The volunteer force, I call them this deliberately...
Guest Blog Post: A Whole New Insight
I started work as an Administrator for The Coach House in the summer of 2009 at a time when I wanted to get back to work after an extended break while my children were growing up and also, managing the needs of my youngest son. Alex has various complex disabilities resulting from a 14q chromosome deletion. For him this has resulted in dystonic cerebral palsy, ADHD, global developmental delay, hypothyroidism and challenging behaviour.
In 2009, life was tough for my family as Alex’s needs had become all encompassing. Coming back to work part time was something I partly did for my own sanity but I quickly realised that working at the Coach House, with Zoe Lee as my manager, I had inadvertently tapped into a new and valuable source of support, information and friendship, quite separate from the admin role that I loved from day one.
Over time, Alex had become increasingly aggressive partly due to a lack of ability to manage the often unpredictable nature of family life in a busy household where the needs of his siblings were just as important as his. Alex’s paediatrician had suggested that he may benefit from the structure of residential school but living apart from Alex was, for a long time, not something I wanted to consider.
However, working at the Coach House gave me a whole new insight into the lives of young people with disabilities. Although our clients are somewhat older than Alex was at that time, it quickly dawned on me that living independently from their parents, in a setting where skilled, caring, sensitive staff are committed to teaching them independence skills, is an excellent decision for many young people and their whole families. Strode Park opened my eyes as, over the next few years, I watched our students thrive and succeed within our services. I began to see that a residential school could indeed be an option for Alex and again with Zoe’s help, we eventually found a suitable placement for him. Residential life had an almost immediate and beneficial effect on Alex and subsequently our family. We saw him weekly and began to have positive, happy experiences with him again whilst, meanwhile, he thrived on the relationships he formed with his staff team. Sadly, his first residential school closed down suddenly in 2015 which was catastrophic for many families including ours. Again, with close support of Zoe and Strode Park, we were able to find an alternative residential school for Alex. It was a very difficult time and had a profound and prolonged effect on Alex which has rippled into events of the past year when he had to make another, even more difficult transition into adult care due to turning 19. Yet again, the information and support received from Strode Park has been invaluable.
My experiences as the parent of a son with complex needs have definitely shaped the way I approach aspects of my job. Often, I have been the first port of call in speaking to families who ring to enquire about our services and seeing some of these through to fruition is a real source of satisfaction. The parenting challenges Alex has presented me with have enabled me to see the needs of the clients and their families from a unique perspective and it is a privilege to be involved with helping them to achieve a placement here. It also gives me a personal insight into what makes a good carer which I view as one of the most important jobs in the world. At Strode Park we have some very committed and skilled care staff who often do not realise the full impact they may have on the lives of the vulnerable people they care for. Being Alex’s mum has enabled me to recognise this and where possible, I go out of my way to tell them; that a good carer has the ability to change someone’s mood, their day, their week. Their life.
Witten by Clare Thomas
Service Administrator – Coach House