Throughout the week, evertonfc.com will be running a special series of features celebrating the award-winning early intervention work of Everton in the Community, which has led to a project the charity has led on being awarded £700,000 from the Home Office to extend its programmes. Donate to EitC by texting EITC31 £5 to 70070.
At best, mum Katie would routinely be fielding calls from Tom’s school. Summonses, in effect, for conversations about her son’s behaviour.
Tom has Asperger’s syndrome and was not receiving anything like the support he needed in the mainstream education system.
On the worst days, he would be suspended, sent home for up to a week at a time.
Katie and Tom were trapped in this cycle until February last year. That was when Tom joined Everton in the Community’s [EitC] Breathing Space programme.
The initiative is accessible for 14-19-year-olds who are either currently in care or at risk of entering the care system.
The project works to give young people the opportunity to make significant life changes by building on the strong bonds already created by EitC’s innovative projects and helps them develop skills and confidence, gain accredited qualifications and offers vital volunteering opportunities as well as one-to-one mentoring.
Today, 14-year-old Tom is happy again, his confidence has “rocketed” and he is laden down with qualifications, to boot.
Katie is free to seek employment, “to go out and be myself”.
“When we first saw Tom he was a quiet lad,” says EitC’s Anthony Harden.
“Now you see him full of confidence and having a lot of banter with the staff. It is fantastic and what the programme is about: filling participants with confidence and self-esteem so they can go forward and achieve a lot in the future.”
Tom initially attended 41 Goodison Road – which houses Breathing Space alongside its fellow EitC early intervention and crime reduction programmes – three days a week.
He accumulated qualifications in skills as diverse as rock climbing and first aid, participated in any number of outings and significantly improved his physical health and fitness.
“He is up, dressed, showered and out of the door on time every day, that was never the case previously,” says Katie.
“There was even a point when I’d pick him up in the evening and he’d say, ‘Why have you come so early, we’re not finished yet?’”
Tom was mentored by Grace Callaghan, a support worker on the Breathing Space programme. She also joined Katie for a series of meetings at Tom’s old school and had a very active role in his transition to a new one.
“Me and Grace picked the school together and he loves it,” says Katie.
“He is made up in there.
“When he was in his last school, he was always upset, always angry; never wanting to go in.
“But from the first day he started with EitC, he got that smile back on his face.”
Katie, she says, is “so proud of Tom”.
Callaghan echoes the sentiment and has words of appreciation for Katie, too.
“Mum has engaged amazingly with us and been really supportive of everything we do,” she says. “We can’t thank her enough for being as supportive of us as we are of Tom.
“Katie was looking for employment so we provided her with a character reference.
“Tom has developed his coping mechanisms in different situations, he has hugely improved in speaking to people and working with a group.
“And his confidence has rocketed.
“We are all just so proud of him. He has gone from strength to strength.
“I think he knows that once he puts his mind to something, he can achieve it. He doesn’t need to listen to any negativity. He can do what he wants to do."