After-school nurture group for young people aged 11-14 years

Project: Teenage Transitions

Background to MEfA

Montessori Education for Autism (MEfA) was formed in February 2009, and received Charity Registration early in 2010 (No. 1136552). The aim of our organization is to foster the educational and social development of children with autism through the achievement of a climate in which autism is recognized, understood and accepted as a valued human attribute and in which the special needs of children with autism are met fully, effectively and with generosity. We champion the cause of children with autism, be it at home, in their schooling and beyond. Our main activities are advice and support to families and carers - we do this primarily through 1:1 and small group interventions with children and their parents. We pay particular attention to fostering the children's developing social, language, communication and behavioural skills, as these are the prime areas that cause children with autism to have difficulties at home, at school and in the community.

Our 'flagship' project is our After-school Nurture Group for primary-age children with autism who are finding it difficult to make the most of their education because of issues relating to their autism which impact on their emotions, communications and behaviour at school. Sometimes children have been expelled for short periods or permanently, leading to a loss of self-belief and often leading to social isolation.

Our Planned Project

Following a successful pilot we are now seeking support to continue our after-school programme - Teenage Transitions - for children and young people aged 11-14 years. The aim is to build on what we have developed with our pilot group. Many children find the transition from primary to secondary school tricky to manage, but for children with autism and Asperger's syndrome the challenges are very great. The challenges for us will be different too; the teaching, counselling and volunteer skills required are different and the first year budget includes a sum for training which, in subsequent years, we anticipate will be reduced.

The Need for the Work

During our past four years' of working with families with young children it has become evident that there is need for a project such as Teenage Transitions for older children, and that there is no other similar provision available. Autism is a life-long developmental mental disability and we envisage that our project will include children who move on from our primary after-school group and also older children and young people who join us for the first time. We have regular visitors from health and education professionals who are aware of the needs of 11-14 year-olds with autism, and the extra challenges they face as they move on to secondary school and also the new challenges involved in puberty.

Fundraising Strategy

We have recently undertaken a review of our activities and capacities going forward, (this is an on-going process for the MEfA Executive Trustees). The decision has been taken to introduce this project for the older children and young people as soon as funding permits. Our pilot project was supported by Children in Need. We are delighted to have received a donation from The Souter Foundation, this being the fourth year that they have supported us, and we have a short list of Trusts whose parameters appear to align with the work that we propose. We have also launched a Me 4 MEfA Fundraising Campaign aiming for 100 local businesses and organisations to help us by raising £100 each.

In accordance with the general aims of MEfA we will be looking to maintain this programme from year 2 or 3 on the basis of at least 50% raised through our own local fundraising efforts, which we are confident we can achieve, certainly by year 3, and the balance by appeal. However, in years one and two we expect to rely more heavily on the generosity of grant making trusts. We expect the on-going cost per family to be in the region of £1,000 per year.

Beneficiaries and Results

One of the most immediate benefits from our existing after-school groups is the impact on the parents who attend the after-school group with their children. They learn from and support one-another; finding others with the same problems is enormously comforting for parents who have often struggled for several years before finding us. The parents grow in confidence about their ability to support their children's development, and they watch their own and other parent's children learning new social skills, trying out new strategies and making progress. The children begin to 'emerge' in the safe and supportive environment - many previously mute children begin to use language to communicate whereas before they would explode with frustration. As a result the children are better able to access their learning at school. This has a continuing positive impact on their later life chances.

We know that the challenges for the older children and young people will be different. The startling truth is that 70% of young people in prison have learning difficulties, including autism; the longer pupils are out of school, or unable to make the most of their education at school, the poorer their overall life chances are.

Our project will make a sustainable positive impact by reducing social isolation and enabling the Teenage Transitioners' to engage and participate at school. We expect to have between 20 to 25 children and their families on our Teenage Transitions register, with about 10 or 12 attending any session, based on what we have experienced with the primary-age group. Beneficiaries also include the immediate families and we expect to reach about 80 family members as a result of this work. There will also be a positive impact for the children and teachers at school, and society at large.

How we will evaluate the results

We collect assessment information by the use of narrative and media diaries, using traditional practitioner research methods. In this way we can track the progress of individual children towards their developmental outcomes. We also liaise with the children's teachers at school and we often contribute reports towards children's educational and medical assessments for their Statements of Special Educational Needs. We were invited by EECERA (European Early Childhood Research Association) to disseminate the outcomes of our research and our work has been closely followed by Play England. We are an approved provider of services by the National Autistic Society.

What we need to spend money on

The three major items of expenditure for this programme in year one are: (1) wages, (2) accommodation and (3) equipment. We expect that the equipment costs will largely arise at the start of the project and that in future years this need will be minimal. Although furniture is expected to last some years, in accordance with our accounts policy we treat these as revenue items in the year of purchase, and we have no capital requirements.

We do not charge families a fee for attending the after-school nurture groups. We encourage every family who contacts us to visit us and discover what we have on offer. Usually we have a solution that is helpful and right for their child. There are no barriers to joining in. Based on our experience with the younger nurture group children we are able to assess over a period of time, which families can afford to make a contribution to our activities. We have been grateful for the generous voluntary help that some families have made to our funds.

May we visit you and make a presentation?

We have a short presentation available where we show a few slides which illustrate the work of our charity; this also provides an opportunity to ask questions and find our more.

We'd love to visit your business or organisation!

Sincerely

Wendy Fidler

MEfA Academic Director/Trustee