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DFN Project SEARCH appoints new CEO to spearhead growth.

Claire Cookson will lead the charity’s ambitions to get 20,000 young adults with learning difficulties and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade

Claire Cookson has been appointed as the new CEO of DFN Project SEARCH.

Claire replaces Maura Lynch and will be responsible for executing DFN Project SEARCH’s long-term strategic goal of getting thousands of young adults with learning difficulties and autism into full-time paid jobs.

Claire is currently the CEO of the DFN Charitable Foundation and has been working alongside DFN Project SEARCH colleagues for some time. She will continue to lead the Foundation’s other education and transition to employment programme, DFN MoveForward.

Claire began her career in education and was Associate Headteacher of Woodlands School, a broad-spectrum Special School, before joining the DFN Charitable Foundation in 2019.

She is a passionate advocate both in the education sector, as well as with employers, and has developed an extensive knowledge of supported employment provisions across the country.

Her recent work partnering with National Grid to develop the supported internship programme, EmployAbility Let’s Work Together, has seen Claire emerge as one of the leading educational voices for supported employment in the UK.

DFN Project SEARCH is a transition to work programme for students with learning disabilities and autism. Its pioneering programme is total workplace immersion at its very best, facilitating a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on skills training.

Today the charity has 69 internationally recognised programmes across the UK, Ireland and Iberia, and has supported over 1000 interns into work. Over 60 per cent of its graduates obtain fulltime paid employment which is well beyond industry benchmarks.

Discussing her appointment, Claire said: “It is a real privilege to be given the opportunity to shape and lead DFN Project SEARCH. Everyone deserves the right to aspire to the very best future – yet nationally only 5.9 per cent of people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) go on to secure full-time paid employment.

“Through this incredible transition to employment programme, DFN Project SEARCH supports at least 60 per cent of its interns into full-time paid employment.

“I am delighted to be able to work with the team to realise our vision and ambition; to grow our provision and eradicate the postcode lottery to ensure that learners with SEND can access a high-quality Supported Internship in their local area. Our job now is to work with other aspirational providers, educators and local and national Government to give these talented young people hope and the chance to fulfil their potential.”

David Forbes-Nixon, Chairman and Founder of the DFN Charitable Foundation, believes that Claire’s passion and dedication will be a key asset for DFN Project SEARCH as it meets its commitment of driving positive change for young adults with learning disabilities and autism.

He said: “I am very excited about Claire’s appointment to lead DFN Project SEARCH and would like to thank Maura Lynch for the excellent job she has done leading the charity since 2019 and wish her well in the future.

“Claire is one of the leading practitioners in supported employment in the UK and will spearhead our ambitious plans to roll out DFN Project SEARCH over the coming years and get thousands of young adults with learning difficulties and autism into full time paid jobs.”

David Forbes-Nixon has also recognised the dedication and ingenuity shown by the charity’s partners during the Covid-19 crisis.

In response to the pandemic, DFN Project SEARCH has been working closely with its US colleagues to expand and develop online resources and training. They have also been partnering with its education and business partners to create new training materials to offer tailored support to individual needs.

In addition, the charity has also been collaborating with the DFN Foundation and NSEF to launch the Finding Your Future campaign, a YouTube content channel designed to keep supported interns inspired and focused on employment outcomes.

David added: “We find ourselves in unprecedented times, but this has brought our community together and driven collaboration to ensure that young people going through supported internships maintain their pathway to full employment.

“We know more than ever the importance of supporting vulnerable groups, being strong advocates, ambassadors and champions of our cause.

“We can be very proud of this collaboration and I truly believe that it creates a strong precedent for the supported internship community to emerge stronger on the other side, and united towards our goal of helping young people earn life-changing jobs.”