Learning difficulties: self advocacy

Chris Dillon, from Voice4Kent, explains how the Kent Parenting Action Group, a group of parents with learning difficulties, based in Maidstone, Kent, UK, is trying to change services to benefit themselves and others. This is followed by comment from Angela Graham, Strategic Projects Manager for the Children, Families and Education Directorate at Kent Adult Social Services and Laurence Metayer, from Action for Children Hereson Time Bank.

The Kent Parenting Action Group was set up by Voice4Kent, an independent self-advocacy and campaigning organisation run by people with learning difficulties in Kent.

Parents' experiences

In October 2007, lots of parents with learning difficulties met for a two-day conference. They came together to talk about their experiences and how they could change things for the better within services for themselves and others.

A report of what people said was written. We then had a follow-up conference in 2008 to decide on what actions needed to take place from the two days.

Since then, we have had funding from the Learning Disability Development Fund to develop the work.

Support and information

The Action Group meets every week at the Voice4Kent office in Maidstone, Kent, to plan events and meet with people with learning difficulties and professionals.

The Action Group has set up support groups in three areas and they meet at Sure Start Children's Centres in Dover, Herne Bay and Tonbridge. Parents can meet to socialise, talk about problems and support each other.

We also have a library of books and information for parents which are kept at the office. We have met with the Kent Service Development Librarian who has agreed to order some of the books to keep at local libraries.

Delivering training

We have carried out training for midwives and care managers about how they can better support people with learning difficulties.

The group has also completed some training with the organisation Change (www.changepeople.co.uk) which has done lots of work and led campaigns on different issues for parents.

Through this training, we now have a group of parent trainers who can offer a one-day training course to professionals and other interested groups. Subjects that are covered in the course include communication, working together, support, assessments and what is meant by a learning difficulty.

Chris Dillon, Voice4Kent Parenting Action Group

Voice4Kent's involvement in strategy development

A 'scoping' report was commissioned by Kent's Learning Disability Partnership Board on behalf of Kent Adult Social Services and by the Children, Young People with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities Steering Group.

The report's recommendations build on the work of Voice4Kent, incorporating actions that came out of an initial conference held by Voice4Kent's Parenting Action Group and a subsequent workshop held under the umbrella of Kent's Parenting Strategy with a range of professionals from universal, preventative and early intervention services. The report identified a number of good practice features but also identified areas for improvement.

Children's Trusts are intended to bring together all services for children and young people in an area. Kent Children's Trust is currently considering whether the development of county-wide protocols would be the best way to take this work forward.

Angela Graham

Review of Voice4Kent's training presentation

Action for Children Hereson Time Bank met Voice4 Kent at a parenting workshop in Ashford, Kent, in November 2009. We liked the way parents with learning disabilities were encouraged to take action to give the best to their children.

Hereson Time Bank is a community project which aims to bring local families together through swapping skills and time. For every hour spent helping someone, members get an hour of time in return called a 'time credit'. Time Bank credits can be swapped for services such as ironing, gardening, shopping and more.

In addition, Hereson Time Bank offers a variety of ways to earn or spend credits. For example, members can earn credits by working at the gardeners' club and get free vegetables and training in return. Another option is to help run the information line every Tuesday morning to give out practical information about local community life, take bookings for activities or have a chat.

We invited Voice4Kent to deliver a presentation at our centre to talk to our Time Bank members who were training for our new information line service. The volunteers were very impressed by the resources produced by Voice4Kent.

This was an opportunity for members not only to discover the difficulties faced by the Voice4Kent parents but also to familiarise themselves with the network already in place to support parents with disabilities. This presentation has certainly raised awareness among us all. The contact details of Voice4Kent are now on the Hereson Time Bank information line contact list. They will certainly be passed on when somebody needs them.

For more information about Hereson Time Bank, contact Laurence at Hereson Family and Community Centre on 01843 596763 or visit the Time Banking UK website at www.timebanking.org

Laurence Metayer

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