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The Heartbeat of Our Mission: A Reflection from Autism and Neurodiversity North Scotland

As the CEO of Autism and Neurodiversity North Scotland, it fills me with immense pride and warmth to witness the joy and progress our children and young people have already experienced at the start of our Easter playscheme. This support, vital during the school holidays, has underscored the essence of our ‘why’ – providing tailored, compassionate support to neurodiverse individuals and their families.


Our dedicated team offers unparalleled support in areas critical for development, including social interaction, communication skills, and individual growth. This unique and specialised attention not only aids the children in their personal development but also serves as an essential break for parents and carers. In a season that often disrupts routines, our playscheme has become a crucial lifeline, significantly impacting family dynamics, mental health, and overall well-being.


I must extend our heartfelt gratitude to the two local authorities we partner with, as well as the Scottish Government. Their additional support over the pandemic years has been instrumental, allowing us to offer more places and sessions, thereby sustaining the mental health and togetherness of our families. This collaboration helped prevent crises, at times averted the need for residential care, and reduced the demand for future statutory services, demonstrating a profound social return on investment.


Regrettably, this year has presented us with challenges, including a notable absence of additional support for the Easter and upcoming summer holidays. This shortfall risks detrimental effects on many of our families. It’s a stark reminder of the critical role that initial funding plays – not only in immediate support but in fostering long-term societal benefits, as underscored by UK research and initiatives like the Scottish Care Review and The Promise.


Despite our eagerness and capacity to provide seven-day support, financial constraints have forced us to scale back, marking the first time in years we've had to close doors during the Easter holiday. Our efforts to secure alternative funding have yet to compensate for this gap, underscoring a broader issue faced by many in our sector: the challenge of navigating a care system that often prioritises cost over quality, person-cantered, whole family support and care.


Our experiences mirror those reported by colleagues across social care and third-sector organisations – a testament to the systemic issues plaguing our field. The stark reality is a sector under immense strain, marked by burnout, attrition, and a dire need for reform in funding and commissioning practices.


Our Keep the Promise Pilot Project, funded by the Corra Foundation, is a beacon of hope amidst these challenges. By fostering a supported, flexible workforce, we’ve seen first-hand the positive, far-reaching effects on participating families. This initiative exemplifies the urgent need for systemic change – a call echoed by social care and third-sector voices nationwide.


The path forward requires a critical examination of commissioning and funding models. Recent financial crises in Scottish local authorities underscore the unsustainability of current practices. A centralised approach to funding, as one solution and possibility, could mitigate these inequities and administrative inefficiencies, ensuring resources are directed where they are most needed.


Moreover, the disproportionate power dynamics faced by small organisations like ours highlight a broader issue of equity and fairness in the sector. A shift in funding models, with a portion of private sector profits redirected towards third-sector initiatives, could revolutionise the landscape, offering hope and tangible support to those we serve.


In closing, I wish to thank our corporate supporters. Your unwavering commitment enables us to continue our mission, illustrating the power of collaboration in fostering a more inclusive, supportive community.


Together, we can redefine care, champion equity, and ensure Scotland lives up to The Promise – for every child, every family, and every community we serve.


Billy Alexander


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