Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Employment for young people with Learning Disabilities

Across the country 6% of people with learning disabilities have employment.

We have many young people with learning disabilities who want work and have useful skills and assets that could be beneficial to employers. Many of these young people  have the types of qualities that employers are seeking - they are reliable, loyal and hard-working. In a tight labour market, such as we have in Surrey, employers increasingly need to seek out the "hidden" pools of talent (a phrase that I have learnt from Louise Punter at Surrey Chambers of Commerce). Some young people with autism, for example, are highly talented in logic and numeracy and can bring huge value to IT and financial functions in an organisation.

This is why we are initiating a cross-sector collaboration in conjunction with Surrey Chambers of Commerce, Surrey County Council, Halow and a range of other charities and employers to address this issue. At the first meeting, one of the major issues identified was purely that employers do not know about the possibilities or, if they do, they have put it on the "too hard" pile. The collaborative group will be seeking to address these issues and others.

If you are an employer interested in finding out more about employing a young person with a learning disability, please do get in touch.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Core-porate Social Responsibility

There is a growing thirst in the private sector to do more Corporate Social Responsibility or “Giving Back”. Companies are realising that CSR makes good business sense – by helping key objectives such as recruitment and retention, it directly serves their bottom line. In these cash strapped times, where the "rolling back" of public services is affecting the most vulnerable in society, this is good news. Indeed, we believe that the contribution that businesses could be making as they go about their daily business is huge. 

Take Timpsons -  the key cutting and shoe repairing business – 10% of their 3400 staff are ex-offenders. These staff are employed on day release, whilst still in prison, thus easing their transition to a different life on the outside.  The reoffending rate of these Timpson employees is 3% versus around 45% for ex-offenders in general. Whilst some of this difference may be down to careful recruitment on Timpson's part, surely not all? This has helped Timpsons to get a highly motivated, loyal workforce and done a huge service to society and the public purse: how much would it have cost councils and/or charities to turn that many people's lives around?

If you haven't heard it, I highly recommend listening to the John Timpson interview that was broadcast on Radio 4's Desert Island Disks a few weeks ago -  you can download the Podcast from the BBC.  

The key to really making a difference is ensuring that the CSR activities are part of CORE business, serving business objectives, and not just a bit on the side.  

If you are a company or youth charity in Surrey and are interested in exploring this more, do drop me a line.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Who would you turn to if you had a mental health problem?

Well, looks like my resolution to write more often was broken pretty quickly? Still, I am pleased to say that I stuck to my dry January.

We have collaborated with our members on two different projects about young people's mental health funded by Healthwatch. I was struck by a discussion with a colleague this week that I thought worth mentioning in the blog.

Where would you turn to if you had a mental health problem? Online? Family? Friends? GP? 

Our sample of young people would look online first and maybe go to a friend. Only a subset would go to a professional such as teacher or GP. Few would go to parents. 

I will say that again. Only a subset would go to a professional and few would go to parents.

This leaves us with a real challenge as to how to support young people with mental health. We can have all the services in the world but if they don’t make use of them, what’s the point? This needs to be the starting point for all service designs.

Any comments? Ideas? Feel free to respond or email me.

Monday, 14 December 2015

New projects and new years resolutions

Oops. This hasn't really been a weekly blog of late, has it? We have so many exciting projects going on that blog writing has slipped. Apologies... new year's resolution (is this the first one you've heard?) to write more often.

My wonderful team have been admiring the number of new ideas that I've been having... and gently and wittily pointing out that we cannot do it all. My response was to say that I used to have a boss who was a nightmare to work with because he was always excited by his latest idea..whilst I was still working on the last three that he had tasked me with, so I sympathise with their plight. New Year's resolution no 2: learn to prioritise and say no.

Anyway, here are a few of the things going on that you may be interested in...

  • Our Safeguarding conference went extremely well, with 100% of attendees satisfied or very satisfied. The feedback that we got from attendees is that they want more help with safeguarding...policies, seminars, briefings, etc. We will be talking to Surrey CC about how this might be provided.
  • We are setting up a cross-sector collaboration of organisations who are keen to help young people with learning disabilities into work, in conjunction with businesses, charities, Surrey CC and Surrey Chambers. If you share our passion for this and would like to be involved, let me know. This will be followed by another to help other vulnerable young people into work.
  • We have been awarded funding by Healthwatch to work with a group of young people around the issue of a mental health issue that his bothering them. We will support the young people to take the actions that they want to take to address the issue.


Did I say that I wasn't going to have any more ideas? Trying not to, but then other people give them to me. I went to an event at the House of Lords hosted by Lord Victor Adebowale (CEO of Turning Point) and the very interesting Collaborate organisation. Victor kindly gave me an idea... a significant amount of crime in this country is committed by people leaving care... many of whom have had awful life experiences as children and who have not been given good role models or shown appropriate behaviours required to fit in and hold down jobs. He suggested that we sit down with young people leaving care in Surrey and ask them what they need in order to get a job, housing, self belief etc. I am sure that a mentor, someone that they can turn to when they are down, will figure in there somewhere. We can then get a cross-sector collaboration together to serve these young people in Surrey. There's no shortage of people wanting to help. The challenge is ensuring that the offer is young person focused, holistic and joined up.  I am very excited by this. It's now on my list of things to do. However, I am prioritising. I won't start it until a few other projects are underway. Promise.

I wish for you whatever you wish for yourself this Christmas.... peace, joy, silence, laughter, fun, happiness, calm, energy, etc.....

Friday, 20 November 2015

Reckless young people?

I have heard a number of statistics about the current generation of young people smoking less and drinking less than previous generations. Here's a great story to back up the statistics:

The school council at Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School in Dover raised the issue of smoking by parents at the school gates, leading to the head asking parents to improve their behaviour in the school newsletter.

Go, kids, go! Let's get these kids sorting out world peace, too, I'm sure they can do a better job than our generation.


Monday, 2 November 2015

The social and economic cost of mental health

Sitting in the office alone on a very grey Monday morning, I am reading some very depressing statistics:
  • One in 10 children has a mental health problem at any one time.
  • More than a fifth of children referred to mental health services in England have been refused treatment.
  • Only one in 10 prisoners has no mental health disorder.
Aside from the human misery of all this, how much money do we spend on the justice system and keeping people in prison? How much is lost by our economy on families supporting people with mental health issues?

The methodical researchers over at Public Health Surrey who are passionate about improving people's health have told me that a proven way of preventing mental health related issues such as self-harm, taking legal highs, etc, is to build resilience in young people. To expand the idea further, I thought I would take a quick look on the internet for a definition (thanks to Wikipedia....)

"Psychological resilience is defined as an individual's ability to properly adapt to stress and adversity. Stress and adversity can come in the shape of family or relationship problems, health problems, or workplace and financial worries, among others. Resilience is not a rare ability; in reality, it is found in the average individual and it can be learned and developed by virtually anyone. Resilience should be considered a process, rather than a trait to be had.
A common misapprehension is that resilient people are free from negative emotions or thoughts, remaining optimistic in most or all situations. To the contrary, resilient individuals have, through time, developed coping techniques that allow them to effectively and relatively easily navigate around or through crises. In other words, people who demonstrate resilience are people with optimistic attitude and positive emotionality and are, by practice, able to effectively balance negative emotions with positive ones."

This is a key area where all of the wonderful youth organisations across Surrey make a significant contribution to all of the young people that they work with. 

We strongly believe in Youth Social Action as a way of giving young people a sense of agency, and hence self-esteem and resilience. 

We would be interested to hear more of your stories/anecdotes/comments about building resilience in young people...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Young people: risks, control and growth

I think being a parent myself is a great asset to my job. I understand how difficult it is to be a parent myself, how you long to do the best thing for your kids, but so often its not obvious what the best thing is. How quickly or slowly to let go, to enable your child to learn for themselves, rather than be protected and told what to do? You also long to control the environment your child is in as much you can, to nurture and support, but lots of things are out of your control.

An example that my husband and I have faced recently. Due to circumstances beyond our control, our daughter has just started at a school at some distance to our son's school. Both schools are within walking distance of our home, but it is not possible to do the school run to both schools on foot given the start and finish times. So, we were faced with the choice: school run in the car - creating pollution, congestion and missing out on exercise - or school run on foot, letting our ten year old walk a mile to school by himself, crossing several roads which at school times get quite busy. As you may know, there is evidence that kids who walk to school perform better. So, we have opted to let him walk to school and I have alerted my mums network to let me know if anyone spots any concerns about his road crossing behaviour!

For now, the decision feels good. It is healthier and he is learning independence. But will I feel guilty and irresponsible if he has an accident? 

Organisations working with young people, face the same issues as a parent. How much can they and should they control the environment? How much risk should they let the young people take?

There is evidence that young people naturally take more risks, it's hard wired into their brains. Ben Byrne from Surrey CC will be talking about this at our Safeguarding Conference on 12th November. If you haven't already booked a ticket, book now, thanks to funding from Surrey CC, we have extended the number of places at  the conference, but still only have a few places left.