Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

ANDREW MURRAY, LISA POTTER & SUE SMITH (BGSW CRC)

ANDREW MURRAY, LISA POTTER & SUE SMITH (BGSW CRC)

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COMMENDEES 2015-16: Andrew and Lisa from Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset & Wiltshire CRC, and Sue from Swindon-based care-provider SEQOL, are Commended for their contribution to the management and care of people with autism.

[Lisa Harman was unable to attend the 2016 Award Ceremony to receive her Commendation, so collected it at the 2017 Award Ceremony on 9 March 2017]

Andrew Murray, Lisa Potter & Sue SmithLisa Potter and Andrew Murray, of Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BGSW CRC), together with Dr Sue Smith from Swindon-based care-provider SEQOL, are Commended for their work on the Understanding Autism Project, which has transformed services for those with Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).

Lead Nominator and Team Manager James Bamford (himself a 2014-15 Butler Trust Award Winner), points to the skilful teamwork and innovation in what he calls “an inspiring idea.” He continues, “as a multi agency Wiltshire Autism Panel member, I feel frustrated to learn about weaknesses in training, lack of awareness and limited services provided for adults with autism. This is often due to limited resources and also a key focus is often placed on strategies to support children. Therefore, this project is a refreshing, exciting model aimed at identifying un-diagnosed adults with autism. Furthermore, this project provides advice and interventions to support this potentially highly vulnerable group of individuals within the criminal justice system.”

James applauds the training delivered by Sue Smith as having made “a dramatic impact on probation officers’ awareness of potential traits of autism and led to a significant number of referrals for an adult diagnosis.” The team have made the issue “a standing agenda item” that now “focuses on screening questions and discussions to identify individuals with potential complex learning needs.”

Sue additionally provides clinical supervision sessions to help probation staff work more effectively with individuals showing traits of autism and complex learning needs. James adds “I have now observed a number of excellent practice outcomes gained from staff using a different approach to cater for these individual needs.” He cites an example of a service user “finding conflict and problems completing his community service” who now feels “safe, confident and focused to complete their unpaid work hours due to the way work tasks have been explained and strategies used to support the individual on a work group.”

James says there is now a significant improvement in “social inclusion for this cohort of individuals with signposting and support from fully trained volunteer mentors and associated adult autism groups as well as use of the autism awareness alert card.”

Further, he reports that the team won Bild’s ‘Great Autism Practice Award’ in 2015, and that the new owners of BGSW CRC, Working Links, have also recognised the team’s important intervention in addressing a significant service provision gap. Indeed, there is now strong interest in expanding the project model both regionally as well as nationally.

James says the project “highly values diversity” and that “the passion and drive of the project team has already made positive changes to people’s lives with a reduction in reoffending and improved compliance.” As staff have gained skills in the area, aggressive behaviour by service users has also been reduced. Further, by encouraging some service users carry an ‘autism alert card’ has helped staff in other professional agencies. The team has continued to champion the project through promotion, training and working hard to maintain the project’s funding.

Feedback from all probation staff involved with the project is positive, James adds, including a sense of “relief, reassurance and confidence”. James concludes, “I believe that you can recognise the importance of a good project when you look back and think about how you ever managed to previously meet individuals’ needs without this intervention.”

Butler Trust Local Champion, Elaine Berk, PA to the Probation Director, describes a team “helping to enhance the quality of life for individuals and others concerned by being innovative, creative, and adopting a multi-agency approach.”

The project involves basic autism awareness and specialised training for all front-line staff, which is also offered to partners like the police and those working on substance misuse, as well as clinical support sessions.

There is also an autism-specific befriending pilot for offenders who are socially isolated and needing specialist support, as well as an Autism Champion from Probation to maintain the project’s momentum and help create sustainability.

A remarkable 98% of over 160 staff who attended the training felt it was “good or excellent”, while 60% have applied their learning in practice. The University of the West of England is involved in researching the project to provide evidence for future funding bids and further project development.

Elaine notes that both the overall project and individual team members have demonstrated “a fantastic approach and example of enhancing quality of life for service users with autism,” and that the team “is passionate about making a difference.”

Oriane Morrison-Clarke, a SEQOL Speech and Language Therapist, writes that “Lisa has planned and managed a well thought out, comprehensive package, which has run smoothly, because it was founded on detailed planning, a willingness to learn, valuing collaborative working with other provider agencies and the courage to try innovative approaches. Well done!”

Lisa is the Project Manager for the team, and Elaine describes how her approach took into account the wider Commercial Development Plan “with an eagerness and determination to improve engagement with service users with Autism Spectrum Conditions.”

Elaine extols Andrew as “a stoic supporter of how to engage better with service users with Autism Spectrum Conditions from the offset. He has been a key player in the Project team from the beginning, offering vital operational input, to assist Lisa and SEQOL, to develop the Project to its full potential to help meet the needs of this cohort.”

Sue is described as having “really gone above and beyond”, with Probation Officer Rob Jackson noting that she has “gone the extra mile” while demonstrating real flexibility as she rapidly assimilated into the world of criminal justice. Elaine adds that “Sue exemplifies that one of the best things about this project is the depth of experience brought by the team, drawing on the clinical and practical experience of such a skilled practitioner, this project is strongly grounded in theory, but deeply practical.”

Another colleague, Yvonne Maunder, BGSW CRC Business Development, writes “This project is an excellent example of cross-agency co-operation aimed at addressing an area of service user need frequently overlooked by statutory organisations. The success of the initiative is in no small way due to the diligent efforts of Lisa Potter who successfully managed the implementation of the project from its inception to roll-out, identifying and addressing issues as they arose, promoting the scheme both internally and externally, engaging with relevant partners and drafting operational processes to ensure the effectiveness of the project.”

SEQOL Senior Practitioner Kim Jenkins added “I have been involved in the project with Sue Smith [and] she has provided individualised advice, information and strategies in the session that will enhance the support provided and lead to a more effective way of working with the offender. Sue has provided professionals with an increased awareness of ASC and how it affects a person in the criminal justice system,” and that “she has discussed strategies for communication and management of the environment to aid the work of the professional which should reduce the risk of misunderstanding, non-compliance or reoffending.”

Another colleague, Jackie Lund, SEQOL Matron, summed up the aim of the project and passion of the team by commenting that “this is a creative and multi-facetted project. There is enormous enthusiasm and expertise within the project team from many different perspectives.”

Other testimonials include Esther Rumble, a Senior Speech and Language Therapist, who describes the team as delivering “a unique and life changing project which fills a huge gap in service provision and gives an autism friendly perspective on effective service provision for offenders.”

Riana Taylor, Director of Operation and Deputy Probation Director, says the success of the project means that Working Links is now exploring its extension across the region to also cover Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, as well as Wales.

She says both the project and team members “demonstrate a fantastic approach and example of enhancing quality of life for service users with autism.”

The Prison Reform Trust (PRT) is currently compiling a report about Probation making reasonable adjustments for individuals with learning needs [a growing subject of interest across the sector] and other diversity issues. PRT see this project as a model for good practice, and the team are exploring new possibilities in this area.

Finally, one Probation Officer gives a brief case example which shows the real benefits of the project for a service user: “’N’ has now fulfilled his ambition of moving into his own place with his own front door key and I am certain this would not have been possible without the autism assessment…so my thanks for this as I am really happy to have heard that N is now doing well in his own place and enjoying some quality of life”.

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