It was in the middle of June 2017 and the sun was shining in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We – Bjargey Una and Halldor – were a part of a small group of professionals and managers from Iceland, attending the IASSIDD Health Conference Belfast 2017: Bridging the Gap. The beautiful city of Belfast was swirling with life and every once in a while we would see names and landmarks that reminded us of our common heritage with the Irish, – the vikings.
As much as we enjoyed the conference, which ended with a gala dinner inside a former prison turned into a museum, it was only later that we realized what was the most important experience we took home with us. It was our meeting with Dr. Lena Nylander. Lena was presenting a poster on her outreach crises team in southern Sweden. During the poster session, she told us about the Skills System and how she and her coworkers in Lund were implementing it in their work.
When we returned to Iceland, it struck us that the Skills System was the instrument we had been searching for. Bjargey, a social educator, and I, a psychologist, are both seasoned professionals in working with persons with developmental disabilities in residential services. For the last few years, we have served on a multidisciplinary counselling team at the Reykjavik Welfare Services. Our task has been to counsel and guide the work of managers and staff in residential services. Although we were familiar with many approaches, methods and instruments within the field, we decided that we needed to make the Skills System available to our clients. We made contact with Dr. Brown who from the start was very helpful and enthusiastic. Coincidentally, she was at that time preparing a two-day course for the Swedish National DBT Conference which was to take place in Lund in September. She suggested we joined her and without further complications our whole team attended the course in Sweden.
After the course, our team scheduled regular consultation sessions with Julie. We also got permission from Guilford Press to translate the Skills System Handouts and Worksheets and other Skills System material into Icelandic. One thing led to another and in September 2018 Julie came to Iceland and held a three-day Skills System course for 75 participants. Many of the professionals who attended immediately began to use the Skills System or Bjargráðakerfið Björg, as we called it in Icelandic. We arranged regular group consultations for those using the Skills System to share their experiences and discuss their work. In the beginning. This was exciting and a lot of fun but soon the attendance to the meetings dwindled so we stopped. It became clear that we needed a more solid framework for the implementation of the Skills System. Fortunately, Julie came to our rescue. She had been working on the implementation of the Skills Systems strategies within the work setting and sent us helpful information to guide our way.
At that time, the pandemic shut down all our meetings with staff and clients. We changed our focus to building our foundation. We translated all the text of the two e-learning courses to help people learn and apply the Skills System. In the summer of 2020 we started a corporation, Bjargráð ehf., which has the purpose of being the agency for Skills System in Iceland. The board of directors are all professionals working within social services. The board oversees the contact with Julie, the translation of procedures and publications, and the implementation process. In cooperation with Julie, the board of directors are now in the certification process. We have also translated the new implementation guide and the implementation worksheets. These implementation procedures are now used when we start working with a new service provider.
Today it looks like life in Iceland will turn to normal within a few months. During the pandemic, the importance of mental health services, also for persons with developmental disabilities, has become ever more clear to lay-people and politicians alike in Iceland. When social restrictions are lifted, we hope to be ready with an On-Track-Action Plan to implement the Skills System where it is needed in our social and health services.
Halldór Kr. Júlíusson, Ph.D., Psychologist
Bjargey Una Hinriksdóttir, Social educator, M.A. in Disability studies