Crossroads Care is delighted to be able to continue supporting young people with (SEND), many also Young Carers, now that its new 16+ Saturday Group is up and running. Fiona Mitchell went along to find out more…

Crossroads Care set up its 16+ Group after parents/carers and staff became increasingly aware of the need for continued focused support for young people beyond the age group that the Saturday Club caters for — those with SEND aged 8 to 18 years old.

19-year-old Mark has just arrived for an afternoon at the group which is held at a spacious youth facility in Hampton whose walls are covered with bright and uplifting artwork.

Mark has autism and learning difficulties and has a long history of being bullied at school. Communication is thus a major issue for Mark who is a selective mute. Trust and familiarity are essential for him.

‘What time did you get up this morning, Mark?’ Saturday Club staff member Olivia Keadell asks him gently. Olivia is also the Mentoring Lead for a three-year project which specialises in supporting vulnerable young people including Mark.

Silently, he holds up all of his ten fingers. Olivia asks her question again, adding, ‘Please tell me Mark, using your words.’

She persists patiently, all of her attention focused on Mark until finally he says, ‘ten.’

It is one of about seven words that Mark has spoken over the past two months which is a big achievement for him. This is all thanks to the ongoing support of Olivia and the rest of the remarkable team at Crossroads Care.  They have become an integral support network for Mark who first started attending the charity’s Saturday Club for children with SEND twelve years ago.

This focused support, tailored to each young person is just one element of the 16+ Group, which is funded by Hampton Fund, Richmond Parish Lands Charity, the Barnes Fund and BBC Children in Need.

A karate session takes place at the group led by sensei Antonio Sakim — known to everyone as Sensei Tony — who has been working with these young people for over 10 years. He leads members including Mark through a series of moves with everyone working to their own ability. The group is held rapt by Tony who is a talented teacher and encourages discipline with a good sprinkling of humour thrown in. Indeed, it is no mean feat that one member of the group who has been doing karate at the Saturday Club since he was eight years old is just three belts away from gaining his black belt.

In the main club room, group member Lucy, 18, is getting stuck into this week’s activity, helping others to decorate Easter bonnets. One boy is so delighted with his work that he wears the hat for the rest of session.

For young people who want time-out, a sofa horseshoes part of the room, a blossom tree collage with paper petals on the wall in the background.

All of the staff have a deep understanding of the needs of every young person here. Where time-out is right for some, for others they need encouragement to join in. When one boy arrives at the club and flops face-down on the sofa straightaway, Saturday Club Lead Danielle Way knows that he needs some gentle persuasion to join in.

‘The children and young people see the club as a home from home,’ she says. ‘But sometimes that means that they’ll do just what they like doing at home. They’ll have a lie down instead of taking part in all that we have to offer here, so they just need a little reminder.’ With some friendly banter, Danielle soon has the boy on his feet again raring to participate in the karate class.

Danielle and Olivia and all the other staff put everything into making the 16+ Group a stimulating and fun place to be. Street dance classes take place for those that want to strike a pose and improve their coordination skills, and the lunch is a delicious blend of protein, vegetables, fruit, smoothies and, of course, a few sweet treats.

Since this week is a special one, there is great hilarity when everyone gets involved in the Easter egg hunt.

The friendships that the young people make here are wonderful to see. The smiles are too numerous to count as young people develop friendships, make new ones, build Lego models, play pool or have a go at a large Connect 4 game. It is a poignant moment when one girl who is wearing earphones, because she doesn’t like loud noises, puts her hand on a boy’s back reassuring him as they walk and talk.

For many of the young people here, the group is the only safe social place where they can meet friends. And for those with young caring roles, it’s also a place to play, seek support, have fun and most of all be a young person.

Later, Olivia writes down a question for Mark — ‘What is your favourite thing about the 16+ Group?’

And Mark answers with some felt-tipped words: ‘I enjoy the arts and crafts activity, as well as meeting new people. I have made lots of new friends.’

Recognising Mark’s efforts and progress at the Saturday Club, he has just been appointed a Young Ambassador for the charity and is now undergoing extensive training. The role means that Mark will now be volunteering each week at the Saturday Club, building on his social skills and helping out with activities.