Brain in hand - personal technology for independant living

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Supported Internship Programmes equip young people with special education or health needs with the skills and experience they need to gain paid employment. But when on placement, beyond the work coaches’ reach, it can be especially tough for many students. Hereward College introduced Brain in Hand and 55% of its intern students achieved paid employment.

“Brain in Hand helps us to develop resilience in our learners, so they can cope with the workplace. Knowing support is at hand, to help them get through the working day, and manage their emotions, helps learners relax and be successful.” Paul Cooke, Principal, Hereward College

For more than 45 years, Hereward College has been supporting young people with disabilities in the West Midlands developing their skills for independence. Working closely with employers in the region, the college runs a supported internship programme, providing students with work experience, bolstered by extra support from a dedicated job coach and training.

But once on placement, beyond the college’s reach, a change in routine or unexpected event can be extremely tough for many students with a mental health condition. Events outside of work hours, such as travelling or being unable to sleep, can cause extreme anxiety and impact the success of a placement.
The college was also keen to look for tools that would help fit the college’s goal of helping students to increase their independence skills, better preparing them for their next stage in life.

The solution
Identifying its goals and barriers to success, the college researched ways in which it could extend its support., How could students access support, 24 hours a day, wherever they are? How could they accurately know how students are coping when on placement? Or review with certainty how a student had been feeling? It identified Brain in Hand, an on demand personalised support system accessed from a student’s mobile phone.

The Brain in Hand team built a system that would work for Hereford, helping the team identify the students who would benefit the most and linking their accounts to one central dashboard. This enabled Hereward staff to get an overview of all participants. Job coaches were given training on the system as, for the best results, they would need to support the approach, know how to set students-up on the system and be able to access the insight data available.

Each job coach then worked closely with students to think about their life and upcoming work placement and identify the situations which cause problems or anxiety. Together, they created a range of solutions to address these and entered them into the diary, reminder and coping strategy features on Brain in Hand. This enabled students to easily and quickly access these at college, home, or when on their placement.

With permission, each job coach and a family member was linked to the relevant student’s Brain in Hand account. This gave the supporters visibility of how the student was feeling at all times, enabling them to add words of encouragement and receive alerts if the student needed extra help when on a placement.
Employers welcomed this additional support tool, reassured that students could access the most appropriate support when on placement.

Students starting placements at local employers such as Severn Trent Water, Arlington Automotive and Whitefriars Housing were given Brain in Hand and the impact is significant.
Students using the technology have seen a reduction in anxiety, experienced fewer crisis events and have started to solve their own problems meaning they can stay in placement. For example:

Harriet experiences anxiety which can cause her to freeze and others around her to panic. She finds it hard to cope with a change in routine and busy public spaces but, since using Brain in Hand, her anxieties have decreased, and she relies on her job coach and parents far less. She is now able to do many things she previously would have been too scared to do, such as travel independently and even give a presentation. Thanks to these changes, Harriet now has a job at Holiday Inn. Describing Brain in Hand, Harriet says:
“Brain in Hand is like a friend and I know there is a team behind the app who can step in if I need extra help.”

Reflecting on Harriet’s progress, her job coach says: “The combination of Hereward, the employer and Brain in Hand has been invaluable combination for Harriet. She’s a very different young woman now from the person who started using Brain in Hand.”

Curtis has cerebral palsy and experiences anxiety. When he first started his internship at Hereward College, he was nervous, uncomfortable and needing to constantly seek reassurance from people. But since using Brain in Hand, his anxieties have reduced, he solves his own problems and has become more confident. For example, during one half term, Curtis was invited to a job interview, which meant he wouldn’t have his job coach with him. Instead of declining missing the opportunity, Curtis used his Brain in hand to plan and support him through the day. Curtis really values Brain in Hand and says: “I know in the real world I won’t get the support I receive at Hereward. With Brain in Hand I feel more confident and believe in myself.”

Commenting on Curtis’ experience, his job coach said: “Curtis has come a very long way in a short space of time; he is now better equipped, confident and ready for his next steps in life. It has built his confidence to a point where he is ready to leave Hereward College and he no longer needs me.”

Summarising the programme, Paul Cooke, Principal, Hereward College said: “Our learners have access to a high quality work experience through a rich network of employers and with Brain in Hand, a wraparound service from the college. Brain in Hand helps us in developing the resilience in learners, so that they can cope with the workplace. Knowing that support is at hand, to help them get through the working day and manage their emotions, helps learners relax and be successful.”