LIKE any parent, Angela Maughan struggled with the idea of her autistic son Kelvin going into residential care.

But the pair of them had reached crisis point during the first Covid lockdown, when 10-year-old Kelvin had lost his school placement and all his routines.

Angela, who is also autistic and was a single mum at the time, could no longer cope, and her social worker found a place for Kelvin at Braemar Gardens in Sunderland.

“He went to Braemar and I thought, ‘I’ve lost him now’. But I didn’t lose him. I gained a family,” Angela says now, two years on.

Staff did just become my family. I can’t even explain how much they mean to me. They’re not just looking after Kelvin, they’re looking after all of us.

Julie Dunlop is the Registered Manager of Braemar Gardens, where Kelvin stays with two other boys. She and her team did everything they could to support his transition into the home during lockdown when physical visits weren’t allowed.

“They came out and spent time with him, bringing photos and walk-round videos to show us,” Angela explains. “When he went in, they did regular video calls between Kelvin and me.

“He would tell me he missed me and loved me, but he was upbeat – and seeing him happy helped me get through it as well. They made it a very positive experience for him.”

Since then, Angela has been overjoyed to see how Kelvin has settled down and developed. He quickly got into a routine, and Braemar staff developed strategies to support him that are applied consistently at school and during visits home to see Angela.

Kelvin’s speaking has come on leaps and bounds and he has started interacting well with the other boys at Braemar Gardens, sharing toys and playing. He has started school at Thornhill Park nearby and – unlike earlier experiences of school – he loves it.

“What they’ve done for him is amazing,” Angela says. “Kelvin has ADHD and doesn’t like sitting at a desk, so they let him move around during indoor learning and they do outdoor classes with him in the afternoon.

He’ll do geography, life skills, shops, money – he loves all that, he’s really good at it. They have the time to do that with him at Thornhill and he’s blossomed.

Outside school, Kelvin loves water play, beaches and exploring rock pools, and care staff are taking him on holiday to Crimdon Dene over the summer to do just that.

With the help and encouragement of staff, Angela, 39, has found her life improving, too. She has moved into a new home with her partner Simon and has kitted out Kelvin’s bedroom with the toys and TV he loves.

She is also planning to get married to Simon in October and is hoping that Kelvin will be there to be the ring-bearer. She has arranged the day at Bowburn Hall, Country Durham, around Kelvin’s needs, so he has a woodland area to explore, outdoor toys, a quiet room, and seats at the back so he can run in and out of the ceremony.

After that, Angela is looking forward to the future. “I can’t believe how much our situation has changed. Kelvin will be coming across and we’ll have barbecues together in the garden. The Braemar people will be coming too, and it’s like my family are coming with him.

“The best thing we’ve all got out of this is family – family and support. Kelvin needed it, I needed it.”

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