A North East dad is hoping to launch the world's first ever series of children’s books to feature a child with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) as the main character.
David Fox, from Newcastle, is hoping that the Pop Fantastic series, featuring his young son Oliver, as the lead character, will help to raise awareness of autism and promote a more positive understanding of the condition.
"Pop Fantastic is a fantasy, based in a world where an autistic child like Oliver can really fit in and fulfil his potential," said David, 39, a marine engineer and former lecturer. "The idea behind the books is to let children like Oliver make sense of the world around them, while also showing their friends and siblings what life is like for them.
"Like many other children, Oliver was given a diagnosis of autism at a young age, and both myself and my wife, who are continually learning about his condition, are aware that no two ASD children are completely alike. We do know, however, that a great many of them share the same mannerisms and attributes, which means they see and experience our world very differently to us.
"One thing I've observed many times is that other children don't always know how to relate to autistic friends and classmates. It could be as simple as the child preferring to play alone, covering their ears when things get loud or not liking physical contact with others. Also, they tend to flap their arms or rock back and forwards, which is known as stimming, and is a way to calm down. This can seem strange to others who don't understand the condition."
Oliver, who is now 10 and a pupil at Gibside School in Whickham, is the inspiration for Pop, the main character in the books. Pop, which is Oliver's nickname, is a six-year-old autistic boy who discovers a magical world, where all the traits that make him different become his superpowers. For example, when Pop flaps his arms he can fly, and his ultra-sensitive hearing can warn him of impending danger.
Anyone interested in finding out more or contributing to the project can visit the Pop Fantastic page on Kickstarter at http://tinyurl.com/popfantastic
A new Select Committee report reveals a rising crisis in adult social care which is seriously affecting those receiving care, the NHS, care staff, carers and providers.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee report states that the Government needs to urgently assess social care funding and address serious threats to the quantity and quality of adult social care provision. Shockingly, fewer than one in 12 Directors of Social Care were fully confident that their local authority will be able to meet its statutory duties in 2017–18. As a result, the social care system looks set to be increasingly reliant upon unpaid carers – impacting upon their own work-life balance and long-term health.
Professor Martin Green OBE, Chief Executive of Care England gave oral evidence to the Committee earlier this year. He maintains that he Government urgently needs to stem the financial crisis in adult social care.
"We recognise the financial pressures that local authorities are under, but the pursuit of low fees should not be the end goal", stresses Professor Green. "Expectations from citizens have risen. They experience health and social care as a continuum and the current financial challenges make the delivery of such expectations untenable. Government policy needs to shift to ensure that the system is fit for purpose and provides what citizens need and want. At present the system is too crisis based as opposed to enabling. This in turn disempowers people to manage their own care. Combined with this, the demographic changes mean that the current system is unsustainable. Tax payers are simply not getting value for money".
The report sets out a number of recommendations relating to monitoring of care services, care commissioning, and the care workforce. These include renewed cross-party talks on adult social care to explore an alternative funding formula, as well as annual and increased spot checks by local authorities on commissioned social care services.
The committee also calls for a care workers' charter to include expectations on wage levels, employment terms and conditions, and training and career development.
Sue Bott, Deputy Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK said "I welcome the findings of this report which will come as no surprise to disabled people who are living with the inadequacies of the social care system unable to lead full and active lives as equal citizens. I hope that the Government and politicians from all political parties will finally take note."
The Government has decided not to pass the responsibility for Attendance Allowance to local councils following a successful Age UK campaign on behalf of older people with a disability.
Age UK wants to thank the thousands of people who supported the campaign against the Government’s proposal to transfer Attendance Allowance funding to local councils.
The campaign culminated in an open letter to the Government, stating fears that this move would threaten the future of this essential benefit for older people. Attendance Allowance is a nationally administered payment which is not means tested, and paid weekly to older people with a disability. It’s a vital means of support and a way to maintain independence for those who often face extra costs when living with an illness or disability, without having to turn to a social care authority.
There were concerns that the proposal to transfer the funding to financially hard pressed local councils could have created a postcode lottery of support.
Age UK worked alongside other concerned organisations, including the Local Government Association, Carers UK, housing and care groups and health and disability charities. In November 2016, an open letter signed by more than 14,000 people asked the Government to protect Attendance Allowance. More than 2000 people also emailed their MPs asking them to call on the Government to prevent the changes from being made.
The Government has now announced that they will not go ahead with the proposed change.
Virgin Trains is making prison recruitment fairs a regular part of its talent-hunting process.
The London to Scotland operator is holding recruitment events within prisons across the UK every three months in a bid to identify talented candidates and help end the revolving door syndrome of reoffending.
The train operator has been actively recruiting people with criminal convictions since 2013 when founder Sir Richard Branson challenged Virgin businesses and the wider business community to help reduce reoffending.
In 2014 Virgin Trains undertook to employ 12 people with convictions as part of the contract awarded by the Department for Transport to run services on the west coast. It currently has 27 people working in the business who were recruited through this programme.
Kathryn Wildman, who leads recruitment on the west coast route, said Virgin Trains had incorporated prison recruitment fairs into its normal recruitment programme after they proved successful in sourcing talented candidates for jobs with the company.
Speaking after a recruitment fair held in HMP Addiewell recently, she said: "We started this process three years ago with relatively modest ambitions. But we've been really pleased with the calibre of candidates we've managed to attract through prison recruitment events and our wider ex offenders programme and so we’ve decided to incorporate these into our regular calendar of recruitment events.
"This isn't just about helping society and giving people a chance to turn their lives around. It's hiring the best people no matter what their background is. We'd urge other employers who might be thinking about this to give it a go."
Virgin Trains has established partnerships with HM Prison Service, the Scottish Prison Service and private prison operators, all of whom work with inmates who are nearing the end of their sentence to identify employment opportunities.
Scotland's Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "Supporting people into work when they come out of custody is an essential part of their reintegration, and helps to reduce the chances of them offending again. We are working with the public sector, including the Scottish Prison Service, and private businesses to make it easier for people with convictions to find employment. Virgin Trains are very supportive of this work and I am delighted to hear of this latest partnership with HMP Addiewell to tackle the barriers which prevent people from turning their lives around."
England Men's Senior Manager and Football Foundation Ambassador, Gareth Southgate is backing a Football Foundation initiative to increase numbers of disabled people taking part in the game.
Underrepresented groups in grassroots football will soon have more teams to play in. The FA is investing £1.5m into the Grow the Game scheme – a programme that increases participation in grassroots football clubs.
Applications are being invited from people with disabilities wanting to form local teams in a move to increase football's diversity.
£1,500 is available for each new team created to help pay costs including FA coaching courses, FA league affiliation costs, referees' fees, first aid kits and even football kit and equipment.
England Men's Senior Manager and Football Foundation Ambassador, Gareth Southgate, said: "For anyone wanting to create a new grassroots football team or even start up a brand new club, Grow the Game funding is vital. The money can help with the fundamentals of any burgeoning club, like buying new kit or training up coaches.
"It's relatively small grants like these which make a huge difference to those who play or volunteer in our national game purely for the love of it.
Roy Turnham, a star of the Paralympic GB football team, supported the initiative: "Grow the Game is an excellent scheme for those involved with the sport at grassroots level. This funding can unlock a chance for someone to play football who otherwise might not have been able to.
"When I look back at the opportunities that football has given me, it is inspiring to think that Grow the Game could potentially give another disabled player the same enjoyment I have had.
"Simply, I would say if you're thinking of applying – do it! As well as representing my country at London 2012 and in other big tournaments, I've made friends for life through football and you can too.”
The application window for Grow the Game applications will open on Wednesday 1 February and closes on Wednesday 29 March. Clubs seeking more information on Grow the Game should contact their local County FA or visit http://footballfoundation.org.uk/funding-schemes/grow-the-game/
Gingerbread, the charity for single parent families, has launched a brand new online 'Separation Hub', offering advice, information and support to parents going through a separation.
The Hub gathers new and existing information and advice on separation into one place that is easy to use and navigate, offering support and guidance on several areas including supporting children, legal issues, safety, money and housing. It's innovatively designed to be an intuitive online tool so that parents who are already feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances are able to easily find the information and help they need.
Dalia Ben-Galim, Director of Policy, Advice and Communications at Gingerbread, said: "Separation can be an overwhelming and stressful time. Some parents will be looking for reassurance, others simply want to find out practical information. Some will be in particularly challenging circumstances such as abusive relationships and need help quickly and efficiently.
"The separation hub is a new online resource that gathers together information both from Gingerbread and other organisations, plus includes some new advice and guidance, to help parents navigate this extremely difficult time and ensure that they and their children are supported and protected."
Families in need across the UK will receive grants for uniforms, text books or new school shoes through a joint education fund from Action for Children and consultants, Turner & Townsend.
The £80,000 fund will provide grants of up to £50 per family for school essentials.
The fund is set up in recognition of the fact that many children in the UK are living in families that are barely managing, with little spare money to pay for the basics that all children need for school, such as decent shoes or books.
Mary O' Hagan, Fundraising Manager at Action for Children, says "A lack of basic equipment or a decent uniform can have a serious impact on children's ability to learn and in turn lower educational attainment can lead to lower paid jobs in the future, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
"We aim to break the cycle and help create opportunities for children to achieve their potential – this new fund is a welcome addition to our work across the UK."
If you or someone you know could benefit from the fund or are affected by family poverty, you can call Action for Children on 0300 123 2112 (open 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday) or visit: https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk
Probation staff are doing some excellent work with women who commit crime, but their efforts are hampered by a lack of accommodation for women, doubts over the future of Women's Centres, and a lack of funding.
Without the right support, women will find it increasingly difficult to turn their lives around, and so become more likely to re-offend, according to a report by HM Inspectorate of Probation.
One in 10 offenders supervised by probation services are women. They differ from male offenders, in that they tend to offend for different reasons, commit less serious offences and reoffend less. They have more often experienced abuse, trauma, depression and substance misuse, and often respond to different approaches and interventions, when compared to men.
The majority of women who had attended them agreed that women centres played a key role in reducing the likelihood of their reoffending. For most, the sense of a safe, secure community and the chance to develop positive relationships with other women was vital.
One woman said: "The women's centre saved my life, if it wasn't for them I don't think I would still be alive today, it's been such a positive experience for me, all women are so supportive of each other, we are all here for one another, we look out for each other. It's such an amazing place. I seen my probation officer here so I felt safe, I did all my group work here which gave me confidence, I suffer from borderline personality disorder so it was really hard for me to walk through the doors, but the women helped me. I know I won't reoffend because I don't want to let the women down, nor myself, it's a fantastic community."
Others agreed. While probation officers helped, it was the safety of being in a women-only centre which provided the greatest degree of support. "It's just the environment. I've never been to anything like this before ....... it's safe and the way they can help us and speak to you, it’s a great place."
And yet, despite the differing support needs, dedicated funding for women has virtually disappeared in recent years. The future of some services, and in particular those provided by Women’s Centres, is in doubt according to the report. The inspection found cases where Women’s Centres had been pivotal in turning women away from crime and helping them to rebuild their lives. There was also a lack of available accommodation for women.
Dame Glenys Stacey HM Chief Inspector of Probation said: "After the improvements we saw when we last inspected, in 2011, it is disappointing to see that progress has stalled. Women differ from men – they offend for different reasons, and they often need different sorts of support, to turn away from crime. Women's centres were doing some excellent work to help women do that, and to rebuild their lives. These centres need recognition, support and funding so that they can continue to help these women and make communities safer."
The only UK wide charity proactively working with those at risk of committing a sexual offence is facing closure due to lack of funding.
The Specialist Treatment Organisation for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO), was founded in 2011 to work with those at risk of sexual offending or reoffending, thus reducing the risk to society and lessening the number of victims. It also works with the families of sex offenders, who have to come to terms with being related to a sex offender.
Sex offenders are often treated as the lowest of the low in our modern society. It is very hard for this client group to be able to access professional support and help. Practically no NHS services are available for this group. Most therapists do not want to work with these clients.
StopSO wants to enable sex offenders, or those who are acting out sexually, and those who have not acted out but have "troubling thoughts" to be able to access experienced and qualified therapists.
Now, however, the organisation, which has recently been granted charity status, is faced with its biggest funding crisis to date. StopSO says it has sufficient funds to keep going for three more months. After that, if no more funding is found, the organisation will be forced to close.
A minimum of £80,000 per annum is needed to cover staff and administrative expenses. Also, in order to prevent future cases of sexual abuse, StopSO would like to be able to offer funding to those clients who cannot afford to pay for their own therapy. This would require additional funding as, currently, clients are required to pay for their own therapy.
From June 2013 to end of October 2016, the charity says it has helped a total of 425 people, all of whom approached them voluntarily, asking for help. The number of requests is growing massively from just three clients in the first three months of trading to 98 people in the last three months.
Quite apart from the personal savings to society, the organisation points out the financial benefits of its work. It costs £65,000 to imprison one person once police, court costs etc. are taken into account. Thus, to be cost effective StopSO only has to stop two people per annum from acting out, keeping them out of the criminal justice system and prison. StopSO believes that they have already stopped many more than that – in many cases before they commit a first offence.
According to The National Crime Agency, around 750,000 men in Britain were known to have an interest in having sex with children. As National Police Chiefs' Council Lead for Child Protection, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said, "Enforcement alone cannot solve this problem – more needs to be done to prevent abuse in the first place. There are many people who offend or are yet to offend and want help to stop their behaviour."
As the charity says, "For 'low level offenders' who are asking for help it is sensible to find another solution. We can keep endlessly picking up the pieces after sexual abuse has been committed, or we can work to prevent it in the first place.
"We are established and set up to offer this across the UK." "Surely, for 'low level offenders' who are asking for help it is sensible to find another solution.
For details of StopSo's work visit: www.stopso.org.uk