15 June 2023
A Derbyshire Police Federation member who helped launch the Force’s Neurodiversity Support Group says she genuinely thinks Derbyshire Constabulary is making great strides when it comes to supporting officers and staff living with neurodivergent conditions.
Temporary Chief Inspector Clare Preston-Davies co-founded the group 18 months ago with the aim of raising awareness of neurodiversity, removing the stigma surrounding neurodiversity and helping to create a working environment that allows everyone to flourish.
The group, which is a virtual support and advice network for those living with, or know somebody living with a neurodiverse condition, already has more than 120 members.
“I think the fact that we already have 120 members in just 18 months demonstrates just how diverse the Force is,” said Clare.
“It’s a safe space, a place where no one will judge, a network which eliminates that feeling of being alone. And people can get involved as much or as little as they want to - if they want to join in with conversations or just read the online chat that’s absolutely fine.”
During the online chat, members are given the opportunity to share their experiences, ask questions and engage with other like-minded people.
“I’m so proud of how far the group has come already and I’m so proud of the support each member has given to one another. And I honestly believe Derbyshire, as a force, is making great strides when it comes to supporting officers and staff with neurodivergent conditions,” Clare added.
“We’ve come a long way since we launched. We have some great relationships with stakeholders, including the Federation, who have been extremely supportive. We’re also looking at introducing ‘Neurodiversity Champions’ who will be able to provide one-to-one peer-to-peer support to officers and staff when they need it.
“We recently sent out a survey to the group to find out the impact the group was having on our members and some of the responses we got were amazing. One member said the group gave them the ‘freedom to ask questions without being made to feel judged or ridiculed’ and another expressed their relief at finding ‘support like this group’.
“The survey revealed that we had members who had only recently been diagnosed and were admittedly ‘struggling’ with processing the news. According to their feedback, having the group there made a huge difference. In fact, 95 per cent of those who responded said the group was ‘valuable’ and 50 per cent had either started a diagnosis pathway or decided to disclose their condition with the organisation as a result of the group.”
Temporary Chief Inspector Clare Preston-Davies
Clare also regularly arranges guest speakers to share their experiences with the group, all of whom are police officers - from all different forces - who are living with a neurodivergent condition or who have a loved one who is.
“As well as providing tips and advice for members, we’re also creating information shaped around specific wording and references associated with neurodiversity,” explained Clare.
“For example, people innocently make throw away comments like ‘oh that’s my OCD’ - we’ve all done it, I used to do it - but OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder] is a really serious condition which severely impacts the everyday life of those living with it, and innocently made comments can trivialise this.
“It’s raising awareness of vocabulary like this and working with line managers to help them better understand neurodiverse conditions, in the same way we have for other under-represented groups, that helps us to become more inclusive.”
Clare launched the group after joining the Force two years ago. She had co-created a similar network in her previous role at Nottinghamshire Constabulary.
Her drive to raise awareness of neurodiverse conditions was triggered by a conversation she had with a colleague at Nottinghamshire, who was dyslexic and challenged her around certain processes.
“Recently I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] myself,” revealed Clare.
“And what’s interesting for me is whether my diagnosis changes everything or nothing? I mean, nobody has fallen off their chair when I’ve told them about my diagnosis but I have to admit, a lot of things now make sense - like the fact that I’m always tired, is that because my brain doesn’t stop?
“If we’re able to raise awareness and educate people around neurodiversity then it will make a huge difference for our officers when they approach members of the public living with such conditions,” she added.
“We often deal with neurodivergent people when they are at a point of crisis - so if we don’t properly understand, then we won’t necessarily be able to handle the situation effectively and efficiently and could unknowingly make it worse. Little things can make all the difference, and so learning more about neurodiversity within the workplace is really advantageous.”
Clare’s comments come after the chair of Derbyshire Police Federation Tony Wetton voiced his concern that there seems to be a ‘postcode lottery’ across policing in the way forces support neurodivergent officers.
Tony called for set standards to support neurodiversity in the police service to prevent disparities in how forces provided assessments and made adjustments for colleagues.
Last year, a Neurodiversity Peer Review was launched in Derbyshire Constabulary, carried out by Creased Puddle, specialists in neurodiversity in the workplace. They made recommendations which have been built into a plan which is being worked through.
Tony said: “Most of us, especially in policing, are at the start of the journey in terms of awareness and understanding of neurodiversity. We are all neurodiverse - we are not all neurodivergent.
“The Neurodiversity Working Group within Derbyshire Police goes from strength to strength and I would recommend that anyone who feels they need support should get in touch with them in the first instance.”
If you would like more information on the Neurodiversity Working Group then visit the Force’s intranet.