It is a red-letter day for Safe Families for Children, who celebrate seeing their volunteer support improve the lives of 5000 children across England.
Safe Families, which aims to prevent children from needlessly having to go into the care system, has been working in England since 2013. Children and their parents/carers are supported by volunteers from the local community who have been recruited and trained by the charity.
The young charity has seen skyrocketing growth nationally, from benefitting 233 children between April 2013-2014 when the charity was founded, to benefitting 1979 children between April 2016-2017 and a projected 2600 between April 2017-2018. The charity expects to benefit 3500 children in the coming financial year between April 2018-2019.
Amongst other benefits, volunteer support was found to improve positive parenting. Good parenting is at the heart of children’s wellbeing and development. When a parent’s own wellbeing is poor then they can struggle to care for their children. When parents are unwell or unable to cope, children often suffer.
Government statistics show that as of March 2017 over 25% of children in need were assessed as being in a family in acute stress or dysfunction. Nearly 40% of children in need were impacted by mental health, either the mental health of the child or of other adults in the family/household, and almost 11% of children in need were effected by disability or illness within the family. The number of children who were the subject of a child protection plan has increased from 50,310 in 2016 to 51,080 in 2017, an increase of 1.5%. Correspondingly, the number of ‘looked after’ children has continued to rise over the last nine years. At 31 March 2017 there were 72,670 ‘looked after’ children, an increase of 3% on 2016.
Keith Danby, Chief Executive of Safe Families for Children said: “The increase in children becoming ‘looked after’ is recognised as a growing crisis by many in the care sector. It’s generally agreed that some urgent action must be taken. We believe that volunteer support from the community can go a long way to stabilising family situations in times of acute stress or dysfunction. We’ve seen so many families benefit from having community support and respite when they are at their wits end.”
Revd Amanda Digman of The Churches of St John the Baptist, Carlton & Colwick said: “We decided to get involved with Safe Families because we live in an area where there are people with needs. It’s difficult to know how to access those who need the help and Safe Families helps us find them.
“Although I’m really busy, I think if we can all help and chip in a little bit we can work together to make society better. Just to help people to move forward and not be stuck. We’ve all been in a place where we need some help. If we learn to give help, we can learn to receive help. And that lets everyone know that it’s okay, we all need help at times.”
Many mothers have felt that moment of panic when they look around and their toddler is nowhere to be seen, having escaped and fled in nappies to explore new places.
A North East mum of two, Sarah felt that rising panic when her little Isabelle slipped unseen out of the gate one day. “There was no lock on the gate at the time,” explained Sarah. “Just string holding it shut and I must have forgotten to tie it.”
Running in search of the toddler, Sarah found her nearby in the neighbourhood. A woman watching the scene unfold reported Sarah. Social services got involved and put Sarah in touch with Safe Families for Children.
After that traumatic day Sarah began to suffer depression and to have breakdowns.
“It was my brain, it was so full I couldn’t get anything else in…like muddy water. I couldn’t think to even see how I felt. My head was overcrowded.”
A volunteer Family Friend for the children was matched with the family so Sarah could have a bit of a break every fortnight and then Safe Families sourced a volunteer to support Sarah, to go have a cup of coffee and chat while the kids were doing soft play.
The volunteer and Safe Families staff also encouraged Sarah to go to the doctor’s and get some counselling, which she did.
“I’m completely different now,” says Sarah. “I feel like my old self’s back. I remember going into work not long ago and saying to this lad who is a good friend, ‘Eee, I feel like the old me’s back’.
“It just gives you a break from the monotony of your routine, I suppose. It’s somebody to talk to. I haven’t met all the volunteers but I assume they’re the same. You’re not getting judged and they’re sitting there letting you waffle away. It gives you that bit of rest to fight another day.”
Mum of two, Levi was referred to Safe Families by her social worker in early 2017 after the charity started working in the South Coast. Levi was nearing “the end of her journey” with social services when Safe Families came into her life and her children had been moved from child protection to “children in need”.
“At first I did actually say ‘no’ to having a Safe Families volunteer,” said Levi. “But I got a call from the social worker saying, ‘We’d like you to do this’. I am glad in the end that I did use it. Because it was brilliant. If we’d have an intervention like Safe Families before it would have helped a lot.
“The volunteer, Marion, and I started meeting once a week. One week it would be my time with Marion to have coffee and talk about the week. The next week she’d come visit me and my youngest child Danny, who’s autistic.
“We went to The New Forest and Danny loved it. With his autism, he’s a runner. Normally he needs to hold my hand all the time so he doesn’t run off. At The New Forest he had total freedom to run around the field and see the animals. Little things like that. Making memories. That meant a lot to me as well.
“I suffer with depression and I did suffer with anxiety while Safe Families was working with me. It felt so nice to have an outside perspective. My friends are like: ‘It’s all right’. Marion was more direct, in a nice way: ‘Just stay strong, you can do this!’. A lot of mothers, and fathers as well, struggle with mental health. Sometimes that’s all they want, just a shoulder to lean on.
“I know volunteers are only around for a short time but they have an impact and a positive impact as well. I honestly can’t rave about the service enough.”
Keith Danby said: “The difference that can be made in the life of a child is always motivating. What we do is simple, just people helping people, but early intervention is key to helping families and preventing situations from escalating to such a point that a child has to be taken into care.”
If you’d like to find out how you can become a volunteer please fill in our enquiry form below and we’ll be in touch.