Autism plans get go-ahead

PLANS to raise awareness of autism among hundreds of council staff and partner agencies have been backed.

Hartlepool Borough Council has developed a new training model to help workers who come into contact with children recognise the condition and offer support.

Training to raise awareness of adults with autism already happens in key workforce sectors in line with the Department of Health strategy.

But the new model will extend the training to those who come into regular contact with children.

Independent councillor Cath Hill, portfolio holder for children’s services, backed the plans at a recent meeting.

Coun Hill said: “The problem with autism is that it is an area where there is an increasing demand.

“I don’t know if that is because of better diagnosis or if there is an increase.”

Ian Merritt, the council’s strategic commissioner for children’s services, said it was a “bit of both”.

She added: “I approve the proposal for the development of the training across the children and young people’s workforce in Hartlepool.”

Coun Hill was also told that workers in adult social care already receive autism training.

Around 700 workers have been identified for level one and two training under the new model.

They include libraries and museum staff, school receptionists and classroom assistants, community development workers and social care staff.

A report to the meeting added the training model will support early identification and intervention, and improve the quality of provision for children and adults with autism.

It also aims to improve value for money for staff such as teaching assistants by being able to offer more targeted support.

Labour councillor Marjorie James, who was also at the meeting, called on health bosses to help fund work around autism.

Coun James added that Funky World, in Durham Street on the Headland, provides services for people with autism.

But the cash-strapped play centre could close by the end of the month after just two years in business, as reported by the Mail.

The centre needs to take £10,000 a month and centre bosses have previously said that they are not getting half of that.

Coun James added: “They work in partnership with schools and hopefully some of the work could be provided by them if we do not lose them in the short term.

“We have an excellent service in Hartlepool and it would be a real shame if the town lost that.”

Around 1,000 families are on the books of Funky World, whose facilities include a soft play area with a ball pool, tunnels, slides and a sensory cave.

It also has a bistro, and an interactive sensory studio.