Friday, 10 December 2010

It is the party season and I am looking forward to 2011 with mixed feelings. There is huge concern about funding of services from parents, users, other organisations and, of course, from our team here at Resources. The worst thing is not really knowing what is happening and what the future holds. Currently we are feeling quietly optimistic but keeping a close eye on things as events unfold. What is clear is that Aiming High for Disabled Children short breaks funding is ending everywhere on March 31st 2011.

That is very bad news for us along with many other organisations who offer short breaks for families with a disabled child. It is even worse for those families and their children. Short Breaks has been a runnaway success. It is rare for me to give praise for a particular funding stream to the extend of saying that this has changed lives but I unreservedly can say AHDC short breaks has changed and improved families lives dramatically.

Many of our children and young people have, for the first time, been able to access and most importantly enjoy a leisure service that is regular, reliable and accepting. Their families have been given time to relax, even if is just of a couple of hours and have done so in the knowledge that their young person is receiving a service appropriate to their needs. It has been fabulous!

It is essential that we learn from Aiming High. Our families have had their expectations raised and our children and young people have gained confidence and independence. It has not always been an easy journey but it has been an exciting one that has proved that children and young people with autism and with behaviour that may challenge others can and do have fun and make friends if they are given the right opportunities to do so.

Many of RfA parents have been kind enough to write to MP's and local Councillors to tell them the difference our service has made and it has been humbling to read their stories.

Thankfully we are not totally dependent on statutory (money from government) sources. We have a range of funders to whom we are deeply indebted and our services will continue in some form or another next year. There may well be changes though and I will try to keep everyone informed as I know what these are.

The coalition are committed to expanding individual and personal budgets and it may be that some of our previously heavily subsidised services will have to be paid for in that way. This will only apply to those who are eligible for these budgets but my advice to anyone with a disabled child or adult is to make sure you get an assessment done for an individual payment as soon as you can and make sure that assessment includes an element for leisure opportunities.

I think 2011 is going to be interesting and exciting. The Autism Bill should begin to make a difference to adults and I hope that our children will continue to benefit from some form of short break provision when the dust settles. It is just a case of making our voices heard and then waiting to see.

Whatever happens, all of us at Resources for Autism wish you a very happy, healthy and peaceful 2011 and please do keep in touch.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

June 2010

I am writing this at a time of great uncertainty. Whatever your politics, the change of government mixed with the ongoing concerns about national finances leads to serious worries about all charity funding and Resources for Autism is not immune from this. I have always been a strong believer in having a wide range of funders as, over the years, I have seen good organisations collapse due to an over dependence on one funder or one kind of funder.

We gain our funding from Trusts and Foundations which are independent organisations whose only role in life is to fund charities. Most of them give small to medium grants for specific purposes (toys for example), some are generous or big enough to fund a member of staff for a year or so but that is rare and almost all of them will only fund an organisation once and then want at least a year off before they will consider funding again.

Our next main source of funding are local government contracts. These are wonderful but have serious restrictions tied to them. For example, if Brent fund a holiday play scheme, reasonably enough, only children who live in Brent can use it. They are also always time limited, usually for a year and very inflexible in what money can be spent on. This means that even if we are able to find extra funding for an element of the service we cannot stretch the provision beyond the original set date, rather it means that any money we can 'save' gets taken back by the funding authority.

Next there are generous individual donors - people who just like what we do and give us anything from 50p to £5,000 or even more. There is no way I can express my gratitude to them. This kind of money that we can spend where and when we need to is absolutely essential. Like our services, it bridges the gaps.

The other unrestricted funding we access is linked to events - like our current sky dive. People chose to have fun, run, jump, act, paint, entertain or whatever and the money raised comes to us. I hope that the pleasure gained from doing whatever it is somehow goes to reward the effort and the difference this kind of fundraising makes.

So, why am I concentrating on such a boring subject as money when the sun is beginning to shine more regularly and we are all shedding our winter blues?

Aiming High For Disabled Children (AHDC) was an initiative brought in by the last government and supported by MP's from all sides of the House. It focused on Short Breaks for two particular groups of children. Those with life limiting conditions and those with autism and challenging behaviours. It offered an opportunity for charities like ours to provide a range of imaginative and fun short breaks (play schemes, one to one support, youth clubs and so on) in areas where these have been few and far between.

We have been very successful at providing these short breaks and AHDC money entirely funds our services in Birmingham and many of our current holiday play schemes The future of this funding is now in the balance. No one knows if it will continue after March 2011. We will continue to seek alternative funding but this is a huge amount of money to find. Should I have not gone for it in the first place because it meant we were too dependent on one source? The answer to this is a resounding NO! We have met families and children who have had nothing at all in the way of out of school support in the past. We have shown them that it is possible to have fun with others however profound your autism and however much social groups may be a challenge for you. We have given some families the first real leisure time break they have had from their caring responsibilities for years and we have developed and expanded staff team of highly trained and highly professional workers who will never lose the skills they have gained thanks to AHDC.

I will do everything I can to ensure our AHDC services continue in Southwark, Haringey, Brent, Birmingham, Richmond and everywhere else. I can make no promises, as I said at the beginning, these are uncertain times. However, it is not just up to me. It is up to every parent to let their MP know how important these services are. They are not bad people but they cannot know everything about everything and it is up to us to keep them informed about why practical services run by the voluntary sector really matter and deserve to be funded even in difficult times.

Have a fun summer and please do keep in touch.