Maria’s Story – Belstead Mews
Maria, a young girl with severe autism moved to Belstead Mews, a Children’s and Young Person’s residential service in Ipswich, Suffolk at the age of 13, having spent over six months in a hospital environment under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act (1983) due to her high level of anxiety and associated behaviours.
Maria’s mum had been put in touch with the service after it had been decided that a specialist residential environment for children would be the best way to support Maria with managing her behaviour and to build up her independence.
When Maria’s mum went for a visit to see the home, run by Consensus, and to meet the support team, she initially had reservations, thinking nowhere would be good enough for Maria. However, as she arrived, she was met by the Deputy Manager, who immediately put her at ease.
Maria’s mum recalls, “The home was bright, airy and welcoming with a big kitchen and dining room. I was told that my daughter could have everything she wanted in her room as it was ‘her bedroom’. I really could not say no to this environment for her. It was perfect.”
Planning a smooth transition
The support team at Belstead Mews visited Maria at the hospital she was in for an assessment and were confident they could meet her needs. The Manager, Deputy Manager and other members of the support team began attending Maria’s reviews at the hospital to gain an in-depth understanding of her needs and made regular visits to see and interact with her to develop a relationship of trust.
The day before she moved in, the support team made sure Maria’s bedroom was decorated just how she wanted and all her belongings were in place to make her as comfortable as possible. The team also contacted Maria’s mum to reassure her that everything she had bought for Maria had been freshly washed and to find out her favourite food, so they could have it ready when she arrived.
Maria’s mum said, “Her bedroom has been freshly redecorated in pink and the team had bought cushions and butterfly stickers for her walls. A television was already there, and they had installed all her equipment, ready to be used. I was so impressed and relieved.”
Slow but steady progress
Consensus’ in-house Positive Behaviour Intervention Team and our Autism Consultant supported Maria through the transition process by providing a bespoke Positive Behaviour Support Plan using the PBS model. This is based on ensuring a good quality of life, reducing restrictive practises and providing behavioural assessment where required.
Most importantly Maria needed a secure, safe environment with clear, consistent boundaries to build strong, trusting relationships with her support team, where challenges could be met positively. The focus was on building a positive rapport and introducing reactive strategies to reduce risk and bring about a rapid reduction in anxiety when Maria showed signs of getting anxious, as well as understanding Maria’s Triggers.
When Maria first arrived, she was very isolated. She wouldn’t leave her room and could only be supported by female members of the team due to her past experiences and fear of men.
The support team worked slowly and consistently with Maria to support her to leave her room, setting small achievable targets and using Active Support approaches. The team would make sure all areas were clear and would walk alongside her, for encouragement. Initially, the team supported her to walk as far as the lounge door and then back to her room, then slowly the team encouraged her to go a bit further. Gradually, over time, she developed more and more confidence and she can now sit in the kitchen and other areas of the home. She can also go out and join in activities which is a huge achievement for her.
The work that the team have done with Maria on stabilising her behaviour and managing her emotions has also significantly contributed to her being school ready. Again, using Active Support and Positive Behaviour Support approaches, the team supported Maria, initially accompanying her for one day a week then slowly increasing it to another day until she was attending school four days a week, leaving one day for the team to take her out to socialise in the community. Two years on, Maria is now attending a college placement four days a week, which is a huge success for her.
The team have also supported Maria to participate in activities that are meaningful to her. When she first arrived, the team found a swimming pool with sensory facilities that Maria loved, and she was also supported to start horse riding again. Maria is now joining in activities, managing ok in large groups at parties and attending ballroom dancing which she loves. She has also recently gone on holiday with family accompanied by the support team and is starting to go out with her mum with a member of the team, something her mum never thought would be possible.
Maria’s family are delighted with the progress and the opportunities that have opened up for Maria since moving to Belstead and because the team see the service as an extension of the children’s family the family have been fully included in her journey and any decisions along the way.
Maria’s mum said, “I work very closely with them. I can phone any time of day and night. I am kept fully informed about Maria’s daily activities and I regularly receive phone calls by her very excited and proud support team to let me know when she has done something new and amazing.
“Belstead Mews is the best place I could ever have wished for. The amount of progress that Maria has made in such a short time is due to their commitment to the welfare of the children, their happiness, and having outstanding communication with the families. They take so much pride in the children’s achievements,” she added.
Pat Haley, Service Manager at Belstead Mews said, “Maria suffers with anxiety so everything has been a challenge for her. Patience and time have been key as she needs time to process different experiences, but she has been amazing.”