A charity-led project recently launched in Hertfordshire, hoping to change preconceptions about fashion and disability and encourage young adults with physical and/or learning disabilities to be more confident with their style.
The Flamingo Foundation charity has launched Find My Style with Hannah Jean, a fashion stylist and image consultant.
Stevenage teenager Jazz Nightingale took part in the first fashion styling session recently. Jazz, who tried a session at Oaklands College in St Albans. The 19-year-old says “I was interested in the session because I like to follow fashion just like other young people. It helps me express myself and my favourites are patterns, sparkly clothes and scarves….The session with Hannah helped me think about what sort of styles are on trend at the moment and what would suit me. Learning how you could alter your clothes to suit your own needs was great too. It really helped boost my self-confidence.”
Natalie Birch, also 19, has a learning disability and while she admits she is “happiest in hoodies, t-shirts, trainers and joggers”, she says the styling session gave her fresh ideas about style. She ends, “The fashion industry could do more to support disabled people by using more disabled models in magazines.”
The project was funded by London bar Embargo 59 with proceeds from a fundraising cocktail evening during London Fashion Week in February.
* Read more about the sessions here or contact email@example.com to run a session for a group of young adults
Research from Goldsmiths University recently suggested that wealthier people are more musical. While it’s obvious that higher income families find it easier to stump for private piano lessons and expensive instruments, music has a place in boosting inclusion and there are some great community-based projects that not only make music more accessible, but aim for social impact in the process.
Take the Sage Gateshead, which is halfway through a four-year cultural exchange scheme with a Brazilian government programme called Santa Marcelina Cultura (Santa Marcelina Cultura manages São Paulo state government’s music education and cultural inclusion project – Projeto Guri). The project aims to improve arts education and boost social inclusion in both Sao Paulo and the North East.
The scheme is funded by the British Council’s transform arts and creativity programme. The Sage’s musicians and teachers have travelled to Sao Paulo to find out how music, learning and social inclusion are combined in Brazil, while a Brazilian team came to the North East last year. Below, two participants – one from each country – explain the benefits of their innovative musical scheme:
Kathryn Davidson, 29, from Fenham, Newcastle, folk strand leader, learning and participation, Sage Gateshead “We’re about to enter the second leg of the second year of the project. Each visit is around two weeks long and involves observing practice, learning from each other, sharing ideas around social pedagogy and music education, and teaching. The two weeks are incredibly intense and informative.
For me, the first leg in 2012 was about getting to know Guri and what they do and weighing that up next to what we do. There are many differences but also many similarities in our own teaching styles but there is always the underlying theme that everyone deserves high quality music education. I was very proud when the Guri team came to Gateshead, I was proud to ‘show off’ the Learning and Participation department. The second trip to Sao Paulo was where I really began to understand my role and understand how the music that I teach and that I love is relevant.
We had a ceilidh for over 200 Guri young people and in the run up, the Guri staff reflected that they don’t use much, if any, Brazilian folk music. Much of it disappeared when the Portuguese invaded, and the post Portuguese music is often full of religion. What some people said is that seeing how British folk music can be used to teach rhythm, pulse, work in choirs, to teach intervals, to be a story for no other reason than to sing a good story, will make them investigate further their own traditions.
The ceilidh was my most favourite moment of both my times in Sao Paulo. My Brazilian colleague Paulo and I co-led this ceilidh even though he has never ‘called’ ceilidh dancing before and I speak minimal Portuguese! We had a ceilidh band made up of Sage Gateshead musicians and we had guest spots from some of the youth groups that we’d been working with… a wind band of young Brazilian musicians on saxophone and horns playing traditional Northumbrian music. Over a cold beer afterwards we all reflected that our own traditions are so close that they are normal, they’re ordinary. Placing the ordinary in an extraordinary context allows it to be fresh again.
The main challenges are in the circumstances that the young people who come to Guri live in. The Guri social team, who are absolutely outstanding, work with each and every young person to enable them to get the best from their learning, to fully engage with the programme. Sometimes that means holding their place for them for a few weeks whilst they have time to deal with the outside world. Sometimes it can take the social team visiting their home and working with their family, and sometimes it can be as simple as making sure they’ve had a good meal in their stomachs so that they can concentrate.
Often these young people will travel three hours to Saturday rehearsals, their transport is paid for and they receive meals and snacks to sustain them. Sao Paulo is a wonderful city but like all cities it is full of contrast, of huge wealth and incomprehensible poverty.
My own personal learning was huge, from trusting the music that I am passionate about to my confidence in my own teaching. Lots of the wider learning is still on-going, ‘what is a democratic music education?’ has become the research question. Both Sage Gateshead and Guri Santa Marcelina promote social inclusion and help people from different background to mix. How many Brazilian teenagers get the chance to work with a group of musicians from the North of England?
How many teenagers from Gateshead get the chance to work with musicians from Brazil? But it’s more than social inclusion, it’s about the promotion of social mobility and the belief that if you seize the opportunities offered to you, and you work hard, then there is no reason that you can’t succeed. If we can instill that within music education, be that in the formal classroom or in an out of school club, then that learning stays with the young person and seeps in to their self belief in English or Maths and they believe that if they set their mind to it and work hard they can accomplish anything.”
Santa Marcelina student – Daniele de Almeida, 17
“I am currently enrolled as a music student at Guri Santa Marcelina (GuriSM) education programme and member of GuriSM Youth Choir, an auditioned choir in the institution. The Sage Gateshead team was invited to work with GuriSM Youth Choir in October last year.
The exchange project between GuriSM and Sage Gateshead is focused on “what is a democratic and inclusive music education?” and also involves many diverse activities like workshops, seminars and performances. A real highlight for me was when we held and took part in a Ceilidh dance. There were so many people and so many English tunes. I really felt as if I was over here in a traditional English Ceilidh.
During the exchange I have found the most challenging moments the discussions around democratic and inclusive music education, particularly around the questions of what it is and how to promote it? It is a very emotive subject and you can explore it very deeply. It was also the first times students had participated in discussions about education in Guri Santa Marcelina. The size of both projects (Guri Santa Marcelina and Sage Gateshead) means the subject and the work that goes on is much more complex than I thought. However, this complexity drives both institutions to look for solutions and not give up.
Projects like this foster the contact among people of different backgrounds. With such contact I believe the horizons broaden; and this encourages inclusion to take place.
I believe that this sort of music exchange between great partners brings about knowledge of culture from different places. I think collectively it can better inform citizens than if you are trying to do it by yourself. It is much more than just entertainment!
One of the moments that sticks in my head is that one day Ed Milner, head of music learning at Sage Gateshead, was on the bus with all of us students and we asked him what he had enjoyed the most. He answered “You all!”
It has been an amazing, life-changing experience.”
I was entranced by some of Cathy Greenblat’s photographs of people with Alzheimer’s, which I came across when researching a recent piece about dementia.
Dementia is a major global challenge – health experts describe it as the next global pandemic. One in three of us will develop it – 135 million people by 2050, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), and its annual worldwide health and social-care cost is around £400bn.
Yet Greenblat’s work goes behind the headlines to present the human aspect of the disease.
The images in the book Love, Loss and Laughter present a rare view of the illness, shattering the stereotypical image of people as personality-free empty shells, discarded and forgotten by society.
Greenblat’s thought-provoking project to document the lives of people with Alzheimer’s is endorsed by ADI and has taken her all over the world for over a decade (it was published in 2011).
An academic and photographer whose grandparents and mother all developed Alzheimer’s, the sociologist’s work combines a large scale vision and research expertise with a very personal focus on human relationships and societal attitudes. Many of her photographs reveal the characters behind the disease, presenting people with Alzheimer’s in a social or familial context and among friends and carers.
The hundred or so photographs taken in care homes, private houses, clinics and day centres all over the world show how it is possible for people with dementia and their families and carers to experience some joy as they lose their cognitive functions (the “love” and “laughter” in the “loss”). The images show how people can maintain both independence and quality of life.
It is worth pointing out, however, the images do not shirk from touching on the frustration, anxiety and isolation – particularly at the end of life – which Alzheimer’s brings.
As Greenblat, Professor Emerita of Sociology at Rutgers University, writes in the book, “people with dementia retain vital capacities”. She reinforces the notion that our attitudes to dementia must change if the experience of those with the illness is to improve; her book quotes Michael Verde, president of American dementia organisation Memory Bridge, who says People with dementia don’t disappear unless we disappear from them”. It is possible, as Verde has said, “to change what is referred to as ‘the long goodbye’ into ‘a long hello’”.
The photographer tells me that people are often surprised to hear that the subjects of her pictures have the disease, she says: “I’m often struck by the responses of viewers of my photos at exhibits who ask with some astonishment, ‘But does this person really have Alzheimer’s?” They have only seen images that show people who are sad, dispirited, disconnected, and it takes them time to accept that that is not the necessary condition.
“People who are treated as hopeless lose hope; people who are treated as being unable to do things lose confidence. We don’t treat a sense of hopelessness or lack of confidence with medication: we do it by helping them to feel needed, cared about, being stimulated, communicating differently with them.”
Greenblat will be in Australia in late February to photograph more care settings and explore how to create “joy filled residential communities for people with dementia”. She hope this will result in a multimedia project with interviews, photographs and videos. Some more of her work is included in the gallery below:
• I asked Cathy a few more questions about her work, here’s what she said:
“Perceptions of Alzheimer’s are changing in the time since I’ve been photographing.One of the big changes is that there is so much more talk about Alzheimer’s, in the press, in books of all sorts, on the internet in the form of webinars and connections that are global.
Of importance is the greater participation in the dialogue by people living with dementia – people with diagnoses and people who are their care partners. This is no longer just the medical community telling us about what they know, but sharing of experience…Not everyone is listening to these new voices, but those who do have learned that there are ways to continue a quality life for much longer than has generally been believed.
How has my academic background helped me in my work? Probably the most important thing is that I came to this work with a knowledge of doing research… I knew how to go into new situations and places and learn from people about their lives. Now I was adding a camera to my “tool kit”, as I believe that seeing is so important in changing one’s mind… I speak in an early chapter in the book about ‘Changing people’s minds about people’s changing brains’ – that’s what I have been doing. And I think that is crucial.
I thoroughly believe that we need to distinguish between the physiological changes as we become ill, and the primary symptoms brought about by that. But there are many secondary symptoms such as apathy, aggression, social isolation, that are not caused by the disease but by the way people are treated and come to see themselves .
People who are treated as hopeless lose hope; people who are treated as being unable to do things lose confidence. We don’t treat a sense of hopelessness or lack of confidence with medication: we do it by helping them to feel needed, cared about, being stimulated, communicating differently with them… It is what the photos illustrate. This is not a new perspective… it has been discussed by scholars around the world, but the addition of visual evidence in photos that clearly are not posed has given them wider acceptance.
Many people “run away” from dementia. Surely some people run away from family members or friends who begin acting strangely and are difficult to deal with because they are don’t want to deal with the problem. We all know of siblings who fight about the care to be given to a parent, leaving the responsibility on someone else’s shoulders. They say they are too busy, they had poorer relations before, they have other responsibilities..
But many people are not selfish and ill informed – rather, they are frightened, they don’t know what to do they don’t know what they can do, they believe that there is nothing that can be done until a cure is found. That is simply not true. There is so much we know how to do now to engage people in continuing stimulating activities. There is so much to be gained through creating partnerships with professionals and other groups that provide day care activities, memory centers, art and music therapy, etc.
We need to help people know that there is a great deal to do and inspire them to find resources near their homes or on the internet. Many friends and family want to be engaged and helpful but they don’t know how to do that. There are excellent books, pamphlets from the Alzheimer’s associations and other groups. This can not only help the person who is ill, but it makes the friends and family feel more empowered… They can learn what to say and how to act in ways that let the person feel they are understood, which in turn reduces the aggression which so often is the result of feeling they can’t clearly express their needs and desires.”
• You can watch some films on Love, Loss and Laughter here and here or visit the website to find out more about upcoming events related to the book and photography project. You can also follow Cathy on Twitter @CathyGreenblat
A groundbreaking support scheme run by care leavers for care leavers is hoping to help vulnerable young people for a second year Christmas running.
Named in memory of a 23-year-old care-leaver, Topé, who took his life several years ago, the Tope Project helps care leavers and held its first festive event last year, allowing those who live alone to enjoy Christmas Day in a safe environment (the pictures here are from last year’s event).
Youth worker, Shalyce Lawrence, 24, who was in care for 10 years and considered Topé “like a brother”, started the volunteer-run project because some of Topé’s friends had nowhere to go. The group is raising £5,000 to make the Christmas event happen for around 80 young people. While the law was recently changed to allow young people in care to be supported beyond 18, Christmas and New Year – times when most people are with family – can be an isolating and difficult experience for many young people in care.
You can follow the project on Twitter: @TheTopeProject or find it on Facebook and help raise the £5,000 needed to run this important event again this year via JustGiving.
It is a disease one in three of us will develop – 135 million people will have it by 2050 and its worldwide health and social-care cost in 2010 was estimated at £400bn…yet no one is ready for the worldwide pandemic that is dementia.
My Guardian interview with leading microbiologist Peter Piot today, coinciding with the G8 Summit on dementia, underlines why international action is vital. Piot, who spent four decades investigating the world’s deadliest diseases and whose pioneering work made HIV/Aids a global priority, is in no doubt that dementia is now the world’s greatest social, economic and moral challenge.
“There’s not enough awareness of how bad the problem is,” warns Piot, a global health expert and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Like most of us who know someone who has had or is living with dementia (my grandfather had it), Piot’s father-in-law had the illness, so he knows first hand of the denial and stigma it brings: “It is the most neglected of all the neglected health problems and it’s a hidden problem because people are at home – they’re already written off by society”.You can read the rest of my piece is here.
When Piot argues that the discrimination faced by people with dementia is tantamount to a “human rights violation” and more than just a medical problem, I couldn’t agree more.
Funding and focus on research is essential, but this has to be accompanied by a change in attitudes – and the latter will be an uphill struggle for a society fails to have older people on its radar, regardless of whether or not they have dementia.
How can someone with learning disabilities or mental health issues possibly own their own home? With a long-established but seldom-used form of housing called shared ownership.
The power of the part-rent, part-buy scheme to transform lives is illustrated in a new report, Space to live, published today by social care and housing provider Advance and Disability Rights UK. I was involved in writing part of the report and met home owners like Xenia Kyriacou, who is non-verbal and has complex needs.
Once asked to leave a restaurant after showing challenging behaviour and overturning a table in frustration (she was overwhelmed), only a few months ago, in another local restaurant near the two-bedroom flat she part-owns in east London, Xenia enjoyed a birthday lunch, was presented with a card from the owners and offered a discount on her return.
The change has happened since she moved out of residential care and into her own place.
Home ownership encourages confidence and independence, as was obvious when I met some of the home owners like Xenia and learned more about their experiences. The increased stability can reduce the costs of social care packages and help people get involved in their local areas. The timely report comes as the government considers funding plans for housing for post-2015, including its home ownership for learning disability (HOLD) programme.
My experience proves the benefits of volunteering for people with autism. I was born in 1959 and diagnosed with autism in 1963, at age four. I was one of Sybil Elgar’s first pupils at her progressive school. She was a pioneer in autism and helped develop my language and communication skills.
I then attended a local primary school in Edinburgh, where my mother and I moved, and a mainstream secondary school in London when we moved back to England in 1972. Art was my strongest subject (I passed several O Levels) and I studied furnishing design and textiles at the London College of Furniture. I got a diploma in art and design. I took more courses after that at a local art college and learned things like etching and print making. My most recent works are computer generated greetings cards (see the website).
Following a traumatic event in 2008, I developed severe depression and anxiety . After some time attending a psychiatric unit, social services support and help from my GP, a social worker suggested volunteering and I was put in touch with Volunteer Centre Camden.
It was through the volunteer centre that I started working at the Holy Cross Centre Trust in July 2011. It is a secular organisation in King’s Cross, London, which supports mental health recovery as well as homeless people, refugees and asylum seekers.
I hadn’t volunteered before although I’d had some experience of work. The place where I worked previously was a company providing unpaid employment for people with mental health issues and was run as a social service. The aim was to manufacture and distribute large volumes of greeting cards to the mass market but I wasn’t happy there. The tasks I was involved in were printing and packing greeting cards and using Photoshop on a computer for designing cards for later use and batch production.
I did not get satisfaction there as I was mostly restricted to printing other people’s designs and this did not allow me to express my own ideas. Their bias was to produce Christmas cards and my inspiration for designs comes from many sources which are irrelevant for Christmas. The repetitive tasks were soul-destroying.
But at the Holy Cross where I am now, my role is to help and encourage people to draw and paint, also to set up and tidy the art materials. I work noon to 3pm. Everyone is kind and friendly and there is a positive buzz to the place. Not only is helping out so satisfying and rewarding, it helps me to gain significantly in confidence and the thrill of feeling respected and valued as part of a team is fantastically liberating. I have made many friends and can see myself thriving there well in the future.
Suitable volunteering should be open to more autistic people as the skills required such as attention to detail, reliability or some special talents are well suited to the autistic trait and may prove to be great assets for the workplace. On their part autistic people can benefit from mixing and socialising with people of different nationalities and backgrounds and feeling respected and valued. To me the regular routines, the structure to the week and the sense of purpose in society are most satisfying.
Autistic people may encounter some difficulties. For example, travelling on public transport, especially long distances, or unintentional and misinterpreted challenging behaviour may cause problems. But with foresight, awareness about autism, guidance and the right support I see no reason why autistic people should not be accepted and be very successful doing voluntary work. I am quite sure that, giving the right conditions, volunteering can be “autism friendly”.
The fact I am high functioning autistic has presented no problems in my volunteering. One of the benefits of working there is that it has a knock-on effect on my closeness, love and affection towards members of the family. I now feel so optimistic about the future. Socialising now comes with ease. I am thrilled with life!
Shouty, sweary, noisy chaos, big stage personas, a self-proclaimed kick-ass attitude, loud drums, screeching guitars and songs about fighting and sex.
That this is a description of two punk bands currently touring the UK will hardly come as a shock. But the bands confound expectations in other ways; the gigs by Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat (PKN), from Finland and Zombie Crash, a Brighton heavy metal band, represent the first time that two learning disabled bands will tour the country.
I’ve blogged before about PKN, the band is as likely to write lyrics arguing for respect and equality as it is to sing about avoiding trips to the pedicurist or to complain about residential care homes.
The four date tour, which began on Tuesday, is funded by the Arts Council England and organized by, Constant Flux, an arts organisation that provides opportunities to learning disabled musicians.
Richard Phoenix, who runs Constant Flux, explains: “Often when I talk to people about working with people with learning disabilities in music I encounter the “Aww…. That’s so nice” attitude, which isn’t intrinsically wrong in any way but it seems to me to represent a feeling that people with learning disabilities are only capable of emotionally neutered art, of things that are ‘nice’ and ‘happy’ which from my experience is completely off the mark.
“This tour is a perfect example to present people with something that totally challenges those perceptions, nothing about the bands music or performance is going to be ‘nice’ in any way shape or form. There will be shouting and swearing, with songs about not wanting to live in residential care, demands for respect and equality, songs about fighting, songs about sex.”
Richard says that the musicians’ uncompromising attitudes musical ability will shatter the stereotypical view of what people with learning disabilities can achieve, “this in turn will hopefully help positively affect attitudes toward those with learning disabilities”.
The fact the bands are touring is a vital part of the project, adds Richard. “Touring is something which is such a huge part of what it is to be a musician and being in a band, but for so long it has been extremely difficult to achieve within the learning disabled music scene because it can be such a financial and logistical nightmare.”
Kalle, who supports PKN, sums up the band’s gung-ho attitude: “They’re feeling very excited about this. They are used to playing gigs in tight schedules but never done this tight… but they don’t think about it. They love going abroad, even though some of them don’t really know, or care, where they are globally.”
Ryan, lead guitarist and vocalist with Zombie Crash, offers this response to the tour: “Metal unleashed from the learning disabled community! It means the ultimate activity for any band to put themselves through, to go on tour, to be as active as you possibly can. The fact that we’re doing this in the month of October and Halloween is the perfect timing for us to unleash hell!”
The fact the tour has promoted as a regular event – rather than as simply a “good cause” – should help “create situations where people with learning disabilities at a gig is normalised, where it’s not unusual or exceptional”, says Richard.
On a practical level, the touring musicians have to be supported. “Making this tour viable for learning disabled artists involved ensuring that, as vulnerable adults, the musicians were supported properly,” explains Richard, “so there are 22 of us on the tour, 10 band members and various members of support, some people require one-on-one support, there are members of creative support and musical facilitation, drivers and myself managing the tour.”
Safe, reliable accommodation has been booked in advance each night, unlike in the DIY touring network where you play a gig and don’t necessarily know where you’re staying that night. “The Arts Council was so important in making this whole thing happen…we’ve been able to book everything in advance and ensure that as much risk as possible is removed, also it has taken away the dimension of the tour being a success in a financial sense and has created a situation where it can be judged on it’s artistic merits.”
One interesting byproduct of the tour planning is that it has created debate about how best to promote the gigs. Richard adds: “The main question that is asked is that if the music can stand on its own then why does the element of disability have to come into the equation? There definitely is weight behind this argument, however in discussion with several artists with learning disabilities and parents and carers of artists, the over-riding feeling is that it is more important for these artists to be strong, empowered representatives of a largely under-represented and marginalised section of society.”
• The remaining tour dates are today, October 3, at Sheffield at Heeley Sport and Social Club (with Skiplickers and Amarous Dialogues) and Friday, October 4, in Brighton at The Green Door Store (with Good Throb and The Soft Walls). Both venues are accessible with accessible toilets and prices are £3 (carers free/donation only).
Bullying crushes a child’s self esteem and confidence. It can leave a child feeling alone, totally helpless, and with no one to turn to. In their childhood innocence and naivety some even blame themselves for their torment. Many schools now have robust anti bullying policies in the form of bullying charters.
We live in an age where teachers acknowledge widely the emotional needs of children more than ever before. Resources such as SEAL (social and emotional aspects of learning) provide increased emotional support in many schools.
As a consequence bullying has now left many classrooms, but not all. This is commendable but, not only do schools’ attitudes and actions in response to bullying vary considerably, is it enough?
And now in the age social networking sites it has insidiously entered the sanctuary of children’s bedrooms. Running away from the school environment and threatening bullies now leads straight to the bedroom, a once safe haven where a child’s computer suddenly provides no way of escape. Computers are the contemporary child’s toy and some may say the innocence of youth has died as a result. This year’s forthcoming Anti-bullying Week, for example, has a special focus on cyber-bullying.
These issues have been on my mind since the death of 14-year-old Hannah Smith who suffered relentless bullying online. Her death was not a stark reminder of how vulnerable our children are not protected from bullies even in the supposed safety of their own homes. There has been intense speculation and much knee-jerking as a result of her death, but the bottom line is that social media played a part in her suicide. Whatever happened, she was a vulnerable child.
But social networking sites can be so liberating for many providing an outlet for those who lack self confidence in face to face interactions and who might have smaller social networks than usual. Many can make friends and form relationships online that they would otherwise struggle to in school.
These sites can be very helpful, especially for those who lack social contact, or may have poor social skills, agoraphobia etc, but the flip side of the coin is the bullying issue. Reaching an acceptable compromise regarding social networking will not be easy because the genie has now been let out of the box, so to speak.
When experiencing low moods, your reality becomes alien to that of everyone else. I have always advised people to seek help at the earliest opportunity to prevent depression reaching this critical stage. And this is where social sites that support mental health can help.
There is the social site launched by comedian Ruby Wax, for example, Black Dog Tribe, “a place in which like-minded people can find their own ‘tribe’ and share experiences in a supportive online community through forums, blogs, daily news and mental health information”. Another example is Kent and Medway NHS Trust, for example, which is piloting Buddy, an online system that records mood changes. And there are a raft of support-specific online forums linked to various charities and support groups which can make all the difference to vulnerable people.
This is the positive aspect of these sites.
Yet it is too simplistic an argument that social media and networks alone can help prevent depression. An holistic approach can include talking therapies, physical exercise and medication, if appropriate. These therapies can support each other – medication, as I know from personal experience and from my nursing career, has its down side. It can also make your mood fluctuate wildly, become disinhibited and even suicidal. Having easy access to online support can, at times like this, be vital. These issues are brought into sharp focus by the news today that the number of people needing treatment for mental health issues will have increased by more than 2 million by 2030.
We should look closely at both the negatives and positives about social media and networks in relation to mental health – and ignore them at our peril. While it is also wrong to assume that social media alone can push someone towards mental health problems, excessive use of social sites, as is often reported, can itself lead to problems.
Children sitting for hours in front of a screen removes them from the social contact of others that will improve their face to face communication skills and confidence in later life. Effective communication involves eye contact, body language, and gesturing. All ignored when lying in bed hitting a keyboard in silent and lonely surroundings.
Cyber bullies and unpoliced social media sites populated by children (or those posing as children) are not part of a civilised society. We must make it all stop. Now.
The fate of children in care in Scotland has recently his the headlines; care leavers need more support, say experts, if their life chances are to improve. And today Michael Gove has criticised the care home system in England. But what if some vulnerable children could be prevented from going into care in the first place? In a joint guest post, Daniel* and the support worker who helped him describe how a Scottish community-based alternative to custody and secure care helped him turn his life around.
Daniel*, 21, describes how he was supported by the charity Includem:
“I don’t even know if I would be alive had it not been for Includem. I was drinking all the time and taking drugs, valium, cannabis, ecstasy. I was fighting a lot with my mum and other people and ‘doing turns’ – theft, breaking and entering offences – to get money to spend on food and clothes. Things started to go wrong when I left primary school and when I was about 12.
I had a bad relationship with my mum – we argued all the time – and I was constantly getting thrown out of the house. I had nowhere to go so ended up on the streets. I was always in front of children’s panels and going into temporary care and then home again.
I wasn’t happy and could see that this [drinking and taking drugs] wasn’t the right thing to do but it was what was happening in my life at the time. I felt guilty about what I was doing. I wanted things to change but didn’t now how to make changes. I wanted things to be normal and to have a normal family life.
A social worker referred me to Includem; I worked with a few project workers until I clicked with my project worker who became the person who I felt I could work with. We spoke about goals and how to get there and how I was worthy of a better life.
My worker helped me when things were really bad at home; I could call the helpline at any time and Includem would come out and talk to me and my mum and make it ok for me to stay at home. They would meet with me at times when no one else would be able to – at the weekend, when I needed them I would contact the helpline and they would be there.
Includem helped me stay at home and they helped me get into training and never gave up on me. I respected them and they respected me. I felt hopeful that things could be different. They helped with all sorts of things – planning how to spend money on food and clothes to helping with how to deal with bad situations at home and how to get training to help to get a job.
They were there through everything – even during the night – when I lived at home, when I was homeless and then moving into my own place. They made me think that I was worthwhile.
Before I would just go out and steal things to sell so that I could buy new clothes. I learnt how to save money and how to spend it on food so that I would last. They taught me how to deal with situations with my mum – how to walk away from violent situations and how to stay calm.
Things changed for me because my worker listened and respected me so I trusted and listened to my worker. I got on with her and established a relationship – I started to feel hopeful that things could change. Includem listened and didn’t give up on me, even at the start when I didn’t want to work with them.
Now I live with my daughter and girlfriend and I have my own home. I try hard to be a good dad that my daughter can be proud of – I want her to feel loved and cared for and safe. I want a routine for my family and my daughter and I am trying to find a job.”
Karen McCulloch, Includem project worker, on how she supported Daniel:
“Daniel was referred to Includem at the age of 15 due to his drug and alcohol misuse, anger, aggression, and difficult family relationships. He was a persistent high tariff offender and was facing homelessness due to a chaotic relationship with his mother.
When we meet a young person for the first time we listen to what they have to say and let them know what we can offer. We talk through their lives and identify the areas that aren’t working the way they should and start to look at how these could get better. We identity goals and talk to them about A Better Life – a unique toolkit that we use. We let them know we will meet them on a frequent basis and that we will plan normal social activities where we can meet and talk.
We let them know we put them first and they can trust us – that we want the best for them. Often this is a first for young people who haven’t had proper care in their lives or someone to talk to and look out for them.
We gave Daniel intensive support in managing his anger, including practical support on issues such as how to remove himself from volatile situations. Daniel’s relationship with his mother was difficult, and Includem worked with her to set clear and consistent boundaries within the home.
Daniel and his mother used Includem’s 24 hour helpline, not only at times of crisis but for advice and support. Includem supported Daniel for whilst he was on an electronic tag, a period in secure care for his own safety, and voluntary transitional support into adulthood. Throughout this time, Includem supported and liaised with Daniel’s mother to maintain their relationship.
Daniel didn’t gel with his first project worker so we changed workers to someone that Daniel clicked with. Our model is relationship based therefore we are flexible and will try different workers with different young people for the right relationship to be established.
My first visit to meet Daniel was on a Friday night when Daniel was out with his care home – Daniel had none of his own clothes so I went to his home and picked these up and took them to him. We visited him throughout the weekend and supported him. We talked about ways to change things – and assured Daniel that his life could change with the right support and direction. We put a plan in place that we would work through together in order to meet outcomes.
We started to see real changes. We taught Daniel to listen to his “inner speak” – the voice within that said he deserved a better life and that he could make it happen. When he started to realise that he did deserve better, and how to achieve it, things started to change.
Daniel used the 24/7 helpline regularly as a support – he would phone if he had been thrown out of the house or was in trouble. He would call if he was arguing with his mother – on one occasion an Includem worker would be speaking to Daniel on the phone in one room, another would be speaking to his mother on the phone in another room and a worker would be driving to the house to help calm the situation face to face.
Daniel would forget basic things such as when to eat as sometimes he was living between people’s houses – we would remind him that this was essential and give him practical support on what to eat and how to budget his money. We would plan our contact visits with him around when he would receive money and would take him to the supermarket and show him how to spend the money wisely and make it last.
Daniel moved into his own home under a mainstream tenancy at 19 (he is now 21), and is in a settled relationship and doing well. He has created his own family – he and his girlfriend have a baby, and there is no social work involvement with the family at all. Daniel has accrued no court charges or pending court charges for fouryears. He’s very keen to get a job. His partner is looking to start college and his main aim is to build on his progress and continue to provide a happy and loving environment for his child and partner.
We have a “scaffold of support” in place – a team of three – a project worker, an assistant project worker and a mentor – assigned to each young person so that they can build links and relationships with more than one person. Every service we provide is unique for that young person – we fit our service to them, not the other way round.
Among our successful outcomes is the fact that 90% of young people we worked with in a project with Strathclyde police reduced their violent offending. And with 72% of referrals from the Clackmannanshire area, Includem prevented family or community placement breakdown.
The biggest challenge is usually at the outset when young people are wary of accepting help and opening up about issues. Another challenge is actually meeting up with young people on planned visits at the start– often they don’t turn up for planned meetings and we have to go looking for them.
You learn to be creative in situations like this – finding solutions to challenges such as this and others – and speaking to colleagues for advice and ideas in order to make contact. We constantly refer to our A Better Life toolkit for support and advice.
Includem operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We accept any referrals via social work departments, courts and police. We never turn any vulnerable young person away – no matter what their situation is and how chaotic it may be.
‘Stickability’ is a word we have coined – it’s a key part of our service and is at the heart of what we do – we are persistent, we won’t give up on a young person and we will stick with them at all times during the support we give them.”