What we are doing
Following a comprehensive strategic review of the charity, the Trustees of Autonomie have set an ambitious target to support over 120 young people with disabilities over the next 3 years. We have opened a new dedicated centre and are introducing new services and making some changes to our services.
How we developed our strategy?
To arrive at this ambitious plan we listened to many voices. We heard directly from young people and their families about their experiences. We asked them what life is like for them and what support they want to help them in their lives. We listened to our parents focus group, made up of family members, friends and carers of young people who attended our pilot Freedom2Choose programme.
Our volunteers shared their experiences, and we met with many others from outside the organisation including teachers and youth workers to discuss how, together, how we can improve support for young people and their families. Our research ensures that our plans are underpinned with robust evidence.
Supporting families in Belfast and surrounding areas our new and improved services will help children and young people with disabilities live their lives as independently as possible. We know that young people with additional needs/disabilities face challenges in making their transition into adult life.
Over the next 3 years, we will support over 120 children and young people. In order to invest in community-based programmes we have opened a new centre, are increasing our number of front-line staff and volunteers and are developing our infrastructure. This is possible thanks to over £300,000 Lottery funding. This is the beginning of an exciting new year in the history of Autonomie.
Issues we are tackling
Our consultation process clearly demonstrated the following issues:
- The social isolation of young people with disabilities who tell us that they feel trapped at home.
- The lack of personal support available; during the difficult transition into adult life, training, education, or employment on leaving school.
- The gap in support between later school years and adult day centres/education/employment. Young people are known to be struggling during this transition phase.
- Lack of suitable, constructive, age appropriate activities and learning opportunities after leaving school.
- The absence of opportunity for young people with disabilities to voice their views or to contribute to decision-making.
- Marginalisation of young people with disabilities due to societal attitudes, lack of opportunities and suitable facilities/activities to take part in recreational events beyond school.
- Absence of properly connected services (education, social, healthcare).
- Transfer ‘processes’ that are not person-centred or appropriate to the needs and aspirations of young people.
- Isolation, lack of information and support networks & fear and uncertainty about the future for their young person.
- Limited affordable appropriate transport.
- Lack of geographical consistency in services and support available.
- Frustration about these circumstances that persist, despite local government policies to address them.
- Support networks/parents, lack information and have a sense of isolation, fear and uncertainty about the future for their young person.
What we are doing
How we are doing it
Over the past 18 months Autonomie has run a pilot scheme called Freedom2Choose which provided recreation and social space, skills development and supported events/activities independently of families and carers. We used this project to develop structured opportunities for young people to express themselves and we learned that they wanted more of this type of freedom, interaction, friendship building and learning.
Taking the learning points from this pilot programme and our consultation period we are are set to launch 'What Next?' pilot project in partnership with Big Lottery Fund's Empowering Young People Programme in January 2018. This enhanced programme from onset will offer workshops, training, discussion and outings to even more young people.
'What Next?' project will offer practical support for young people with disabilities who face challenges in making their transition into adult life. The project will offer training programmes with an educational and work focus, in addition to programmes aimed at developing social and communication skills,confidence and self-esteem and prevent poor mental health.
Autonomie beneficiaries can be a part of our mentoring scheme. This empowerment project will develop structured opportunities for young people to support and befriend another young person. Beneficiaries will be directly involved in the planning of the project through ongoing consultation.
Listening Links pilot project
Autonomie will offer young beneficiaries the chance to achieve a certificate in counselling. Up to 25 young people with additional needs can gain a PCAB Level 2 Award in Counselling Skills. This tailored accredited course will be run by qualified facilitators at our new centre. To learn more about Listening Links Pilot Project click here.
We are currently creating a Wellbeing Room - a space to promote relaxation and stress management in young people with physcial and learning disabilities, their parents, carers, siblings and extended families.
Although many families with disabled children manage their lives as effectively as other families, some such families may require counselling to facilitate the integration of the disabled child into the family, to learn how to cope in a world of changing attitudes toward both them and the child as well as society’s attitude to disability. Using trained professionals we will offer support to parents, caregivers and siblings.
Toy and Resource Library
We are currently establishing a Toy and Resource Library. This resource will enable local families to short-term loan a range of sensory toys and equipment to aid their child's development.
Toddlers Group pilot project
One day a week our professionally trained facilitators will offer a range of support and educational sessions. Toddlers will get a chance to explore a variety of sensory toys available at our toy library. This structured yet informal group will provide local parents and caregivers with the chance to meet and develop relationships and support networks with others families in the local community.
Careers Advisory Service
We have plans to expand our Careers Advisory Service with our dedicated career office in order to support more young people and parents.
Further Training and Education
LILAC House's emphasis will be on learning and connecting in a supportive, creative, outward-looking environment. This hub will also provide care for the immediate and extended support networks of these young people. It will engage with educators, peer groups, social workers and mentors from within the broader Belfast area to create relationships, networks and communities.
On a part time basis, including some evenings – the project will deliver life skills training and provide practical life experience opportunities. Young people and their families/carers will connect more closely through shared training and activities. There will also be structured recreation opportunities to build existing relationships and to make new connections with the surrounding community & associated community groups through joint events.
All beneficiaries have been directly involved in planning the project through consultation and those who can do will deliver elements of the activities programme themselves using natural and learned skills & strengths developed in response to barriers faced in their lives - this includes parents, carers and siblings as well as some of the young people. Qualified sessional facilitators will also be used to deliver training and recreation activities.
Autonomie offers a ‘social model’ supporting young people to focus on their strengths/abilities and learn to ‘self-help’. The primary beneficiaries will be 120 young people aged 14-25 years over three years with learning and physical disabilities that impact on their individual day to day functioning.
These are young people who face numerous barriers to learning and employment. Other young people benefiting from this project will be siblings and friends – i.e. their closest peer support network – and members of associated community-based and/or statutory groups. In addition, the immediate support networks will benefit – carers, parents and extended families.
What we hope to achieve
To improve the quality of life and well-being of young people with disabilities through supported learning and recreational opportunities.
To build self-confidence and empower the young people to make choices and lead a fuller, more independent life in their chosen community through training and independent living opportunities.
To build self-help skills by having young people and their families directly and meaningfully involved in the creation, development and delivery of the project, sharing learning, expertise and experience.
To prepare young people for leaving special schools and entering further education, employment and leisure opportunities.
To help young people feel more equipped to access social and recreational activities in the community and to form friendships.
To extend wider support networks and build relationships by proactively developing links with the local community, support services, agencies and other groups.
To prepare young people for engagement in further/vocational education, supported employment opportunities, work experience and visits.
To provide family/carer support in order to strengthen their support networks.
What makes us unique
Autonomie is different from other charities, service providers and agencies in that we are a small, low cost organisation that works on a personal relationship level and in a holistic way with all its beneficiaries. This is the vital support gap that needs to be closed to help young people with disabilities into their chosen adult world of work, relationships, housing and recreation. Our new centre (LILAC House) in the heart of south Belfast and our new services allow a step forward towards a fully rounded confidence-building transitional experience.
Over the next 3 years from our new centre LILAC House the roll out of new and enhanced services will uniquely combine training with support into social, recreational and community activities thus developing a richer life adult life experience for young people.
We are volunteer-led and we want to welcome more volunteers to the organisation help us make our plans happen. Our volunteers are vital to our work. To achieve our goals, we need to build a movement of committed people who believe disabled young people deserve the same opportunities as everyone else. We can't do this without you. Join us.
Contact our programme coordinator Lynne Morrison at email@example.com or call us on 02895 918 051