Commissioned by the council, the Derbyshire Autism Information and Advice Service is delivered by Citizens Advice Mid Mercia to offer free information and advice for Derbyshire’s community of people with autism and their families or carers.
Commissioned by the council, the Derbyshire Autism Information and Advice Service is delivered by Citizens Advice Mid Mercia to offer free information and advice for Derbyshire’s community of people with autism and their families or carers. Available to those aged 16+, with or without a diagnosis, the goal is to provide timely and accessible information about the support and services available locally. The service’s support workers help people to find their way around the health and social care system, access support and get involved in their local community.
The service also raises awareness of autism locally and provides free support and training for Derbyshire based health and social care professionals and private and voluntary sector providers to help them become more autism aware.
The service’s Autism Alliance is a co-production forum where people come together monthly to share stories and experiences to help shape and inform the direction of local adult social care services.
Through stakeholder engagement and research undertaken to inform our Joint Health and Social Care Autism Strategy (2017-2020), we identified there was a lack of information, advice and support for people with autism and their families or carers at both the pre-diagnosis stage and beyond. Although assessment, clinical and specialist services were already in place, we identified there was a gap in local provision leading to a lack of support to help people with autism and their families or carers navigate the system, transition from children’s services and access community based services. The results of a survey carried out to inform the strategy identified these priorities for people living with autism in Derbyshire: help with meeting friends, communication, understanding and managing behaviour that challenges, getting a buddy or volunteering, finding groups and joining activities.
The challenge for commissioners was to develop a service that would deliver positive outcomes and meet the strategic objective of helping people with autism and families/carers to live well and maximise their independence.
We commissioned a modern progressive, outcomes focused Derbyshire Autism Information and Advice service that has co-production and engagement with people at its core. The service works with people with autism and their families/carers to provide information, advice, and support to help them achieve the outcomes and priorities that matter most to them.
In the service’s first year (since going live in April 2020), the service received 863 contacts from people with autism, carers and professionals. So, the service got off to a strong start despite the challenges of launching during the pandemic. Contacts have increased throughout the year, from 47 in the first quarter to 394 in the fourth quarter of 2020/21. The feedback about the service from people and professionals has been extremely positive.
“A 43-year-old parent with a relatively new diagnosis of autism contacted the service as they were finding lockdown and all the changes to rules very confusing causing anxiety. She had not been given much information or support following diagnosis and had been relying on support from family. The service was able to link her up to various local services including mental health/anxiety support, the Living Well with Autism Education Course (another local post diagnostic service commissioned by Adult Social Care) and the Local Offer (Children's Support). She reported feeling more confident and aware of services that could help and agreed to have a feedback call later to see how things were going. The staff were thanked for the support and she said she felt reassured that she could speak to us again if further help was needed.”
By ensuring people know where they can go for the information and support, they need, the service not only helps people to meet their own wellbeing outcomes, but also helps to prevent their needs escalating possibly leading to a crisis for them.
The success of the service has led to Derby City Council, as well as the County Council, now becoming a joint commissioner of this service.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The quality of the service is sustained by commissioners, people, professionals, and the provider committing to continuous improvement and co-production. As we recover from the pandemic, the service will have a big role in helping people with autism and their families and carers ‘get back to normal’ and fully re-engage with their community. In Autumn 2020 the service carried out an engagement process to understand the impact of the pandemic on people with autism, as well as people with a learning disability and autism too, focusing on access to services and impact on mental health. The findings have helped to inform the priorities of the service and wider health and social care system for the coming months.
We have learned the value of co-production and working with people to build a service that meets their priorities and needs. By offering a telephone helpline, people with autism and their families or carers can quickly and efficiently get the information and support they need. We know health and social care systems can be difficult for people to find their way around, so having a service dedicated to helping people through the system, which explains how the system works, has made a real difference. By using a community sector provider we’ve been able to achieve additional benefits and value for the service due to Citizens Advice’s existing community links, knowledge (e.g. benefits and law) and volunteer pool. The service provider has been very proactive in promoting the service and partnership working. This has helped ensure more local people know about the service and can benefit from it. This reinforced for us how important partnership working and engagement is to the successful launch of a new service.
Jane Robins, firstname.lastname@example.org
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