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DFN Project SEARCH launches Alumni Network

DFN Project SEARCH has launched a new national alumni network to help young adults with a learning disability and autistic young people into employment.

The network will support those who have taken part in a Supported Internship, which is a work-based study programme for 16 – 24 year-olds with SEND, who have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). The network will be driven by DFN Project SEARCH’s Youth Advisory Group to help empower young people who want to speak up, raise awareness and positively influence recruitment practices.

The initiative will be led by DFN Project SEARCH’s Youth Advisory Group comprising young people currently undertaking Supported Internships and the alumni network will include young people who have completed internships in recent years. It has been created on the basis that young people with lived experience should be able to influence their support services and help build pathways to employment and independence that work for them.

As part of the network, young people will speak to employers, educators, families and support service providers to give them a better understanding of their needs for skills and adjustments. It will also provide young people with an opportunity to stay connected and share experiences with each other.

Launched during National Inclusion Week 2023, this Alumni network is the latest development of the charity’s ambitious #InclusionRevolution campaign, which aims to get 10,000 young people with a learning disability, those with autism, or both, in the UK into paid employment by 2030.

Harry Georgiou, Youth Advisory Assistant at DFN Project SEARCH, said: “Young people should have a say in decisions that affect their lives and their careers, whether they have a learning disability or not. That’s why “nothing about us without us” is at the heart of the YAG programme and the alumni network.

“As a former intern myself, I am incredibly excited to be leading this programme with the rest of our team at DFN Project SEARCH. Alongside our Youth Advisory Group, we will be speaking to employers, educators, families and support service providers to give them a better understanding of our skills and the need for adjustments. I know that with a bit of training and support, the network will become great advocates of inclusive employment and bust myths about disabled workers. I can’t wait to get started.”

Claire Cookson, CEO of DFN Project SEARCH, said: “Young people who have lived experience of supported internships should influence policies and services that shape their lives. Over 2,200 young people have already completed internships with DFN Project SEARCH and, on average, 70% of them found permanent jobs after their internships, buckling national trend of 5% employment rates for young people with a learning disability or autism. I know the Youth Advisory Group and its alumni are the future of the Inclusion Revolution – all we need to do is listen to them, give them the tools they need and let them drive.”

The DFN Project SEARCH Youth Advisory Group and Alumni Network commits to:

  • Creating a safe, accessible space where young people can exchange ideas and improve their skills to become spokespeople for their peers, in their communities and in wider public debate.
  • Busting myths about learning disability and showcase how young people who undertake supported internships can go on to become valuable employees and members of their community.
  • Improve the quality and accessibility of transition-to-work services by including the voices of young people in the creation and reform of these services.

Young people aged 16 to 25 from across the UK who are currently undertaking a supported internship are eligible to apply for a place in the Youth Advisory Group, and all previous interns can become part of the alumni network.

For more information, please email yaag@dfnprojectsearch.org.