Parent & Organisational support for ESIPP, Managing director of Autism Concern and mother of children with autism
This year 2017, ESIPP partner Autism Concern celebrates its 25th anniversary. The British charity, which lists over 250 families on its children’s services and manages over 1,000 contacts to its family support service annually, seeks to serve the needs of those affected by autism in Northamptonshire, England and the surrounding area.
This association plays a key role on the ESIPP project by providing parental and organizational support. On the framework of the project, Autism Concern is represented by its Managing Director Julia Hardcastle, mother of two autistic children.
ESIPP: What is Autism Concern? What are its goals and objectives?
Julia Hardcastle: The mission of the charity is to improve the lives of those with Autism Spectrum Conditions and their families. Our objectives are:
- To work towards achieving care and education services for people with autism
- To raise awareness of the circumstances of people with autism and the impact that the condition has on their lives.
- To encourage the general public to be accepting and supportive of those with autism.
- To be available to all people with autism and their families and carers for advice, support and practical service provision.
- To foster mutual help, co-operation and friendship between parents, families, carers, helpers and those entrusted with the care of people with autism
E: What is the role of Autism Concern in the ESIPP project?
JH: Autism Concern is here to represent the parent voice in the project and demonstrate the value of engaging parents in the design and running of the training sessions. We are also hoping to give parents some guidance on how to best create supportive networks of parent groups and bring to the attention of those who can influence policy, the challenges that we parents face in raising children with autism.
JH: We came to Northampton in 1994. My husband lectured in Law at the University and I looked after the children. I had concerns about my daughter’s behaviour but I thought it was because we had had a lot of disruption in moving house. As soon as she went to Nursery school, however, staff were sharing my concerns. My autism journey had begun!
I went to the charity some years later when both of my children had been diagnosed with autism. To thank them for the help they gave me, I joined them as a volunteer doing administration and clerical tasks. In 2000, I was employed specifically to administer a European Grant which funded a new service for adults. Over the years, I have had many roles in the charity both operational and management. In 2013, I became Managing Director of Autism Concern. We have a staff of 9 in the office and another 50 or so casual workers who enable us to run the Children and Young people’s services. We also have a growing number of volunteers who act as ambassadors for us when we are out in the community.
I am very proud to be the Managing Director and very proud of my staff team. We are united in our commitment to the charity and supporting the autism community in Northamptonshire.
E: What are the main achievements of Autism Concern in these 25 years?
JH: Still being around after 25 years!
We are known and respected as a provider of good quality services. We deliver 120 activity days and 51 youth group sessions across the county, throughout the year. We have a dedicated telephone support line, a website and social media network which serves over 2,000 parents and professionals. There were 1,000 contacts to our telephone helpline in 2016. We are the established voice for autism in the county and represent the autism community on education, social care and health and local government bodies.
JH: We are inviting people to wish us happy birthday and share their stories of how the charity has helped them over our 25 year history.
We have lots of fundraising opportunities for people to get involved in and have launched an appeal to raise £25,000 for our 25th year. We will be having other events as the year goes by to thank people who have helped us in the past and will be sharing stories on social media from people who set the charity up and have benefited from the services over the years.
E: Why is important to have parent and organisational support in the framework of the ESIPP project?
JH: We feel very privileged to be part of this project and have enjoyed meeting other parents from the different countries. I would hope that we can show other groups of parents what can be achieved by working together. Despite the many differences in our circumstances and backgrounds plus of course the language barriers, there is much to be gained by sharing our experiences with each other and supporting each other.
E: What is your message to encourage parents to take part on the project?
JH: In this project we as parents have a rare opportunity to tailor the training to our needs and tackle some of the issues that have prevented this type of initiative in the past. We should look to recognize the aims of the project and work together to make it a success not only for ourselves but for the parents that come after us and of course for all of our loved ones with autism.