Three-year-old Elliott uses non-verbal communication and has a range of complex needs including autism, global development delay and the rare condition, metopic craniosynostosis. 

“Finding a pre-school when the time came was a huge challenge,” says Elliott’s mother, Sarah. “Elliott had undergone major cranial surgery and was insular, showing no engagement with others and not responding to his name. At the same time, he was a competent climber with no sense of danger, needing constant attention, and his safety was a major issue.” 

Surrey County Council had put Sarah and her husband in touch with Rachel, an Early Support Key Worker who provided invaluable help and advice. Crucially, Rachel was also the parent of a daughter with complex needs and familiar with many YMCA East Surrey services. She suggested Sarah contact our Pre-school at the YMCA Sovereign Centre. 

“I loved the physical layout of the Sovereign Pre-school, with the sensory and soft play rooms adjoining the main area,” says Sarah. “This gives Elliott a choice as to where he wants to go and the outside space is also wonderful.” 

“From our first meeting, nothing has ever been too much for the Pre-school staff. They are so reassuring. I knew immediately that Elliott was going to be safe there and thrive.” 

Pre-school Manager, Stacey Lawrence, has been instrumental in securing a pioneering ‘In Reach Programme’ for Elliott with Surrey County Council. He now has two days per week at the Sovereign Pre-school and three at Brooklands School for children with severe or profound learning difficulties, accompanied by a YMCA staff member who has received additional SEN training. 

“We are over the moon,” says Sarah. “This will give Elliott the very best start to his school experience possible.” 

YMCA’s Face2Face parent befriending service has also been a source of information and reassurance. 

“Sandhya, the Face2Face Coordinator, is an incredible person to have in the background. She is a voice of reason whenever I need her and her experienced and knowledgeable support provides the perfect sounding board when I think I might be going insane!” 

“Being a parent to a SEN child is scary and isolating. Face2Face lets us air our frustrations with other people who have been through the same experiences and share practical, helpful advice. It’s inspired me to set up a Facebook group supporting other parents of SEN children where I live.” 

Sarah has volunteered both with the YMCA LifeWorks project and a local Rainbow group, based at the YMCA Horley Young People and Family Centre, which provides support for parents and carers looking after under 5’s with complex needs. Elliott’s older sister, Sadie, also attends a young carers group at the centre. 

“YMCA East Surrey is a big community, offering continued support to 18 years and beyond for people with incredibly complex lives. Being able to find this kind of stability as a parent or carer is amazing and we hope it will be a part of our lives for years to come,” says Sarah. 

“Knowing that I can help to make the tiniest bit of difference to other families by volunteering, in the way that the YMCA has helped us on our journey, means everything to me. I want to be part of Team YMCA as so much good comes out of it.”