Joanne Pudney is the mother of a 21-rear old who has high and complex needs. She writes about him and the solution they found in their own backyard.
Jack is nonverbal, incontinent, has restricted mobility, and Addison’s disease – and is unable to self-regulate physical and emotional stress, which, translated, means very challenging behaviours. He is also an intuitive, emotionally intelligent, social young man with a sense of humour and compassion.
Jack’s support needs are met through Enabling Good Lives (EGL) funding. Jack receives a support package based on his needs, dreams, and aspirations and what it means for Jack to live a good life.
Our family has lived on a small lifestyle block on the Hamilton City boundary for the past 22 years. A two-minute walk gives us access to city buses, and a large dog exercise park means we live in an area of dog lovers. A safe cycleway gives us a 5km path to cycle into Hamilton City centre and to access the river paths.
Jack has three younger siblings who all require attention and support. Aware of the adage “it takes a village….” we have been open, and friendly and looked for opportunities to engage with our neighbours and local community.
We got a dog and went dog walking with the locals. We developed a ‘micro business’ and sold/gave away free-range eggs to neighbours and locals. We built enduring relationships with neighbours We developed neighbour support initially centred around our son and younger siblings but developed to support each other through life stresses.
Our son is part of our family and community engagement involved our entire family engaging with the community.
For Jack to be the best version of himself:
- Jack needed a seamless transition from home – he had extreme difficulty transitioning to new environments
- He required emotional attachment
- He required a safe environment
- He loved people but was socially inappropriate
- He needed a safe terrain because of mobility issues
- He needed physical exercise to maintain mobility
- He needed an environment that was sensory and stimulating and welcomed family and community
- Jack was not able to have a life of activity and scheduling. He needed a place to BE.
The family also had needs:
- His family needed independence and time out
- Siblings needed space
- Staff needed to be supported and to enjoy a lifestyle to form long-term sustainable relationships with Jack and his family
- Jack’s family wanted to remain involved but required a sustainable solution.
The solution was The Cowshed, established in 2014 by renovating the disused cowshed on our lifestyle property. It became a small family-governed daycare and respite facility built to meet Jack’s needs and those of our family.
We took a risk……. If it didn’t work out, we could always use it as a rental.
The timing was perfect. Shortly after completion, we were unable to get Jack to school, and the EGL demonstration was announced. Our dream became sustainable.
The rest is history. The Cowshed is an accessible, sensory place to be. The farm, animal environment and evolving themes engage and invite visitors. Jack’s Cowshed programme includes regular bus rides, walks, hydrotherapy, bike rides and hosting visitors – lots of them.
Initially, it was very hard work building, planning, staffing, coordinating and administering. It did feel at times exhausting. Jack was having a great life but life for me was still very intense. Gradually, thanks to the amazing staff, neighbours, family and friends the day-to-day has got much easier. I still do timesheets and the budget thing, but all planning and activities is very much a hands-off affair now.
Jack is thriving. Cognitively and emotionally he is about 18 months to two years, but he continues to surprise us with his understanding and humour.