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Here to help families flourish

March 1 2024

As Livability’s new children’s service goes live, we talk to senior staff member Nichola Blair about the difference this is already making to families desperate for support.

Hi Nichola, tell us what your new service is offering.
We’re starting with a short-break service for children with disabilities and their families, working with three local authorities in the North-East. We can support an age range from birth to 18 years and we 100% want to meet the needs of the children and the families. We go into the home and can support the child, take them out or interact with them at home, so the parent can have a break and do whatever they need to do. If a parent wants to spend more time with the child, we can take tasks off them like the shopping or cleaning the house, or sit and read stories to the siblings, because life can be very difficult for siblings of a child with special needs.

Do you have a background in social care?
I’ve been in education for about 20 years now, mainly at SEND [special educational needs] schools. I’ve worked with children with social, emotional and mental health support needs, hearing-impaired and autistic children. This has included supporting children who can display a wide range of behaviours, including children who communicate verbally and non-verbally. A lot of the children I’ve worked with were in care. The children don’t trust you initially and it takes a lot to build up a relationship.

How do you begin to work with a child and their family?
Children are referred by the local authority. Rachel, who’s the service development manager, and I go out and meet the child to do the initial assessment. I also observe them in their school to get background information from their teacher and therapists. We’ve got about nine children we’re currently assessing. We launched in February and it’s all systems go, getting children to the point of us delivering care, with all the assessments care plans, risk assessments, and health and safety documents to be completed. We’ve already got four enabling support workers fully checked and ready to go and we’re about to start recruiting for a team lead to join us.

Can you describe what Livability’s support looks like on the ground?
We’re working with Jason* and his family, who have funding for ten hours a week support for him. Jason is nine and is autistic and non-verbal. Because she’s his main caregiver and spends the most time with him, Jason’s behaviours are often aimed at his mam and so understandably she can be very anxious.

We visit Jason in his home twice a week. We prepare his meals, play with him, support him with personal care and this allows his mam to go out and do what she needs to do. Last night we took him out without mam for the first time and just walked Jason round the park. Till now, she’s done everything for him and it’s hard for her to step back, because she’s done it all on her own.

How do you make a difference?
When I’m there to support Jason, I encourage mam to go and do whatever she needs to do. We’re working with the school, his social worker and other professionals who work with Jason. We’ve got great communication with Jason’s teacher and the school staff, which means we can put the same boundaries in at home as they are doing at school. All the services are working really well together to support Jason and mam is very open to that.

Jason also has funding for residential respite once a month and we’re working to make this happen. He’ll stay away from home after school on a Friday till his mam picks him up at teatime on Sunday. He’s done a few short visits but so far mam has stayed with him. I encourage her, as a parent myself, to let him go because she needs to have a break herself. I’ve got a good relationship with mam and I can support her by taking her to the local coffee shop for instance, while Jason is doing a visit, even if it’s just for two hours at first. It’s helping her to learn to trust other people to support her son – I totally get it.

Will you have fun stuff going on for children you support?
Definitely! We want to get children out and enjoying themselves, with friends, at the cinema and at the beach, which is so close but is out of reach for some children from poorer backgrounds, because of the cost of travel. Not all these costs will be covered by the local authority so we’re planning to fundraise for this.

How’s it going?
Even after such a short time, we’re seeing a difference in Jason. At first, mam didn’t want me to say no to him when he was throwing food on the floor and things like that. That’s a big thing we’re working on with him. He’s learning if he doesn’t want it, leave it on his plate and give the plate to mam. When he has got upset with me, I just say firmly ’no, I don’t like that’ in a calm voice, and he returns to playing happily.

I think Jason’s got so much potential. I’m sure he’ll be able to learn to do a lot of things for himself. He is non-verbal but he ‘burbles’ away quite a lot and as I’m getting to know him, I’m picking up little bits that he’s saying. I’m 100% sure we’ll be able to work on that.

What does the future look like?
Looking to the next year or two, we want to support as many children as we possibly can. Without Livability, there‘s very little support outside of the family unit for children like Jason. All our staff are thoroughly trained – first aid, paediatric first aid, moving and handling, and we’re training all the time. I want to match the staff to the child, so the child loves the staff coming in and the staff loves coming to the child.

Our next goal is a residential home for children, because there’s hardly any residential in the area. We’d probably focus on the Northumberland area first because we’ve got a particularly good relationship with them. I think local commissioners know that we have a passion for this.

I love my job and since I joined in December last year, it’s great to see the progress we’ve made, seeing the difference in the families. Some families have never had the support they need, and you can see the parents are crying out for help. Some of the referrals we’re picking up were done two or three years ago. I tell parents it might not be next week, it might be a month’s time but we’ll get this in place for you.

It sounds full on, Nichola – how do you relax?
Well, I like to keep on the go! I’m very family-orientated and like spending time with them and going out with my friends. And I’ve got a cat and a dog, a crazy cockerpoo!

*name changed for safeguarding purposes

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