If you’re a parent of an autistic child/children and don’t know where to turn to for help, it can be frustrating. Whether it’s to do with education, transitioning into adulthood, mental health or even finding extra support when you’re not there for your kids, where do you go? Your first thought would be to see what’s in your local area, which is where local councils come in.
To this end, every local authority in the UK is meant to have a service for parents of autistic children and those with learning disabilities. This is known as the Local Offer, a website and service where parents can find relevant services in their local area. Bristol’s local offer, Findability, lists autism- and learning disability-specific services.
The website is aimed at a number of groups. As well as parents, professionals, practitioners, children, young people and carers are all supposed to be catered for by each Local Offer. What do parents and autistic children get out of it, and what do they need to understand?
Every Local Offer website is designed to give parents (and other groups of people) an instant answer to any questions they have around support for their autistic children. Within a few seconds, searching for a term like ‘autism diagnosis’ should bring up a relevant result. The main areas covered by a typical local offer are:
- Educational support
- Social care
- Leisure and sports
- Community groups
- Support groups
- Information, advice and/or support
Other areas covered may or may not include benefits, housing, tax, accessible and autistic-friendly spaces, parking badges and discounts/grants for disabled children. It varies across local authorities.
On Findability, you will see entries from schools, social care providers and even groups such as Bristol Autism Support. You will also be able to find out about your local council’s provision for SEND (special educational needs and disability) services.
The purpose of each Local Offer website is to have all the relevant information in one place. It’s meant to be accessible, save worried parents time and effort in finding the right support for their children and spare them from having to ring several numbers before getting what is needed.
Some Local Offers also have a single point of access (SPA) phone number for anyone who isn’t confident enough to find information online – Leeds’ Local Offer is a good example. Other sites, like Bristol’s, have a list of relevant numbers to ring, focusing on education and health/social care.
For any information that isn’t present, parents can send an email and should be responded to within a few working days.
Most Local Offers are devised by professionals and council staff. However, in order to provide the best possible information, they must be fed into by parents of autistic people aged up to and including 25.
So, how can parents feed into their Local Offer? Here is the process for Bristol, which is similar to that used by other councils across the country:
- Click on the Feedback page of the website
- Either go to the list of phone numbers and ring the relevant one e.g. Bristol Autism Team or visit the online feedback form
- Email them directly
- Attend one of the Parent Carer Participation Forums for Bristol – they tend to happen once a year
- Attend a Local Offer Network meeting – they happen three times a year
- Invite them to come to a group you access e.g. Bristol Autism Support
Without knowing what parents (and autistic children want), the Local Offer wouldn’t be quite up to scratch. Each council should be able to act on feedback from all parties concerned – parents, children, young people and professionals. Bristol’s service does annual surveys, as well as acting on messages throughout the year.
Accessing information that is up-to-date is a big part of any Local Offer. So is accessing services. To this end, local services, whether run directly by the council or in receipt of funding from the council or other public services (e.g. the NHS), must work as part of the Local Offer to make their services easy to access.
Working alongside parents, children, young people and individual professionals is also important. The people who need the Local Offer more than most have a stake in how it works, such as making it as accessible and inclusive as possible for all involved.
Knowing where to go for support for your child is important, whether it’s for a short-term crisis or planning for adulthood. Now that you know of the Local Offer, you can see what’s available to help you both, regardless of needs.