I had only been working for Dudley Voices for Choice a short time before Sarah approached me with an idea of supporting young people with learning disabilities and autism who have come out of crisis (hospital). The idea was to shadow young people to empower them to rejoin their communities and achieve personal goals.
This subject hits home for me in my previous role as a barber I worked with mainly young people. Sarah had explained that this new project would be part of Black Country Health Care (BCHC) who are the local provider in Dudley and the Black Country team within the NHS. This provider is the main provision for learning disabilities and autism services. Part of their offer includes the Keyworker project, and the Family Peer Worker project. The Keyworkers are the first step down from hospital and point of contact when a young person is in crisis or at risk of crisis. The second step once they had discharged the young person, they would then come to the Family Peer Workers, the family peer workers team were a group of parents and siblings with lived experience who worked alongside parents and families to support families and offer support and someone to lean on when families needed to offload and navigate through new opportunities after a crisis.
It was during this work that it was recognised that the young person was given support during the crisis as per the medical model of care but afterwards had minimal support after crisis.
As an independent charity that works using the social model very much of support, we recognised that this was a gap that needed to be addressed alongside the medical model to avoid future crisis where possible.
As this was a project for young people with learning disabilities and autism, we wanted to involve them in every aspect of the planning process, we had conversations about services, what went well what didn’t, we went out and trialled what would be our connection building sessions and took all the feedback and used it shape the project to what it is now.
From our conversations we learned that people do not want to be treated as patients, they want to work towards their own goals and said they wanted purpose. We decided that our approach had to be different to get it right and make sure that the outcomes that the young person had identifiedare being met. There was so much invaluable information that was gained and learning about the fears and barriers from the viewpoint of the young person. This was the beginning of the shape of the project, the team would not wear lanyards, had no uniforms giving people no outward clues that the young person was getting supported to do their activity. It was agreed that we would be the most professional ‘unprofessional’ offer for young people offering mentoring and coaching and not support.
What was next was who would be part of this new project with me, I had one person in mind. Cameron is one of the most compassionate lads I have ever met, his ability to work outside the box is impressive and these skills areexactly what we needed for this project to work.
The only difficult part of this project was deciding a name… we went through at least ten until a young person recommended the name “Kidzscape”. The name could be seen as something childish, but this person explained the name well. The Kid would be the young aspect of what we do i.e., mentoring, shadowing. The cape would mean the young person gaining confidence and flying towards a life out of crisis. This made perfect sense, so Kidzscape was named.
After months of planning and conversations we were ready to go live!
Our first case was a young person who couldn’t leave the house without Dad being with them. They wanted to be able to form friendships and to feel confident to do things without having their parents nearby. Other services had struggled to engage with him based on other complications with his past. At Kidzscape it was agreed very early on that we didnot need to know this because we wanted our focus to be moving forward what were the young person’s important things, their interests, hopes and aspirations for the future.They loved gaming and Marvel, as gamer and a fan of all things comics I used this to my advantage to get them to open up to me and get to know what goals they had for themself. They told me they wanted to be part of a friendship and do things with friends without parents having to go with them. After a couple of sessions, they felt comfortable with both Cameron and me to go out for some pizza. On the day they arrived with Dad, we encouragedDad to go to the pub and said we will meet him in an hour after we had eaten. During our time having pizza, they told us about their future aspirations and hobbies. For us this was a humongous win as they had never been anywhere without their parents and they had sat with new people in a different place and had shared a conversation, jokes like a real friendship group would.
Our most recent case is a young person who wants to be able to be more independent and access different modes of transport. Services in the past have not been able to work with them as they felt they were seen as a patient, and this stopped them from being able to move forward. Again, we started work with no knowledge on their past with hospitals and services. Only their hobbies, interests, and goals.When we started working together, they wanted to learn how to use every mode of public transport, the bonus I saw here is there is some modes of transport I have never used so this would a journey we would be going on together.
We started with the bus and considering buses are not the cleanest, they can get crowded, both Cameron and I saw a potential issue there, but they got on, paid for their ticket,and sat on the bus at the busiest time of day, and they did so without us having to jump in to support them only shadow them. This gave them a massive boost in confidence and for us to see this was truly heart-warming.
The next mode of transport they wanted to use was the tram, in nearly 28 years I have never been on the tram, so this was going to be a learning experience for both of us. At this time, we had another addition to Kidzscape join us, Lucy.
Lucy has spent her entire life engaging with people with learning disabilities and autism, she is also compassionate and truly gets how these young people feel and can turn the narrative to boost confidence.
We all went to his local tram platform, and we took the tram out of his area (which they had never done without parents or on public transport). We arrived at the next town over, and normally they would want to go straight home as doing things for the first time can be a bit too much. Instead, theywanted to walk around the town to look around. We found a game shop and they walked in and bought themselves a game. We then started to head back to their home. On the way back they decided to go to the nearest supermarket and buy food to cook dinner for their family.
Normally when we get back to their house, they normally use the back door so they can have a shower, which is their way of stimming after going out. This time they used the front door; this was massive for them, and this had proved that a change of approach empowered young people need to achieve their goals.
The success of Kidzscape is down to the team, each member of Kidzscape are passionate, amazing listeners, can work inside and outside the box, and understands theimportance of engagement. We are excited to see the future of this project and continuing the passion of ensuring young people with learning disabilities and autism smash their goals and rejoin their communities