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Class of 2018: Lisa scores a degree hat trick with Sunderland

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Published on 05 July 2018

Dr Lisa Fenton-Alcorn
Dr Lisa Fenton-Alcorn

Dr Lisa Fenton-Alcorn has become one of the UK’s leading advocates on the use of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS), a person-centred approach to supporting those with complex challenging behaviours, without the use of physical restraint. PBS has become more widespread in the health and social care industry since the Winterbourne View Care Home scandal in 2011 when the Department of Health introduced new guidelines on restrictive practices.

Lisa has been championing the PBS model over the last six years with the support of a Professional Doctorate from the University of Sunderland, helping to put PBS theories into practice and developing a national framework for practitioners. It is a job she’s now doing as National Director of Operations with Potens, a provider of specialist support for adults with complex needs, championing the PBS model across 75 services in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Today she steps on stage to collect her Professional Doctorate at the Stadium of Light, graduating for the third time, having already completed an undergraduate degree in Management, followed by a Masters in Applied Management all at the University of Sunderland.

However, she admits that her proudest moment has been seeing the impact her work has had on the life of a six-year-old autistic boy, now happily settled back into mainstream school following a period of exclusion, thanks to the PBS approach.

Lisa, from Sunderland, explained: “It’s lovely to graduate and a celebration of all the work and effort you put in, but for me the whole reason I have done this is to improve the quality of life for those with challenging behaviours, which we have done in numerous cases. This very complex little boy referred to Potens still stands out because of the positive impact PBS has had on him.

“He had been excluded and numerous educational provisions had failed because of his social anxieties around school and the classroom environment. We carried out an assessment in his home, built up his confidence, introduced strategies with the support of the school, creating an environment that reduces the sensory overload and within seven weeks he was back in full-time education and completing his Key Stage 1 SATS. He still has his behaviours, but they’re managed in a positive way. Hopefully by building those strategies early with him, he will achieve his educational targets. His parents have told us he now can’t wait to get to school – if we can keep that going for the rest of his life – I think our job will be done!”

Lisa added: “PBS is an approach I’ve adopted throughout my career when others considered it barmy, but it’s a common-sense approach that reduces the need for restrictive, physical interventions. We need to improve the understanding of those working in the sector, as well as the service users’ quality of life and delivering training frameworks around this.”

She added: “I have always wanted PBS to be seen as the national model in social care services and it’s now happening with numerous successful outcomes, underpinned by my Professional Doctorate.”

With a career spanning more than 25 years specialising in Autism and Positive Behaviour Support, Lisa has experience of managing residential, supported living and short breaks services across both autism specialist and learning disability services. She has been Head of Children’s Services for an autism specialist provider and as Head of Complex Needs undertaking a national role in designing and implementing positive behaviour support policies and practices.

Lisa credits the University for supporting her career progression and giving her the confidence to take on her national role.

She said: “I never thought I was clever enough to go to university, but once I began my course, I just got the bug. The great thing about Sunderland’s lecturers is they are all work-based practitioners themselves and I could easily relate to what they were teaching and talking about. It’s certainly broadened my scope.

“I was able to look at the theory relate it to and apply it to my own work, I then began to come up with my own theories, applying them to see what happened. All of a sudden things started to work and in meetings my ability and performance improved.”

The Professional Doctorate qualification, introduced by the University of Sunderland in 2007, enables professionals to base their studies on practical projects in their workplace and is the same level of qualification as a PhD. The qualification allows a professional to investigate contemporary issues facing their sector and make a contribution to professional knowledge that is applied and practical in nature.

Lisa is joined at this year’s Summer Graduation Ceremonies by her husband Gavin and two children Emily, 15, and Adam, 13, who have been a huge support to her throughout her University experience.

Dr Catherine Hayes, Lisa’s Doctorate supervisor said: “Lisa’s work epitomises our Professional Doctorate programme. We are enormously proud of the impact her Positive Behavioural Support system has had in applied health and social care practice. We are also truly humbled by her commitment to ensuring an improved quality of life for people living with autism and their families and carers.

“Lisa has been able to advise those at the highest levels of policy development of her new and innovative approaches to reducing the need for the physical restraint of vulnerable people and continues to inspire a whole generation of health and social care professionals with the roll out of this in practice. It has been a great privilege to work as Lisa’s Director of Studies and as part of the Professional Doctorate Team here at Sunderland, I wish her every future happiness and success. Her work is ‘Life Changing’ in the truest sense of the word and the whole team are immensely proud of her as she graduates from Sunderland today.”

About Potens

POTENS provides a range of specialist support for adults with complex needs including learning disability, autism, mental health needs, Acquired Brain Injuries, Korsakoffs and Behaviours that may be described as challenging. Support is delivered through supported & independent living, domiciliary care, residential care, respite and day opportunity services throughout England, North Wales and Northern Ireland.


About PBS

-       Positive Behaviour Support is a person-centred approach to people with a learning disability who may be at risk of displaying challenging behaviours. 

-       It is backed by evidence from behavioural science

-       Provides support based on inclusion, choice, participation and equality of opportunity

-       PBS seeks to understand the reasons for behaviour so that unmet needs can be met

-       Considers the person as a whole - their life history, physical health and emotional needs

-       It's proactive and preventative, focusing on the teaching of new skills to replac-e behaviours that challenge

-       Combines perspectives from different professionals