Our plans for the future
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. To do this we will open a new dedicated centre, introduce new services and make 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 for the future are underpinned with robust evidence.
Supporting families in Belfast and surrounding areas our vision is to develop and improve our services to 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 hope to support over 120 children and young people. In order to invest in community-based programmes we plan to open a new centre, increase our number of front-line staff and volunteers and will develop our infrastructure. This is the beginning of an exciting new year in the history of Autonomie.
Our ongoing consultation process clearly demonstrates 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.
How will we do it?
Our vision is to offer short-term living experience for up to 20 young people with disabilities per year. These purpose-designed, modern and accessible facilities would offer a chance to try independent living on the premises and with support from our specialised facilitators help young people transition more successfully into adult life and their own housing.
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.
Accredited Counselling course
Autonomie will offer young beneficiaries the chance to achieve a certificate in counselling. The tailored accredited course will be run by qualified facilitators at our centre.
Over the past year 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. Our vision is to take the learning points from this pilot programme and combine them with our consultation information to create the 'What Next?' programme. This enhanced programme from onset will offer workshops, training, discussion and outings to even more young people. ''What Next?' project will provide a new self-help, community-based venue in Belfast offering 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.
Further Training and Education
The centre’s emphasis will be on learning and connecting in a supportive, creative, outward-looking environment. It 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 ongoing 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 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 14-24 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.
- 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. We believe that our new centre and the ‘What Next?’ project will deliver a significant step forward towards a fully rounded confidence-building transitional experience.
Our plans will uniquely combine training with support into social, recreational and community activities thus developing a richer life adult life experience for young people. Our new centre will be called LILAC House (Linked Independent Living and Advice Centre).