Celebrating great practice: How a social worker and a black
Labrador saved my life

Jackie Kennedy shares her story of how one social worker’s good practice actively changed, and physically saved, her life.

18/03/21

Celebrating great practice: How a social worker and a black
Labrador saved my life

It is a real privilege to be able to share my story on how a social worker called Joy saved my life. Prior to meeting Joy, my social care package was not right for me. I have complex long-term health conditions and also suffer from depression and severe PTSD. I found it hard to cope with the frustration of feeling left behind. I became socially isolated and would spend weeks without going outside my front door. I virtually gave up on life and was barely existing. At the end of 2015, I was admitted to hospital as a result of status epilepticus (a severe epileptic seizure), partially due to my poor care package. After I was discharged from hospital, I contacted the duty social worker to request a review of my care package in the hope that it would be changed for the better.

Meeting Joy
I was met with stubborn silence at first, but after numerous emails and phone calls, I was finally allocated a social worker. Previously I’d had some bad experiences with a couple of social workers, so I was dreading the visit. Within two days I received a telephone call from a social worker who introduced herself as Joy. She asked me lots of questions about my situation, as well as my past experiences, and arranged to visit me the next day. Joy arrived on time and we settled down to chat. She was warm and friendly, which helped to put me at ease. She clearly explained to me why my care package wasn’t working, and what more could be done to help me. It was clear from the start that she had taken the time to read through my notes and to learn about my situation, something that previous social workers had not done. During my assessment Joy kept asking, “What matters to you? What do you want from life?” She asked what she could do to help me reach my goals and needs. I burst into tears. This was the first time in over ten years that anyone had asked me what I wanted, rather than simply telling me what I needed. I could feel that Joy was interested in helping me outline my own care plan by talking with me and asking how she could help me achieve my own goals. She was there to help me, not to take over my life for me.

Kingston
Prior to Joy’s visit, I had been working with a charity called Canine Partners. They had provided me with an assistance dog to help me around the house. During Joy’s visit I dropped a pen. My canine partner, Kingston, immediately retrieved it and placed it back in my hand. Joy was impressed and asked what else he could do. I demonstrated how Kingston aided me in getting undressed, positioning me in bed, getting me up in the morning, and showering and drying myself. I explained that there were around 300 commands that he could perform to help me. Joy asked if I had ever considered adding Kingston to my care plan and I felt it was a good idea. We initially faced resistance from the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but Joy and I wouldn’t give in. We provided evidence of the money Kingston saves the NHS and adult social care, estimating that, in care costs alone, Kingston saves over £120,000 per year. Kingston can detect if I am having a hypoglycaemic attack (low blood sugar). When this happens, he will go into my bedroom, retrieve my hypo kit and activate my telecare emergency alarm. If I’m having a hyperglycaemic attack (high blood sugar), he will go to the fridge, open the door, and retrieve my insulin kit. Before Kingston, I would have ended up in A&E. In 2018, Kingston helped to ensure that 64 ambulances did not have to come to my home. This equates to roughly £254,000 in savings for the NHS. Since being partnered with Kingston, he has saved the NHS over £837,000 and continues to save money on a daily basis.

Where I am today
I am happy to say that as of January 2018, my care is now 100% NHS funded. As part of this, I am allocated money to cover Kingston’s costs such as his health insurance and food. Kingston is recognised by the NHS as one of my personal assistants and since we were partnered in October 2015, he has physically saved my life on nine separate occasions. The sort of independence that Kingston has given me is priceless. I have a life with purpose again. I volunteer at various charities and am now also a speaker for Canine Partners. There are currently 440 working partnerships across the country, and I spend my time trying to educate CCGs, social workers, and politicians of the financial worth of assistance dogs. My aim is to see all these 440 canine partners included in their human partners’ care plans. Thanks to Joy, a forward thinking, caring, and compassionate social worker who was kind enough to listen to and respect me, I have a life where I am living and not just existing. I now advocate for the voiceless and have so much to be grateful for.

To find out more about the work that Canine Partners do, as well as Jackie’s work, head to www.caninepartners.org.uk

Jackie Kennedy is a service user of, and volunteer at, Canine Partners.

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