Tuesday 23 July 2019

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INDOpinion

Field of Dreams can make a huge difference

Wednesday, 1st May, 2019 4:42pm

Eva O’Donovan is Employment Support Specialist at Down Syndrome Cork’s Field of Dreams social farm project in Curraheen. Her role is supported by Down Syndrome Ireland as part of their national remit to support people with Down syndrome to access and sustain work.

"My aim for the graduates of the Field of Dreams is that they have the opportunity of meaningful, part-time supported employment. I believe matching the right candidate with the role is vital to success. I am based at Down Syndrome Cork’s Field of Dreams social farm in Curraheen, where the training programmes are very practical and activity based which give trainees an opportunity to gain new, adaptable skills - which also gives me an insight into their aptitudes.

It is my hope that the sustained employment of people with Down syndrome will become mainstream in Cork businesses only when we ally the concerns of employers. Employing people is a serious responsibility at the best of times. Employing somebody with the additional needs that often accompany Down syndrome can seem even more daunting. That’s where I can help.

As part of my role, I need to have a good understanding of each person and I spend a lot of time getting to know them and their families. Together we explore their interests and preferences regarding employment. We consider their skills and abilities, previous work experience, any specific health concerns that may influence the work they can undertake.

Next, I consider potential employers and roles. We are usually restricted to a geographical area close to the person’s home or on a bus route. Sometimes it is families who suggest businesses in their locality that may be open to recruiting an employee with Down syndrome (DS). Often, they follow a ‘gut’ feeling about a business or perhaps they know that an employer has a track record of inclusive recruitment. Other times I approach employers who have never considered employing a person with DS. After I highlight the advantages to both parties, they are often willing to engage with our service.

I open an exploration with the potential employer without obligation. Understandably, employers have concerns. These can range from not having any personal experience of employing a person with DS to Health & Safety concerns regarding the candidate or their customers. These concerns are legitimate, tend to be very employer and site specific and we examine each one. I need to gain their trust and confidence over this time. Potential employer’s need to know that I will be there to support them every step of the way. That success for both employer and employee is my top priority.

Once we have ascertained that there is potential for employment, I build a profile of their needs for an employee. This includes the tasks to be undertaken, the skill level and the hours required. I discuss the existing team; is there the openness required to include a person with Down syndrome?

It is important that every member of the team understands that this is a real job with real responsibilities, without exception. The employee with DS can be given a task which frees up a colleague to concentrate on something else. That’s the practical side, but I often see a multitude of ‘soft’ benefits such as a more cohesive team or increased customer goodwill. Everybody benefits from that.

Once an employee is successfully placed, I check in regularly, initially daily. This is really useful for everyone as it addresses any unforeseen issues as they arise. This can be really small things like ensuring the new employee returns from break on time. I often witness the banter that our graduates are having with their colleagues. That makes my day!

My opinion? The majority of parents leave no stone unturned to provide opportunities for their child, regardless of needs. Down Syndrome Cork provides a wide range of services and therapies from birth right through adulthood but it can’t happen without the support of the wider community.

I also give huge credit to the employers who are working with us. Many have stepped out of their comfort zone. The success of these placements and the feedback to the wider Cork business community are vital if employment of people with DS is to become commonplace.We are all making small steps towards a brave new and inclusive world.

All of this work takes vital funds. Dunnes Stores are supporting the families of DS Cork who recently welcome Neven Maguire to the Clayton Silver Springs Hotel on 29 April for a fundraising cookery demonstration. For further information or to sponsor an element of Field of Dreams visit www.downsyndromecork.ie or call Down Syndrome Cork on 021-4300444.

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