This is a celebration episode, celebrating reaching 50 episodes, celebrating all the amazing guests who have been on the podcast and are out there changing the lives of young people and helping ensure that they will have the kind of independent lives they want.
In this episode, rather than talk to a guest as I usually do, I share my own key takeaways in each of the 3 areas Journey Skills focuses on Purpose, Relationship, and Daily Living. This is an abridged transcript of the podcast with links to all the different episodes mentioned.
Key Takeaways – Purpose
It is all about a job and that should be a paid job. When I started, I firmly believed purpose was enough, but I no longer think that this true. Yes, it’s great to have somewhere to go but, if you’re a volunteer, you are helping but you’re not being rewarded in the same way as if it’s a job.
Young people need to be paid; it reinforces their feelings of self-worth and they are making such a contribution to the organization that it warrants them getting paid. I’m not knocking volunteering, of course I’m not. My own daughter has got very valuable work experience from volunteering. But volunteering should be a step, a means to an end if you were.
Now, obviously, not everyone is not going to agree with me because we all view things differently but if you listen to the podcast, you will hear so many inspirational stories about the impact paid work had on young people and how it changed their self-belief and also changed how their own parents saw them.
So I know some of the objections like “my son or daughter couldn’t do that job”. This is where I think we need to change our perspective. I know it may sound a cliché but maybe we should think outside the box or inside the box, actually, because I believe technology is changing the world of work in a very positive way for young people with additional needs. New jobs using technology are emerging that enable them to access more employment options. There are also some traditional roles, which may not have been previously accessed, but can now be open to them using technology to help them perform the job. Just one example of this was when Alison Berkley from Invictus Enterprises talked about how they use a digital cookbook to help their young bakers.
And for those who still want to test the water of work, there are programs like Shared Lives and Ark Bakery in the UK. Karen from Shared Lives explained the program itself and Hester from the Ark Bakery talked about how it helped young people develop work and independence skills. For some, this smaller, more local program will be the best first step. You could also start at home with practicing for job interviews and if you are at the stage of helping your young person prepare for a job interview then Sam, an experienced HR director, gave some excellent tips on preparing for interviews.
Another thing with work is that we need to think about how jobs can fit into the skills our young people might have and this needs to be done in a way that not only benefits them but also helps the employer. Marjorie Madfis from Yes She Can talked about how small businesses could utilize the skills of young people in the roles that they wouldn’t necessarily see yet as being a defined role. In fact, Neil Willows from Pure Innovations gave this idea a name Job Carving. I think this could be the answer for young people who have a very specific skill where they could be matched with an employer who maybe is yet to define a role in their company but it is one which fits with that young person’s skills. This idea also works for young people who are only able to work in part-time roles as some of these jobs may be limited in the time required.
The one model that I believe works best is commonly called a Supported Internship Model. It can be used in a large organization like the Marriot Hotel or in smaller organizations like Bemix. The whole idea of a supported internship is for the young person to learn the basics of holding down a job, turning up on time, and working with other people as well as completing tasks when they are asked. They have a job coach and a job developer; the coach being on hand for day to day support and the job developer being the one to help each find paid employment at the end of the supported internship. In some cases, as with Team Domenica, an additional year of support is provided once a job has been found for the young person. But this support isn’t so much for the young person but for the employer to help them make those reasonable adjustments necessary. This whole idea of reasonable adjustment and how easy it can actually be was explained by David Hunter from Acceptable Enterprises.
When it comes to working, I’ve learnt another thing. I may well be one of my daughter’s barriers to work. Quite a few of the podcast guests, who are helping young people in finding work, have mentioned they have often had to deal with parents being too overprotective. Is there such a thing? I wonder. Of course, we are overprotective because we know the vulnerabilities of our own children. I know my daughter is incredibly literal and needs time to process information. This makes her much more susceptible to suggestions. I’ve been protecting her for 17 years now and it’s a hard habit to break. So yes, I plead guilty to that one, but I also need to listen to all those people I’ve spoken to who say that, sometimes it is the parents putting the brakes on.
But it can be harder for parents to let go because the process isn’t gradual, as it is with other children. For me, my older daughter got a part-time job and went out with friends. Of course, I was worried, but I hid it well. With my youngest, she has never had a part-time job and although she goes to movies with friends, I am inevitably the bouncer on the door – keeping her in or at least making sure she is exactly where I think she should be. So, questions like ‘How they will cope?’, ‘How will they get there?’, ‘Will they get anxious or stressed?’ and ‘Who will help them if they do?’ are very legitimate. Cutting the cord is never easy. Soli Lazarus explained this much better than me where she talked about how much more we need to do to give our young people a sense of control over their own lives.
This leads to my other key takeaway which is: think small, not big. Small solutions are better than dreaming of the big Solve-Everyone’s-Problem approach. Again, when I started this, I thought let’s solve all these problems so everyone can use the same approach. I now realize that it’s all about small tailored solutions that suit the young person and the community they are part of.
Nowhere is this easier to see how this can be effective than Project Search at the Marriot Hotel at Heathrow. Project Search is a programme which started in Cincinnati and is now operated around the world. But each of the projects is local-focused, helping a small group of young people learn transferable work skills. The key to this is that each project has a process to start with, ready to be applied. In lots of ways, it takes away those how-to-get-started issues. So actually, the Project Search process is the same wherever you are, but focuses more on helping a small group of people in a specific workplace or community. If you think about it, if helping 20 people get work skills in London is replicated 100 times, that had changed an awful lot of young people’s lives.
One of the core purposes of Journey Skills is sharing ideas, so anyone inspired to start something themselves may it be a business or a social group, there is somewhere to look, someplace to hear what other people who had done it might have to say. They’ve faced the challenges and found solutions so you can refer to their templates. This is going to make things easier for all of us.
And I think that many of us will go down this DIY option. There are plenty of examples of parents getting together to create amazing solutions. When I was back home in Australia last year, I visited Red Inc where parents had created an organization that helps, not only their young people find employment but also, benefiting the whole community. One of my favorite finds, and not for the reasons you might think as an Australian, is Ignition Brewery in London, where Nick essentially started from nothing but an idea and has since then created a sustainable business. These are the projects that should inspire us all to remember that there is a solution to every problem.
What many of these organizations also do is break down barriers. I’m talking here about L’Arche and The Shed who both share the same guiding purpose to change their local communities’ perception of young people with additional needs. In the case of The Shed, they decided to locate themselves right in the middle of the community so that people were almost forced to interact and to learn about each other and to come to accept each other as valuable members of the local community.
Another idea I think also needs copying is from Acceptable Enterprises where David Hunter talked about their model of 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3, which means they employ in their businesses 1/3 people who have additional needs, 1/3 who may have experienced other challenges in their lives like homelessness, and 1/3 people from the local community. As David explained, this creates a real sense of the integrated community where people look out for each other and that integration moves outside the workplace into the local community as well.
It needs to be sustainable for the young person and the employer. This brings me back to the supported internships idea, particularly the fact that, for me, there seems to be an understanding, among the people using this model or one like it, that employers need support too. I don’t think sustainable employment comes from the charity I want my daughter to be employed because she is a useful member of the workforce and what she does adds value.
Key Takeaways – Relationships
By now, you might think that I’m a little bit one dimensional eyed, focusing only on employment. But that’s certainly not the case. Like many of you, I worry about my daughter when it comes to relationships. We all know how important friendships are in our own lives, and for our young people finding and maintaining friendships can be a difficult task. But I also think about my own relationship with her. It has to change as she gets older and it’s in relation to this that my first key takeaway when it comes to relationships is letting go.
I’ve talked earlier about letting go when it comes to work, but here, I’m talking more about helping build resilience. One day, I will no longer be around and she will need to have developed the skills that enable her to deal with the world. I’m doing her no favors by not pushing her to do while I’m still around to catch her if she needs catching. One of the most listened to episodes of the podcast is Building Social Skills with Emily Hughes who talked about building resilience early, letting our children make their own mistakes and learn from them. Laura from the Surrey Wildlife Trust talked about similar ideas and the ethos of forest schools to provide a safe but challenging space. Fiona in Letting Go talked about a similar idea of letting our young people find their own solutions.
It’s probably the hardest thing to do as we’ve kept them close for so long and been through an awful lot. Maybe like us, you’ve experienced bullying which makes you extra wary of sending them out into the scary world all by themselves. The thing is, though with my daughter is pushing me away quite hard at the moment, but that’s okay! At 17, she should be less interested in what I think and more interested in her friend’s opinions which are infinitely wider than mine. That’s the normal family lifecycle in action right there. I’ve talked to other parents who have helped me make my family relationships work better. Julie talked about siblings and I took some of her ideas to encourage my daughters to spend time with each other which has strengthened their relationship. Vicki Blair talked about how to manage the stresses of holidays, quite apt at this time of year. Maybe I’ll listen to that one again. I learned from Sarah that social media can be used in a positive way to build online friendships.
Of course, the whole discussion around friendships is a very complicated one. I see them as key to my daughter’s independence. You will find plenty of examples of where social skills and friendships are being developed through organized activities. Jamie Wheeler has created a social group so that her daughter continues to have social interaction after leaving full-time education. She showed it can be done and I think she will have inspired more parents to do something similar. Lisa at Love Serving Autism is using tennis as a therapy to build social skills. Maire and Carmelina give the parents perspectives on how important sport can be in providing a lasting passion and links to the local community.
Another key takeaway and I suppose a reminder too, one that I think we all need every now and then, is that we are all doing okay as parents. Okay that some days we get it wrong, but more often than not, we get it right. Claire talked about being the light and how our main job is to make sure they believe in themselves. Scarlett talked about rising to the challenge- I think we all do that. Taking time for ourselves was also a common theme when I chatted to other parents. Veronica talked about finding a common language – by that, she means support because it’s hard to do this alone. Antonia Chitty talked about the pressures on all our relationships that comes with having a child with additional needs. Again, she tells us to get support to find people to talk to that understand what you are going through.
I strongly believe that what this podcast all about is our strapline sharing stories, sharing solutions. I know because of the focus of the podcast, you are probably near the same stage as me, but if you know parents at the beginning, get them to listen. They could start by listening to Carol, who at the beginning of the journey, is and has all the same questions most parents have at the earlier stages. For anyone with younger children, I can recommend a listen to Diane King who talked about how to use storytelling to build self-worth. Worth a listen just for Diane’s amazingly soothing reading voice. And also, probably very relevant for those who have younger children, the practical ideas to help with sleep from Vicki Dawson of The Children’s Sleep Charity.
None of us has all the answers and I have a very long list of the things I’ve learned from other parents. Practical ideas like how to divide tasks into chunks to make them more achievable from Jackie. After listening to Ian, an ex-police officer, I made sure to help my daughter understand how to approach an authority figure and not be scared.
I’ve heard what it’s like to be a stepdad from Rob. Okay, so I didn’t need to know that, but I know there someone out there that will benefit from Rob’s experiences. I’ve been educated, as well by other parents, like Caroline who does an amazing job of clearly explaining both auditory processing disorder and sensory processing disorder. Christine who helped me better understand Dyspraxia. Linda shared about what it is like for her son with Asperger’s, particularly as he becomes a young man.
All these stories remind us that we are not alone, that others are out there having the same highs and lows as you. We need each other.
Key Takeaways – Daily Living
Without the ability to cook, shop and manage her own house, my daughter is going to struggle with being independent. So, my key takeaway in relation to daily living skills is to start planning early and to be developing these skills every single day because repetition is key.
In lots of ways, it links back to the letting go. In fact, In The Stepping Back episode, Lisa, a Speech and Language Therapist, and Milla, an Occupational Therapist talked about the importance of letting young people know that it’s okay to make mistakes. They also provide some very practical ways that we can develop our young person’s skills in shopping, cooking, handling money and traveling independently.
If you’re looking for help when it comes to wardrobe choices, then Elika and Katie Ellis have some great ideas. Andy and Robyn both offered some great tips on how to help our young people learn to travel independently.
This whole idea of planning early though should be for everything as Laura said in Planning Ahead, “never concentrate on the present, it’s the future you’ve got to always be thinking about.” Laura got me to be thinking about how I need to think 5 years ahead particularly as I watch my daughter race towards her structured full-time education
One area which I think continues to be a challenge, at least for me, is what daily living means in terms of housing. I know it’s possible she can live in a house of her own. My preference would be for her to do this with friends because I believe isolation is a massive issue for our young people. But I know it can be done because Julia provides an example in-house to rent, no experience required. I certainly don’t want my daughter in an annex at the end of the garden or in the house next door to me. And I know she doesn’t want this either.
In my paid day job, I work in property. And if you are wondering, yes Journey Skills doesn’t pay; we fund this it out of our own pockets. But I also know that what I have learned in the last 50 episodes and what I will learn in the next 50 is priceless. Our long-term plan has always been to develop a model to help young people with additional needs to live in homes of their own. Similar to Project Search, we hope to create a model that can be used by others and adapted to their local community and situation. These will obviously vary in terms of support required, but we believe technology will be key and provide an extra layer of safety meaning greater independence. To be honest, my ideal model for own daughter would be her sharing a house with other people, some of whom don’t have any additional needs. This is the kind of integration I dream of for her.
It all starts with a job. Paid work is key to my daughter’s future. I plan to do everything I can to find a way for her to get a paid sustainable job. A paid job will not only give her financial independence but also, self-belief and self-esteem. From work, will come her social network, which will sustain her long after I am gone. She will make friends who will wonder why she hasn’t turned up for work today. They will grow to understand her and view her as a work colleague not a person with additional needs. She will have an income her own that she can spend any way she likes.
If I were to sum up a meta key takeaway from episodes 1-49, it would be this overriding sense of optimism. When I recorded the introduction episode, I had no idea that I would find so many opportunities ready and waiting for our young people. It’s all out there! We just need to go find the right solution for our young person so that they have the independent future they want and deserve. This has been an amazing journey so far and I can’t thank everyone I have spoken to enough for giving me their time and their wisdom. And to you thank you for your support.