Guide dogs for children and young people
Guide Dogs has a long and successful history of providing a guide dog for people aged 16 or over. In 2006 a three-year pilot project was established, to assess both the practicalities, as well as the benefits, of providing a guide dog to young people under the age of 16. Those young people who trained with a dog during the pilot phase made excellent progress and the impact of the dog really can be described as ‘life-changing’. In light of this, there is now no minimum age for guide dog ownership, and we are able to offer guide dogs to young people.
How are young people selected and assessed for suitability for having a guide dog?
We assess all young people who apply for a guide dog. Our aim is to determine whether the provision of a guide dog will aid a person’s mobility, increase confidence and self-esteem, and thus improve the quality of an individual’s life.
Our in-depth guide dog mobility assessment explores key elements such as walking speed, balance, lifestyle, and so on. We will then make a decision as to whether the young person will be placed on the waiting list for a guide dog. We will always include parents or carers and key professionals from the outset, as they will play an important role in supporting the young person with a guide dog.
How long does the training take and what does it include?
We want anyone with a guide dog to enjoy safe, independent travel whilst enjoying many of the benefits a dog can bring, including companionship and an increased sense of responsibility. The guide dog training programme varies from person to person depending on age, experience, and ability – but all training includes:
- Looking after the dog’s care and welfare – including grooming, feeding and checking the dog for any signs of illness or health problems
- Maintaining a high standard of obedience so the dog behaves well socially and doesn’t make a nuisance of itself by barking or jumping up at people or on furniture
- How to achieve and maintain a high standard of recall when the dog is given a free run
- What commands to give to make the dog turn left or right, stop and take off once it has stopped at a down kerb
- ‘Following’ techniques to allow effective avoidance of obstacles and other hazards
- Safe road crossing and traffic assessment techniques
- Use of public transport
- How to ensure the dog is relieved regularly and how to maintain hygiene routines
- Supporting and maintaining the dog’s willingness and confidence during the performance of the guiding role
- How to deal with situations specific to the individual e.g. school lessons
- Health and safety guidance and good practice as applicable
What support is provided after training?
Guide Dogs continues to provide aftercare once a partnership has completed training. This can take the form of routine visits, which are more frequent after initial training, or requested visits from parents, school or the individual, where the need for extra practice or training has been identified.
Instructors offer continued support until they are confident the individual can travel independently. At this point, supervision gradually reduces.
Information for parents
Day-to-day responsibility falls to the guide dog owner, however whilst the young person is under the age of 16, the parent or guardian is legally responsible for the dog. Guide Dogs’ legal agreement ensures that the Association is able to fully support partnerships on an ongoing basis.
Guide Dogs’ staff, who support clients on a regular basis, undertake a criminal record check every three years and are required to attend safeguarding training in relation to working with young people.
Staff working directly with children and young people will undertake an additional course which covers areas such as effective communication and engagement with children, young people’s development, supporting transitions and multi-agency working.
All contact with the young person will be made in conjunction with their parent/guardian.
All parents/guardians will need to sign a data protection form giving permission for Guide Dogs to store the young person’s information electronically.
We will endeavour to fully accommodate a young person’s education commitments. For this reason, guide dog training for a young person will generally take place during summer holidays and/or evenings.
Young people’s training is carried out primarily in the home area. However, there may be times where overnight hotel accommodation is necessary.
In such circumstances we require a minor to be accompanied by their parent or guardian.
Unfortunately, we cannot give a definitive waiting time period. All successful new applicants will be placed on a waiting list, with most training of young people taking place during summer holidays.
Guide Dogs will advise on the services available based on the results of a thorough mobility assessment. In certain situations, we can offer alternative mobility training and/or other services. We also link with many other service organisations for blind and partially sighted people.
We will aim to either assist or signpost to ensure the needs of the young person are met.