By Autism Wessex CEO, Siún Cranny
COVID-19 has put a huge strain on every care facility in the UK, and internationally. The most vulnerable people in our communities are facing an unprecedented risk to their wellbeing, and those caring for them are in the limbo of the unknown.
Now more than ever, it is crucial that mental health and wellbeing are at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
AUTISM AND MENTAL HEALTH
As a charity which cares for and supports neuro diverse people across the spectrum, many with additional difficulties, we see how diverse the day to day challenges are.
However, one issue most autistic people face is anxiety around change. Routine is key and when that normality is broken, it can be incredibly diffi- cult for individuals to cope.
An important part of daily life for key workers within the charity is to help support clients to manage this. For those in residential homes, we needed to take measures to ensure that the home is isolated which has meant recreating familiar routines within the home environment.
For example, one team of keyworkers created a “pub” in the back gar- den for one resident. Part of his routine was a daily a visit to his local for soft drink and a packet of crisps. To help him deal with lockdown, the tem- porary pub was created in the garden’s summerhouse with a few donated
items and other spare bits they had to-hand in the house.
Familiarity helps to calm anxiety as well as encourage social skills and interaction amongst all in the home, which in turn helps to lift moods and
MENTAL WELLBEING FOR STAFF
The sacrifices being made by all care workers around the world have been astounding, and that includes our teams at Autism Wessex. Some have had to move out of their homes and into isolation to continue working and others are picking up double shifts to help cover absences.
With this level of responsibility during a crisis, there is a high risk of burnout. I am a believer that prevention is better than cure – the more help, guidance and support we put in early on, the quicker we can address any problems.
To help with this, we have trained up twenty members of staff to become mental health first aiders; a group of friendly and familiar faces who staff can turn to in complete confidence.
Our finance team have also evolved to be a great help during this turbu- lent time; they down tools for an hour every day to become our ‘touch- base team’. They check in on our 500 employees, keep us up to date with issues and answer any general questions.
It was really important to me to show our people that we are thinking of them and were there for them, even though we can’t see them face to face.
COVID-19 has turned a spotlight on the sector, and, as with any crisis or
By Autism Wessex CEO, Siún Cranny
major change, this pandemic has given charities the opportunity to do things differently. For us, it has freed up some hard boundaries between departments and allowed space for inventiveness.
What’s next is to build on the strengths of our charity. I want to use this time as an example to show that carers aren’t people with low career prospects. We are putting in place new learning pathways for our keywork- ers so they can develop a career structure in the charity. We had started this before COVID, but COVID has spurred us on.
We know that caring is an amazing job, but not everyone wants to move to management but unfortunately, it is the only way to progress in this field. We aim to change that. Our plan will support every keyworker with the opportunity for an expert career ladder with us, stepping away from the traditional management triangle and empowering them to achieve their aspirations.
Supporting mental wellbeing and growth won’t stop after COVID-19 and it is as central to us for our staff as it is for our client group. Our wellbeing programme and our positive approach to key working will be central to our success of the future.
Siún Cranny, CEO of Autism Wessex, joined the charity in 2017. She has a wealth of experience in the not-for-profit and public sectors having led Sargent Cancer Care for Children and a national mental health charity in Ireland. Her diverse experience includes leading the modernisation of Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.