodology used by Lankelly Chase. This work was well received and constituted a useful way of describing the impact of Service Coordination though the lens of customers’ service contact and the potential financial implications of this.     VOICES, in partnership with Lankelly Chase and Expert Citizens, have recently repeated this exercise in Hard Edges 2018, with a larger cohort of customers and longer observation periods giving more robust findings. Click here to read the full report      … Continue Reading

Access to Primary Care Services for Patients with “No Fixed Abode” – A follow-up to the Gatekeepers Report

VOICES GP report 2
Over the past 18 Months our partners at Expert Citizens have been host to 2 rotations of 5, year 5 GP students from Keele University. The first rotation – August to December 2017, conducted research to gauge the reach of the GP cards produced as learning from the original report (which can be found here). These cards were distributed across the city for those who were finding it difficult to register with a GP. The cards state that the person wanting to register does not require identification or an address to register.   The second rotation, December 2017 to March 2018, reviewed findings from the first rotation and studied the Gatekeepers report (2016). Together with Expert Citizens, they agreed to duplicate the mystery shopping exercise. Using the same script as in Gatekeepers (2016) the student group evidenced their findings as a direct result in the following report.   The aim of this project is to evaluate access to primary care services for patients with no fixed abode and to establish if there has been any change in the willingness of primary care services to accept NFA patients compared to when the first Gatekeepers report was produced back in 2016. Click here to read the full… Continue Reading

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