Balancing A Policing Career With Raising A Child With Autism


PUBLISHED 15 Mar 2024

IN News

‘You only want the best for your child and we didn’t know what was ahead for him’. In this candid interview, the chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation opens up about how she has found balancing her policing career with raising a child with autism.

Speaking ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, which falls on Monday 18 to Monday 25 March, Sergeant Liz Groom talked about the support she received from inside and outside the Force after her son Michael was diagnosed with deficits in attention, motor control and perception (DAMP) 18 years ago.

“I was a custody sergeant at the time he was diagnosed,” she said. “I didn’t have family support around me as they lived 20 miles away.

“It was a tricky time. We were a bit uncertain about what it meant.

“You only want the best for your child and we didn’t know what was ahead for him.”

Michael, who is now 21, was three when he was diagnosed after it was picked up at the nursery he attended.

Liz said: “He was our first child and I didn’t have a lot of experience with children.

“I hadn’t picked up on the signs but it was the nursery that had.

“He got to two, two-and-a-half years old and he was progressing well, and then all of a sudden he stopped developing in his speech and he was a little clumsy.”

Liz added: “We were fortunate then because it was quite easy to get referred to specialist places to get a formal diagnosis.

“Now it’s more difficult and officers are waiting two or three years for their children to be seen.

“But if we had ignored it, he wouldn’t have had the support he had.”

Liz said she was grateful to a former Inspector, Steve Bretherton, who helped her to strike a balance, particularly in the first year or so.

Liz said: “Routine has always been important to Michael but my husband was also an officer and about to transfer to the Met, so that was quite challenging.

“I had a really good inspector, Steve Bretheron, when I was in custody. He was great.

“He allowed me time to go on a course for eight weeks, every Friday afternoon and afforded me the flexibility I needed during those difficult first years or so.

“In those days it was difficult to have flexible working and a supportive line manager. I scored lucky with him, he was really nice.

“That made all the difference, to have the understanding from my boss.”

Liz said she was also grateful to two teaching assistants at the school Michael attended.

“He is quite high functioning and we fought for him to go to a mainstream school where he had two excellent teaching assistants Margaret and Carol, one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” she said.

“They are hugely responsible for him being the stable person he is now. I owe them a debt of gratitude. I know they really cared about him and he still, even now, asks about them.

“We had that right support and embraced everything that was given to us.”

Liz said that even getting Michael to nursery or school could be a challenge as he would get frustrated and at times have violent outbursts.

“That was sometimes an issue at nursery and school,” she said. “Sometimes it was dragging him out kicking and screaming. I’d to go to work frazzled.”

It could also be an issue for after-school care.

“I couldn’t put him in a mainstream afterschool club or childminder because it was against his routine,” she explained.

“I worked with one sergeant in particular, and he was really good.

“He would say to come in a bit later or to get off early because I’d got Michael to see to – but not all colleagues were as understanding, especially around flexible working.

“When you’re a sergeant, and you’ve got a team to look after, if you’re working flexibly, sometimes you’re not always with your team so then other people cover, and there can be a lack of understanding.

“I wasn’t doing it to have more time off, I was doing it because my son can’t go to a normal childcare provider.

“When Michael was four or five my mum moved closer with my dad, so I had support that I hadn’t had before.”

Liz said support from the Force for all officers and staff with caring responsibilities had improved markedly since then.

“We are much better now,” she explained, adding: “We are better for people who have caring responsibilities, with children with neurodiverse conditions and also people who are carers.

“We are a lot more forward-thinking than we used to be, and we’ve got People and Professionalism within the Force, and they’re really good with advice.”