Meet our team

We are a group of parents and carers of children and young people with disabilities and additional needs aged 0-25. Together we form the Management Committee that supports and coordinates Essex Family Forum as an independent parent carer forum for the whole of Essex. We are passionate about aiming for quality outcomes that meet the needs of all our families.

Andrea Pereira

Chair

I am a parent carer for my 25 year old son who has autism and a learning disability.  He has benefited from special provision throughout his education and he has now moved into adult services.  Alongside my lived experience, I have been working for SNAP (Special Needs and Parents) as Family Information Coordinator and adviser for over 20 years.  During this time I have heard many issues families across Essex are facing with their children who have additional needs and disabilities. I trained under the Family Partnership Model, which is an ethos I feel passionately about and should be used by everyone who wishes to work effectively with parent carers.

In a voluntary capacity I have been involved in the creation of this parent carer forum for Essex since the beginning, as I feel strongly that families’ experiences and needs should be listened to and considered throughout the entire planning process of all services and opportunities.

Katrina Farrall

Treasurer / Vice Chair

In my working life, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1995 and spent a total of 12 years working in the City.

I now live in Benfleet with my husband and two sons, one of whom was diagnosed with Autism at age 3. I volunteered for Home Start Basildon in 2013, working mostly with families with Autism, then, later became a Trustee.

I became part of the Essex Family Forum Steering Group, during 2017, since I felt passionate about making parents voices heard when decisions were being made when developing and providing services to children and young adults with disabilities.

Kevin Gay

Management Committee

I have lived in Harlow for most of my life having moved from London (Stoke Newington) at the age of 5. I became a police officer in Essex in 1988 and after 30 years’ service retired as a Police Inspector in 2018.

I am Married to Lisa and have two wonderful children, a 23 year old daughter who is a health care assistant with the NHS and our son, Callum who is now 19.

Callum was diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum when he was 5, has Sensory Processing disorder, along with learning difficulties. Callum was also recently diagnosed with ADNP syndrome, a rare genetic disorder causing a mutation of the ADNP gene and linked to Autism.

I am now, very lucky to be working as the Charity manager at PACT for Autism, a charity based in West Essex supporting Children, Families and Individuals living life along the Autistic Spectrum. Lisa, my wife and co-worker was one of the founding members of this charity back in 2005 and I previously served on the board of trustees for several years and fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve as Chair of the board.

Through my personal life experiences and working with PACT, I am passionate about ensuring the Autistic community has a voice and is represented in all areas, I work hard to renew working partnerships and connections with other service providers, charities and organisations.

I am now very lucky to count myself as a member of the Essex Family Forum Management Committee and will strive, to work hard across both arenas to ensure the voices of our children and families are listened to, heard, and improvements to services and support networks achieved.

Victoria Sanderson

Management Committee / HR Lead

I am a parent to two wonderful, school-age children, both with SEND.

My son has autism, ADHD, hypermobility and sensory processing difficulties. He has lots of struggles, but has the most charmingly cheeky nature and an infectious laugh!

My daughter has hemiplegic cerebral palsy and development delay. She also has a variety of struggles, but is a very gregarious and gorgeous little bundle of determination and sass!

I consider myself a ‘slightly-quirky neurotypical’, but feel thoroughly blessed to come from a neurodivergent and SEND family (and coincidentally married in to one as well!); with a variety of conditions and SEND over the generations.

Pre-mummy and carer life, I studied Law and Philosophy at university between 2002 – 2006 and then completed a postgraduate diploma in Human Resources Management, graduating in 2010. I spent most of my professional career before my son was born working in Human Resources and Employment Law in both a private sector and local government, public sector environment. Since having my children I have held several voluntary roles in my local community, running and coordinating SEND-friendly baby and toddler groups. I have  completed childcare qualifications, focussing on SEND, during this period also.

I am passionate about parents, children and families having their voices heard and their needs met. I am a big believer in giving positive feedback where it is due and tenaciously driving change for improvement where services have been found to be lacking. I feel truly honoured to be part of Essex Family Forum and in a position to influence a positive future for all our children.

Ange Neal

Company Secretary

I am an adoptive parent and have spent much time on personal study together with seminars and training on early infant trauma, trauma and attachment.    Following my children’s various diagnoses, including autism, I have widened my interests to neurodevelopmental studies and conditions.   So many of the techniques and tips I have learned were useful working in a primary school – and not only with children. 

In addition to working with Essex Family Forum, I have been a guide leader for many years and also work with youth through my local church.   I enjoy this balance as it helps me see where ‘kids are kids’ and where additional needs / SEND are an increased factor.   It also enables me to practise my real passion of seeing true inclusion in our society through education, understanding and a willingness to engage.   Couple that with my determination and tenacity and I believe that I can be an effective voice for positive change, which is why I volunteer my time on the management committee for the forum. 

Karen Holmes

Management Committee

I am a parent of an awesome young person (15) with SEN who currently attends a special school in Suffolk, after attending mainstream education until age 11. I have spent many years helping them navigate school and the wider world and have lots of experience negotiating with the LA, advocating for my own child and for lots of other Essex families. Helping my child learn and grow despite their challenges has been my proudest achievement! I have also learnt so much from my own child about how to be the best parent I can, learning strategies from amazing parents, organisations and other young people with SEN. It only seems right to share this knowledge with other parents who are on similar journeys and give something back.

I have volunteered with Families in Focus for about 5 years working on the helpline and now as a family champion with Essex Family Forum. This role helps by keeping families informed of the latest developments within the county and ensuring that the needs and opinions of children and young people using FIF services are shared with the local authority.

Professionally, I have been a state registered physiotherapist for the last 20 years with experience in both adult and paediatric physiotherapy and a special yoga practitioner.

When I’m not working or immersed in the world of SEN, I am most likely to be walking my dogs with my family, practising yoga or riding my bike!

I hope to be able to make a positive contribution to the management committee at Essex Family Forum, drawing on my personal and professional skills and my wish to ensure that all families with SEN get the support and understanding they deserve.

 

Julia Brunning

Strategic Lead

I have lived in Billericay, Essex for nearly 12 years with my husband and children, having moved from where I grew up on the East London/Essex border. Before having the eldest of our 3 lovely sons, (who are now all aged in double figures), I worked as a Client Service Manager for a Lloyd’s Insurance Broker in the City. When our youngest son started school, I began training and working as an SEN Learning Support Assistant, and achieved Level 3 Accreditation. I spent 5 years supporting some wonderful primary-age children – seeing the progress they made as their confidence and belief in themselves grew was very rewarding.

Our eldest son has additional needs and with the support and understanding of our families, friends and everyone at his brilliant school, he has grown from a little boy who was quite bewildered by the world into a happy, contented young man who dotes on his younger brothers but has a growing need and desire for independence. From the start of my journey as a parent of a child with additional needs, I have taken every opportunity offered to me, where possible, to learn how best to support my son by attending courses like the Good Beginnings course, when he was first diagnosed, and learnt basic Makaton, as well as a host of other courses on behaviour strategies and planning for annual reviews, etc. I hosted a monthly coffee morning at my house for the parents of other children with additional needs at my sons’ primary school and it was during this time I realised that a collective voice of parents was a very powerful tool for influencing change.

Joanne Harrison

Participation Lead

I live in Colchester and am lucky to have 2 amazing girls! Charlotte, 8 and Holly-Ann 7. Charlotte has a diagnosis of autism and also has sensory processing disorder. She is obsessed with riding her bike, loves music, dance and going to Brownies. Holly-Ann loves fashion and dance and is also a Brownie. She never sits still and does a great job of being the “big” sister sometimes.

Pushing for explanations, advice, help and a diagnosis for Charlotte from the age of 2 has made me passionate about SEN and in particular the need for early intervention and on-going support for the whole family.

My background was in finance and civil litigation in London, however since becoming a mum I have completed an Early Years Degree (child development) and I spent my time researching and writing about autism and sensory processing disorder. I am still continuing with my studies at a Masters level, and using my studies to gain further insight to SEN educational provision.

More recently I have worked in an integrated nursery which provided amazing care and support to families of child with SEN and then went on to work at a moderate learning disability school, spending some of my time in a teaching role.

I volunteered for the forum for a year as a family champion and I am now delighted to be working for the forum, helping to ensure the voice of children and families is heard!

Kiri Keane

Family Champion Quadrant Lead - West Essex

I live in Hadleigh, Benfleet with my 2 lively boys! My eldest was diagnosed with Autism, ADHD and severe anxiety disorder at 5 years old, and my youngest has difficulties with anxiety and sensory processing.

I have a background working in early years and as an LSA in primary schools.

My eldest spent his primary years with a full time LSA and although the school and staff were fantastic it was still hard navigating the system.

Whilst being part of running a local parent support group, I realised lots of parents were facing difficulties and had trouble understanding the paths they were on. I began advocating for parents, and listening to parents’ stories made me determined to make a difference for families.

When the role at Essex Family Forum came up it was a really exciting chance to make sure that parents and carers’ voices were heard to effect real change, so I was delighted to join the team.

Paula Farrow

Family Champion Quadrant Lead - South Essex

I work with the Family Champions in South Essex to represent the voice of parents and carers in discussions with the people that provide services to our children from Education, Health and Social Care.

I believe that being able to have honest discussions and working in a truly collaborative manner will help to achieve the best outcomes for our young people.  I am particularly passionate about improving the services available to support mental health and wellbeing.

I am a mum of 4, grandma to 2 and any spare time is spent with Takiwatanga Support Services (a charity for children with autism and / or social difficulties and their families), or doing and teaching yoga – namaste!

Claire McConnell

Family Champion Quadrant Lead - Mid Essex

I live in Witham with my husband and our 10 year old twins. Both were diagnosed with autism when they were 5

Our son is managing well in a wonderful mainstream school and is a budding stage star, going to theatre school and drama club. As a result, he is very dramatic, about everything!! Our daughter has ADHD as well as autism, and Sensory Processing issues. She has complex needs and attends Specialist Provision. She loves being outdoors, whatever the weather and can walk for miles without tiring!

Before the twins arrived, I worked for 20 years in the Financial Services industry, the last 6 years being spent in the City.  I spent the next 9 years as a Stay-at-home mum, navigating the wonderful world of SEND, which is a full time job in itself. I now work one day a week at my son’s primary school, and it’s given me a valuable insight into SEND provision at a mainstream school. 

I’m very excited to now be working for Essex Family Forum, and to play my part in helping to shape a better, and more inclusive future that all of our wonderful young people deserve.  

Sarah Abeyratne

Family Champion Quadrant Lead - North East Essex

I live in Tendring with my fiancé and our two children. Our eldest child was diagnosed with a speech and language delay at around three years of age which began my personal journey and interest into the SEND world.

My main background is in marketing, initially working for accountancy firms and then also for a local marketing agency.  My most recent role prior to becoming a full-time mum was in marketing and conferencing/event management at the University of Essex.

In being a part of Essex Family Forum I feel very fortunate to be able to be in a position where I can be part of something that can have a positive impact on the SEND journey. I really look forward to engaging with as many parents and carers as I can in order to give them the chance to share their experiences which will help them and others.