Those of you who regularly read Steve’s Blog posts will know that he has introduced a series of experiences based on “Being Bettina’s Dad”.  Well, not to be outdone, I hope to be able to produce a series based on “Being Bettina’s Mum”….not that we are a competitive family at all!

Bettina at work with her PA
Bettina at work

Having already written about Bettina’s Individual Budget, which many people found informative and interesting, I thought now would be a good time to let you know about Bettina’s latest triumph – Supported Employment.  Bettina has been working in a supported employment capacity through volunteering for about six weeks now and I am pleased to report that this has been a successful arrangement so far.  This is Bettina’s story.

A couple of years ago, during an annual review for Bettina, we explored the possibility of finding Bettina a “supported employment slot”.  Normally, the process can be long-winded as it involves teaming the person needing support with someone compatible, and this is normally managed by local authority employees responsible for locating local companies offering co-operation; the training of support staff and all associated health & safety legislation and risk assessments.  Sometimes this can also have a budget implication and may involve having to apply for additional funding, which adds to the timeframe.  No-one intends for the process to be a drawn-out exercise but you do need to be practical!

In Bettina’s case, a large part of the requirement was already in place.  Bettina has a P.A. who works with her on a daily basis, so this eradicated the need for someone to find support for Bettina and provide the training.  Bettina’s P.A. also knows her really well and was able to input into the type of work we would be looking at.  Bettina has an Individual Budget which is tailored to her needs so, with the agreement with the local authority, we were able to alter Bettina’s support plan to reflect this change in her life.

The next step was to find the venue.  Fortunately, Bettina has always enjoyed outdoor work either with animals or horticulture.  Bettina also spent a couple of days working at a local authority run smallholding until its closure this year.  Additionally, on one of her “community support” days, Bettina and her P.A. would visit a local garden centre.  Originally, it was aimed at keeping Bettina’s basic skills up to date (so easily lost if they are not revised regularly) and this involved naming flowers, the type of plants – obviously not the latin names! – the colours and quantity etc.  The staff there came to recognise Bettina and her P.A. and always seemed happy to see them so it felt the natural step should be to approach them to see if they would be willing to accept Bettina and her P.A. to volunteer one day a week for a trial period to see if this could work for both parties.  I am pleased to say that they were very receptive to the idea!  They had tried supported employment before, which had not really worked very well, but this did not deter them from offering to try it again and, with a bit of fine tuning and all risk assessment in place, Bettina and her P.A. joined the team.

It has been six weeks now and both sides still seem happy with the arrangement!  We are hoping that this may lead to paid employment in the future or to other opportunities for Bettina.

So, what are the good practice tips I can pass on here?

  • explore the options fully before you move forward, especially if you are looking for additional funding
  • find a supporter yourself if the person needing support does not already have a dedicated key worker. It may be another care worker is interested in doing something extra and/or exciting
  • home-in on the interests the person needing support has already, rather than trying to introduce a new interest – look for quick success rather than long, drawn out failure
  • be pro-active in finding a suitable employer rather than waiting for suggestions or a list of participating companies
  • ensure that your approach to the local company is positive, and offer to provide assistance in drawing up appropriate risk assessments etc.
  • put the company at ease by confirming that the person needing support is not just going to turn up one day on their own as their supporter is off sick or on holiday, thereby putting pressure on employees to fill the role
  • be “brand” aware. Bettina and her P.A. wear the same uniform as regular employees, a name badge, have a clocking-in card and enjoy the same staff discount as everyone else!  This is much better than wearing your own clothes and looking like a couple of dodgy customers interfering with the stock and pestering customers!
  • offer to do some of the smaller chores employees struggle to keep up with, i.e. Bettina keeps the entrance door pots free from clutter so customers are greeted with a nice clean entrance – and the management have thanked her for keeping them “ship shape”!
  • ensure the person needing support, and their supporter, introduce themselves to other employees as soon as possible rather than expecting them to know automatically. This removes any doubt or “threat” employees may perceive as a bid to “steal” their jobs!

As you can imagine, working in a mainstream environment has boosted Bettina’s confidence and has been a good inclusive experience.  Bettina’s P.A. continues to enjoy the positive and complimentary remarks she receives on the excellent support she provides.

What can you do to help another person to achieve similar success?