Q: What is Safe Families?
Safe Families for Children finds three types of volunteers (Host Families, Family Friends, and Resource Friends) to bring friendship, support, and resources to vulnerable families. The programme provides early help for families who come to social services for extra support, and it prevents children referred for voluntary accommodation from coming into care.
Q: How did Safe Families start?
Safe Families for Children was founded in the USA by Dr Dave Anderson in 2003. Since then it has recruited 20,000 volunteers to help families. Beginning in Chicago the US model now operates in 35 States and 65 cities, drastically reducing the numbers in state care. In 2012 Sir Peter Vardy brought the programme to the UK, building a pool of volunteers to undertake a pilot in the North East, initially working with Middlesbrough and all 13 local authorities across the North East.
Q: What is the status of Safe Families as an organisation?
Safe Families for Children is a charity, a voluntary sector organisation with a mission to improve the lives of vulnerable families. Safe Families for Children is a Registered Charity No 1150405 and Company Limited by Guarantee Registered in England and Wales No 8134971. The Registered Office is 5 Diamond Court, Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE3 2EN.
Q: How is Safe Families growing in the UK?
In November 2014 the Department of Education Innovation Fund awarded Safe Families for Children and the Dartington Social Research Unit a grant to scale up and rigorously evaluate the programme in up to 35 additional local authorities in England. In addition two new Safe Families for Children charities have been set up in Scotland and Wales to develop similar programmes.
Q: What is the target group?
Safe Families for Children provides volunteers who help families with children; (a) in need of family support and (b) at risk of being accommodated and children on the edge of care. We refer to the first group as ‘early help’ or ‘family support’. We refer to the second group as ‘prevention of care’ or ‘edge of care’.
Q: Isn’t this already happening?
Yes! There are many occasions when people in a community help out a family in need with friendship, practical support and looking after children for an evening or a few nights. But there are lots of people who want to help but don’t know how to get started. Safe Families for Children identifies, vets and trains those people who are suitable for this responsibility. There are lots of families who are wary of turning to people in the community to help out with their needs and kids. Safe Families provides these families with the confidence to look to local people to get them through difficult times.
Q: What do the volunteers do?
There are three types of volunteers available to all families supported by Safe Families for Children. First, there are Host Families who offer the child a place to stay for a few nights or up to 14 consecutive days; second there are Family Friends who offer support, mentoring and friendship to the parents/carers of the children; third there are Resource Friends who provide practical help and/or resources needed by the families.
Q: Is this fostering or adoption by another name?
Safe Families does not provide private fostering or adoption. Our Host Family volunteers offer short periods of respite when children cannot stay at home, in much the same way a good neighbour or relative might step in when things are difficult. It is a voluntary arrangement, and one in which the birth parent/carer remains in control at all times.
Q: What about the 28 day rule?
Safe Families accommodating falls below the 28 day threshold. From time to time the Host Families will offer multiple short breaks of one or two nights over a period of up to six months but a single stay never exceeds 14 days and total stays never exceed 28 days.
Q: Where do the referrals come from?
Safe Families works in partnership with local authorities, which supply 90% of the referrals. Other referral sources come from CCG’s, GP’s, schools, community agencies and even some self-referrals.
Q: Where does Safe Families recruit its volunteers from?
Safe Families is a faith-based movement. By January 2017 we recruited over 3,000 volunteers most who attend Christian churches. Our goal is to recruit 100,000 volunteers from churches, faith groups and local communities across the UK by 2025. We have talked with to the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the Jewish Community and met with non-faith group leaders as part of a programme to work with a diverse volunteer base.
Q: Are the volunteers trained?
Safe Families for Children requires all volunteers to go through a seven step ‘Safer Recruiting’ programme that includes;
➢ Completing an application form
➢ Three written references
➢ DBS check
➢ Home assessment
➢ Attending a formal training day prior to coming into contact with families, and regular ‘on going’ training events thereafter
➢ Approval by a review panel
➢ Receiving a formal accreditation letter and signing a volunteer agreement
Q: Who manages the volunteers?
Once allocated to a family the volunteers and referred families are supervised by Family Support Managers. They are are paid members of the Safe Families team, usually a fully qualified and experienced social worker with children and families. The Family Support Managers are supported by Family Coaches, experienced volunteers with relevant experience. This structure provides both the volunteer and families in need with a single point of contact should any concerns arise during the period of support.
Q: How do you support and train volunteers to understand cultural and faith diversity?
We recognise the sensitivities around working with families and children from different cultures and faiths. As part of the ongoing training program for volunteers we incorporate sessions on equality and diversity, equipping volunteers to develop in their understanding. As part of their induction pack they receive a booklet with practical tips on things to be aware of when hosting or befriending families from differing cultures and faiths.
Q: What about working with families and children of other faiths. Isn’t it better to match a person to someone from their own community/heritage/faith?
Our policy is to offer support to children and families of faith or no faith, regardless of their ethnicity, who are going through challenging circumstances.
Q: Are there churches you wouldn’t work with e.g. those who had a particular attitude to those of other faiths or who had a proselytising agenda?
We are very careful and clear about the ethos and goals of Safe Families and if a church, faith group or volunteer cannot subscribe to that vision then it is not appropriate to move forward with a partnership. We make it clear that our goal is to help families and children and it is not about recruiting people to the church or proselytising.
Q: Has Safe Families been evaluated?
As part of its due diligence for the application for funds from the Department of Education Innovation Funds, the Dartington Social Research Unit reviewed the many evaluations of Safe Families and analogous programmes. You can see some of their findings in our YIR 2016.
Q: What is a Public Social Partnership or PSP?
A PSP is a financial tool developed by the Dartington Social Research Unit based on continuing applications in Scotland. It involves a partnership between:
• an investor -in this case the Vardy Foundation and the Department of Education Innovation Fund
• an innovator – in this case Safe Families for Children
• a potential public sector beneficiary – in this case up to 35 English local authorities, and
• an independent evaluator – in this case the Dartington Social Research Unit supported by Professor David Farrington from the University of Cambridge