The Grafton Journey at SASI

Grafton’s approach to client care is now finding a home in locations all over the world.

Statewide Autistic Services Inc., known locally as SASI,is a disability service located in Melbourne, Australia, serving more than200 clients. We provide day programs at three sites and manage a number of group homes for adults in long-term residence. We also operate a respite home for children and adolescents for short stays and offer school holiday programs for young people.Most of our clients have an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and many cope with an intellectual disability or other diagnoses or medical challenge. We accommodate a broad mix of needs, both for higher functioning clients and for those with limited communication skills or cognitive abilities.

Our staff are skilled and bring warmth to their role, and their respect for each individual client is core to our work. Our organization finds itself in an exciting stage of growth and change, building a profile in the local area and diversifying our offerings to the communities we serve.

I was hired by SASI in June to assist withthe rollout of these new goal mastery initiatives—and what a journey it has been for all of us! We are in the early stages of this transition and have just achieved our first milestone:completion of goal writing in the Grafton style for a pilot group of clients. I hope to share with you a little of our journey and learnings.

Embracing Change

Since our attendance at the Grafton training for managers and key staff in June, we have encouraged our staff members to think in terms of skill-building with regard to our work. While we have always placed an emphasis on supporting client learning, we now have additional tools to monitor our progress and change course as required. For one, our staff now participates in lively brainstorming to determine the needs of individual clients. It’s great to hear managers think in terms of what is possible—“what if?” has become a common phrase in our meetings.

Beyond improvement of client support, our purpose in effecting changein our approach to the work is to secure our organization’s place in the local service system, ahead of national funding changes. Staff are beginning to understand and embrace the idea that change is expected and necessary.

Earlier this year clients needed to be evacuated from one of our regional sites because of a fire risk at a local coal mine, which was too close to our property.It wasn’t safe to return. Staff managed this process impeccably, running the program in scout halls and making do until we could find another more permanent place of residence. During this process, we realised that our clients really can manage change well, when they are supported in doing so. Our incidents of concern actually declined during this time—a surprise to us all—and organizationally, it created a new paradigm for how we work.

An Amazing Team

We all need to feel inspired at work.This year we have had a great opportunity to consider how far we have come as an  organization over our many years of disability support work in the community.Our involvement with Grafton is a continuation of increased innovation over time.

One of the most valuable outcomes of our involvement with Grafton is an increased sense of unity across the organization as we recognise the unique skills of our staff and strengths of our approach in supporting clients. Staff members become motivated to learn the Grafton approach when they realize that this is a way of recording work they are already doing, so that management can see client milestones and gains as they occur. Working with a positive attitude and looking for ‘what is possible’ every day also makes SASI a happier place to be during those times when work with our clients requires greater patience and commitment.

Families—Sharing the Journey

SASI is promoting a series of counselling groups for families, led by two trained counsellors from Carers Victoria,the local peak representative agency for family carers (caregivers are known as “carers” in Australia) in our state of Victoria.These counsellors bring expertise in caregiver grief and loss. Their focus can be busy young families with children in occasional respite, or older families with adult children.This is an opportunity to support families as needed.

Celebrating successes

In the two-and-a-half months since our Grafton goal-mastery training, SASI staff members have helped clients reach new goals. For example, with prompting from staff, some of our clients have learned new ball sports, and some are independently making their bed or trying new skills in the kitchen—they are so proud! We are finding new opportunities for praise and encouragement, and we are inspired by their efforts.These are moments we celebrate through sharing in our newsletter, The Pebble.

As a leadership team, the refining lens of our reflective practice has been critical to our success thus far—determining and defining the organization we are building SASI to be. We can’t wait to see where this process leads as we begin our pilot and begin tracking goals over time!