Since 1999, a charity has given help and encouragement to families in the Chichester and Arun districts with a child with special educational needs or disabilities.
The Parents and Carers Support Organisation (PACSO) was set up when a small group of professionals, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists and social workers, met to discuss how best to support the families in their care.
PACSO play manager Emma Kennedy said: “They were awarded a £100 budget to provide some parent lunches, allowing parents of disabled children to meet and share their stories and support one another.”
The group grew and the families said they would like play activities for their disabled children: “The rest is history! PACSO had about 63 families through the door in the first year and now we have over 350 members and a much larger budget is needed than £100.”
The charity runs six after-school clubs and two toddler groups a week, plus two Easter play days, two Christmas play days, two weeks of summer playscheme and one Saturday club a month, as well as family events and trips for primary, secondary and college-age children and young adults.
“We have a small but fantastic set of permanent staff and a large amount of casual staff and volunteers. PACSO really is community and people stay with us throughout different stages of their life.
“I started as a volunteer at 16, became a casual member of staff and then a team leader whilst I carried out my primary teaching degree, stayed on board as casual staff whilst I was a primary teacher for five years and became full-time three years ago as PACSO manager.”
Children do not need a formal diagnosis to use the service. And, as activities are heavily subsidised, ‘families can afford our services, siblings can join in with their disabled brothers and sisters and therefore meet other siblings and we have a nurse present at Saturday clubs, play days and the play scheme’.
Everyone is welcome and membership is free.
Volunteers and casual bank staff are warmly invited to join play activities. In addition: “We desperately need our community to support us by making monitory donations and/or organising fundraising events to support us.”
Emma said: “We’d also like to thank our wonderful CEO, Val Evans, who served PACSO for the last 10 years and is moving on ... and wish her lots of luck and happiness in her future roles.”
Creating affordable fun, clubs and respite activities for all the family
A tiny charity has inspired a member of a family it assists to dedicate himself to supporting young people and those with life challenges.
The Parents and Carers Support Organisation (PACSO) has supported the Wilkins family since 2006, when son Sam, now 17, was diagnosed with autism. Being a ‘PACSO family’ has been transformational not just for Sam and his parents, however, but also for his older brother Jack.
The boys’ grandfather Bernard Lane said: “At school, Jack was obviously not academic, but has shown himself to be an extremely caring person. His brother is autistic and can be difficult and demanding. Jack has always managed to cope with him and, in many ways, gets more co-operation from his brother than anybody else – he has shown an ability to deal with difficult situations with calm and strength.”
At about 17, Jack decided to work part-time for PACSO, first as a volunteer and then, at 18, as a play-worker. Inspired, he decided to study at Chichester College, attaining a level 3 diploma in childcare and education.
“It was quite unexpected and an eye-opener when Jack announced his ambition was to take a career in caring for demanding young people. Through the example of caring for his brother and working for PACSO, he has chosen to take a career in giving back to society.”
Jack now works at family-run nursery Woodpeckers Childcare, but continues to help PACSO part-time.
His mum Sarah Wilkins said: “We have used PACSO as family since 2006. It’s the only local charity that’s all about the family and children with additional needs and their siblings. As Jack grew older, he didn’t need PACSO anymore but we continued to use it, with Sam attending many clubs and events. It’s been a huge part of our family – when you have somebody who has High Functioning Autism, PACSO is our only respite.”
Sarah said PACSO provides essential respite for many families. It has also inspired a young man to work with children: “We need more young men in childcare. There are also lots of boys with special needs who need that bit more support and companionship and want a boy to enjoy activities with. PACSO is also the charity that persuaded Jack to follow his career path. He’ll never be rich, but he’ll never be out of a job – and we’re incredibly proud of him.”