Details of board
Sarah Thomas (Trustee and Participation Co-ordinator)
I have been involved in developing parent carer participation both locally, regionally and nationally since 2007 when I was a founder member of the Shropshire Parent and Carer Council (PACC). I was invited to join the task force to establish the National Network of Parent Carer Forums in 2010 and served as a representative for the West Midlands Regional Network of Forums for several years. In 2012 I was elected Co-Chair of the NNPCF and held this post until 2015 when I stepped down to deliver the Contact A Family Health Participation Project for 12 months.
I have three sons who all have special educational needs. My middle son has severe learning disabilities and Autism and will need life long support to lead an independent life.
As well as working with Shropshire PACC my family also are Short Break foster carers, offering the kind of support to other families that we have been so lucky to benefit from ourselves. I have a particular interest in promoting family resilience and enabling those with learning disabilities to live self-directed lives.
Zara Bowden (Chair / Trustee and Communication and Outreach Lead )
Being a parent was the easiest decision of my life, I had always planned to have a family. Becoming a parent carer was not on my agenda however. Not only was it a shock that my daughter made such a dramatic entrance to the world, but the repercussions that had on our lives left me devastated. It took me a great deal of time to come to terms with our early journey, but what I was very aware of was my need to learn all that I could to help my daughter become the best version of herself that she could be. Even if I struggled to accept our situation, sometimes daily, I always strived to be her advocate and to ensure she was given all the opportunities she deserves.
PACC was a ray of light in some difficult and dark times for me. The idea of having support from parent carers in similar yet different circumstances was daunting but much needed. My first encounters with PACC were to be introduced to the befriender training programme. During this training I made some great friends and found a strength in myself I had lost in my struggles. It's never easy taking on new challenges but PACC gave me a way to help others by sharing my knowledge and giving me an opportunity to learn more about our local SEND services and systems.
I am now a PACC parent representative and Chair of the open Participation Meetings. I help support and steer PACC in its growth and development as we continue to promote parent carer participation and provide opportunities for strategic participation through our reps team.
My role is sometimes challenging as I am also the SEND local offer coordinator for Shropshire Council. This means that I cannot attend meetings locally where they may be a conflict of interest between my two roles as a PACC representative, so my focus within PACC is mainly to support our social media presence and promote participation at every opportunity. I also work hard behind the scenes to support the decisions made about our priorities and our focus when our representatives are in high demand and we have several work areas we are involved in.
I am also the West Midlands regional representative and steering group member of the national network of parent carer forums (NNPCF). In this role I am the representative of 14 parent carer forums when performing my regional role and can represent the steering group at a national level too. For PACC this means we have a very clear relationship with the NNPCF and have a distinct route to share our experiences regionally and nationally too, this also works the other way with us learning from the regional and national teams to help us locally.
I am extremely passionate about parent carer participation and its longevity and sustainability. Although busy in all parts of my life, PACC plays a huge role and will always have my commitment and support.
I am Mum to two young boys, Patrick aged 6 and William aged 4. William has a Chromosome deletion, severe learning difficulties, is autistic and largely non-verbal.
I feel that I am just at the start of my ‘journey’ with William, and consider myself to be very much still learning about his condition and the SEN ‘system’ in Shropshire.
At various times following William’s diagnosis I have felt overwhelmed, angry, frustrated and powerless, and this has affected my own physical and mental health.
Being part of Shropshire PACC has been cathartic for me - I get the chance to voice my own and others experience, to those who are able to effect change within the system.
I am learning from other Parent Carers who are further on the SEN journey and gain valuable support and knowledge from their experiences. Particular areas of interest to me are the Early Years (0-6) - supporting those families going through, and post assessment, EHCPs – getting the best for young people out of the new system and Employment for Parent Carers – educating employers on the benefit of what Parent Carers have to offer them.
My previous employment history includes working as a Careers Advisor for Connexions at schools and colleges in Oxfordshire, being a volunteer youth worker and working in HR and Training for Asda, Somerfield/Kwik Save and the Royal Mail.
I also work as administrator for PACC, which involves producing the newsletter, maintaining the website and organising conferences and events.
Michael Thomas (Trainer and Trustee)
I have been working alongside members of PACC for the last 8 years as a supporter and trainer for Face 2 Face. My background as a carer and social worker has shown me the importance of working in a constructive way and to challenge appropriately so as to improve services for our children and young people. Our life as a fostering family with a number of children with additional needs has shown the unique importance of the carer/parental view and how to move decision making to be individually focussed and person centred rather than system centric. I believe I can offer training expertise to PACC to enable it to develop its services so as to positively impact on more families.