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Rochford Extended Services
Rochford Life: Michelle, I see from, your leaflet you are referred to as Rochford Extended Services. Didn’t it use to be called ‘Extended Schools’?
Michelle: Yes, the previous Government initiative was for extended schools, the schools being in the centre of the community and extending their usage to the local community and over time, with the Government, that changed to extended services as opposed to just schools and it encompassed more organisations really.  

RL: You work in a school and for schools still?
Michelle: Yes, we work across all twenty eight schools in the Rochford District being family support workers. We support schools but we also support the children and families that go to those schools. At some point in everybody’s life they have times of difficulty, whether it be a housing difficulty or a illness or a bereavement, all sorts of things can crop up, and we’re able to sign post and guide children and families, and sometimes mediate on their behalf, and be the link between them and schools and other agencies.    

RL: How many do you have in the team here?
Michelle: In the team we’ve currently got three Family Support Workers and two Attendant Support Workers. We’re all employed as professionals to work within the team. The Attendant Support Workers pick up problems, for instance when attendance drops, so it might be there are lots of ‘lates’ or regularly having a day off on a Friday. So sometimes we’ll go in and find that Mum needs a bit of help with routines and getting a bit organised and sorting things out. Perhaps it might be that we find that they have become a young carer and they are coming in late because they are taking their siblings to the primary school first and then coming in late, or putting the dishwasher on and running the Hoover round and giving Mum her medication before they come in. And so we’re able to link in with young carers in this area to make sure they’re getting additional support. Sometimes there may be domestic violence and the children are reluctant to leave Mum alone with Dad, so we’re able to spot those sort of things and put in some early intervention.     

RL: We’re in a climate of cut-backs. Are you suffering cutbacks?
Michelle:  The block of funding that we have in the bank has come from previous Governments’ initiatives and also from us bidding for various pots of funding.  Financially we are secure until November and then the local schools, because they have valued what we have been doing for the last five years, and who  still get extended services money coming into their budget from the Government,  have agreed until next Summer to put in a little bit per pupil to tide us over.
Because the schools have got together to form a trust that is a registered charity, which is what we are, we can also look for bits of funding from organisations like Comic Relief and Children in Need, thus getting little bits of funding coming in because of our charity status. So we do have to be a bit creative in looking at different avenues for getting funds. We are not a statutory service; we are just something that the local schools and local communities have seen value in.

RL: How long have you been doing this?
Michelle: I came to post six years ago now and it was on a six months temporary contract to see if there was a need and the team has grown and grown and the hours have grown and grown.

RL: May I ask, what is your background for this?
Michelle: Well, until I had my children, and my daughter is fifteen now, I was a museum, curator. I did that for about fifteen years and I used to run the Beecroft Art Gallery in Westcliff. Then I had the children and while I was at home with them I decided I couldn’t just sit not doing anything, and so I decided that I would do a bit of studying and I started doing some counselling training.
I spent four and a half years qualifying as a counsellor, and part of that involved doing a placement and I had to do a hundred and fifty hours voluntary placement, which I did at Fairhaven and Little Haven. When I had finished doing my one hundred and fifty hours there, I said, right, I’ll do another hundred and fifty hours to give something back once I’d qualified, and I did some work for them on their bank staff, and so I’d got quite a lot of experience in that counselling area.
Then I went to work for another charity, NYAS, the National Youth Advocacy Service, working with looked-after children providing advocacy, making sure the children’s wishes and feelings were being taken into consideration, and from that I was asked to go and do some work in Bullwood Hall Prison, on the young offenders wing,  doing advocacy work for young people that were locked up, and working with them in prison for about a year.
Listening to their stories, I felt if someone had just picked up what was happening to them earlier on in their life story, maybe we could have stopped it getting to this point.
There was one girl, I remember telling me, that she was in for ongoing shoplifting and antisocial behaviour, and she had come in and then been discharged, and then she’d come back in again a few weeks later, and this kept on being repeated. In the end I asked her what was going on, and she broke down and said, every time I went home my stepfather raped me and I know he can’t get me in here. So the next time when she went out we arranged for the Princes Trust to support her and move her to a different area of the country and for her to get the support that, perhaps if we’d picked up and put in place five years before, she wouldn’t have ended up in the prison.
So when I saw this job advertised, it was twenty hours a week, I did it alongside doing a bit of work for NYAS, and I felt it was good getting in and doing some of the really early intervention work, picking things up when they are really young, to make sure they are supported and families are supported and continue that support throughout their school life.
We also do a lot of work with transition so if they had problems in primary, when they go up to secondary, the secondary school are aware. Our staff are in and out of all the schools and we can catch up with them in primary and then meet with them again in secondary school and give them that continuity.         

RL: It sounds like more prevention than cure.
Michelle: Well it tends to be both these days because a lot of other services are dropping off, and so we do some of the hands on work. We’ve all got quite different backgrounds. I have a counselling-advocacy background, but other members of the team have education-welfare backgrounds, been working at the Lighthouse Child Development Centre with families where children have additional needs like Asperger’s, Autism etc.
We run various groups. Patsy who works for me is ‘Freedom’ trained; that’s a course for women who have been domestic violence victims, to help them protect themselves and keep their children safe, and break the cycle of domestic violence. We’ve tried to pull together a team with a variety of backgrounds so we can find the best one of us to do a particular piece of work, and do some hands on work with families if there is no one to signpost it on to.    

RL: Do you come under the umbrella of the school?
Michelle: We are employed by King Edmunds School at the moment, but they employ us on behalf of all of the schools and we work for the schools as a whole which work very closely together. As I said, we do work in all twenty eight of the schools, some more than others, and it’s very varied, so sometimes there’s no one at a school then suddenly three referrals at the same school perhaps.  It’s good for schools to know how they can get support and advice. We also can offer support to some of the staff in schools because sometimes staff may be going through difficult times, and so it may be a case of helping them stay in school rather than going off sick, seeing how we can support the school community.  

RL: Are you involved with providing holiday activities?
Michelle: One of my team is involved with facilitating those so that some of the families that we’ve been supporting will see we’re still visible to during the holidays. We have vouchers that we can provide that go out through the schools to some of the vulnerable families who may not otherwise be able to afford to take part. In these varied way we help the community.

As so often, after conversations like this, I tend to feel any closing comment is completely inadequate. Michelle has given us a real insight not only into the problems faced in our modern society but also the heart of those working into it. Hopefully in the months ahead we will be able to talk with others in her team and enlarge our own understanding of an area of life that, fortunately, is hidden from many of us. In the meanwhile, Michelle & team, thank you.

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Talking with Michelle Maton of Rochford Extended Services  (March 22nd 2011)
Michelle’s title is Senior Family Support Worker and she works for Rochford Extended Services, a registered charity, out of the King Edmund School. As I was led through the school to the Board Room where we talked, I couldn’t help but think that there had been a number of improvements since I was last in the school a few years or so back. It had a good feel.  Often we have had said in these pages that we could simply reproduce explanatory leaflets but personal conversation conveys much more. That is no more true than in this conversation with Michelle. Not only will you see what they do but also why they do it, and that added dimension draws us right into the struggles of modern life.
For leaflet of Extended Services please CLICK HERE