ERSA Awards 2018 – some background – who and why

Following the news of our ERSA award wins last week, I (Nancy) wanted to drop my own note and comments on the fantastic work of my esteemed colleagues.

ERSA are the Employabilty Related Services Association, and they act as a trade association for companies working in Social Inclusion specific to unemployment. They provide advice, guidance, networking and policy influencing opportunities for all small, medium and large ‘prime’ organisations in the sector.  They work with relevant government departments to be our ‘voice’.

ERSA are a wonderful organisation and we are very honoured to have received their commendations along with event sponsors Clarion Futures and our long term partner Shaw Trust.

Our company won ‘Disability and Health Employment Provider of the Year’.

Our Social Inclusion team, led by Candy Whittome, work across the South West, South East, London, East of England and Midlands providing high quality interventions for those with hidden disability and neurodiversity to support them to find work that suits and allows them to work at their best.

The award, sponsored by sponsored by ICONI Software, media partner  Able Magazine, recognised the effort that we have collectively contributed as a business to recognising hidden disability and neurodiversity in this sector, and creative practical interventions for improving outcomes.  Did you know that 28% of unemployed people and 40-60% of people who are incarcerated are dyslexic?  Also, only 15% of people with Autism have a job?  We’ve pioneered positive assessment to draw attention to the strengths conferred by each condition and we work with people to turn these strengths into vocational career directions.

Everyone in the team is passionate and approaches their role with respect for their clients, seeking to enable not rescue.  However, one person in particular has stood out for her creativity in her client work and going the extra mile.  We nominated her for Adviser of the Year, sponsored by Alderwood, and I am even more proud to tell you that she won! Her nominate form tells it better than me, so here it is in all it’s glory, the wonderful Tanya Weston.

Tanya Weston: Team Leader, HMPPS CFO3 project

Since November 2015, Tanya has worked in custody (HMP Dartmoor Induction wing) and has supported her clients through the gate into the community

Her caseload are considered the hardest to help, with the poorest predicted outcomes due to multiple barriers – offending records, disabilities and time away from employment. Her clients are disengaged from all services when she starts work with them and she often receives referrals from other specialist agencies who have run out of ideas on how to help an individual. 100% of her caseload have a disability and/or neurodiversity.

Tanya herself left school with no qualifications, is hearing and sight impaired, and has Asperger’s.

Despite this, Tanya achieves an outstanding 125% of her target for employment outcomes, with 50% of all clients finding and sustaining work on release from custody.

Tanya is very open about her Asperger’s diagnosis to her clients and uses herself as an example to encourage and motivate them. She leads by example –so when offenders say “I can’t do this because I’m on the spectrum”, she says “yes, you can, look at me, I’m Asperger’s”. She uses her own experiences to encourage those she supports.

She keeps a sense of humour about her disabilities, this helps offenders who often say they find this refreshing.

In addition to her phenomenal success rates, Tanya has also developed innovative ways of working with sex offenders that have led them to admit their crimes openly for the first time. She has also designed her own, unique and much needed intervention program (Social Tank Theory) that is now used by offenders and prison staff alike to assess state, and has received excellent feedback.

Tanya’s clients are consistently appreciative of her support, in one client’s words “everyone needs a Tanya”. Her support has enabled individuals to not only find and keep a job on release, but also to secure housing, and be granted access to their children. Her clients go on to find varied employment, and she also successfully initiated an ongoing peer support club for her clients that are now self-employed, which meets regularly to share best practice.

She sees her work not as a 9-5 job but as responding to people in need. For example if someone has been released recently and at a loss or in crisis, she will often go and have a cup of tea with them to give them a chance to have a chat and off load. This is often outside of normal working hours. For example, X, a prisoner, was pardoned because his wife was dying. She died 4 days after his release, and shortly after it was Christmas. Tanya put together a Christmas Survival Box, with DVDs, Christmas hat, treats, something to open on Christmas day, Christmas socks and games. Although X said he “didn’t do Christmas”, afterwards he told Tanya that he did everything that was in the box, and that nobody had ever done anything like that for him before.

Tanya regularly supports the mothers of her autistic clients, as she has recognised they receive very little support. She is able to provide a unique insight and considers it part of her role.  For example last night she spent an hour and a half on the phone with one mother, basically listening to her, things like “people say he’s a waste of space”  The mother told Tanya that  it was really nice to be able to talk without judgement, and she could now see his potential.

Tanya also extends this support to co-workers and has mentored her colleagues, improving their practice and outcomes successfully. She has the ability to find out what it is that would most help, be it a regular telephone call to review caseloads and action plan, or helping a colleague get off “the drama triangle”. When her co-worker, Kate, became pregnant, and had difficult times, Tanya arranged holistic therapies (Yoga and aromatherapy). She drove all the way to Portland one day (8 hour round trip) to take Kate out to lunch during her pregnancy when she needed extra support. When another colleague was in a state of anxiety about her Masters, Tanya allowed her to work every 2 weeks, instead of every week, and picked up a lot of slack.

We can think of no more deserving individual to receive this award than our fantastic, committed, innovative and target smashing Tanya.

Her clients say that “everyone needs a Tanya” and that she is “like a modern day Mary Poppins”.

A BIG personal thank you from me (Nancy) to all in the team and those on the judging panel who recognised the innovation, commitment and passion from my hardworking colleagues. Social Inclusion team – bottle of fizz on its way to you all.

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