New support for vulnerable families in Southampton

Di Keith Kim ChrisSafe Families for Children UK, the charity which aims to prevent children from needlessly being taken into care, is extending its support into Southampton.

The charity has been operating across the UK since 2013 and has already provided support to over 1400 children through its network of 2500 volunteers.

Founded by philanthropist and entrepreneur Sir Peter Vardy, Safe Families works with struggling families, stepping in with early intervention to turn problems around before they escalate and helping families get back on their feet.

It recruits and trains volunteers to three different roles: Host Families, who provide safe accommodation for children for up to two weeks; Family Friends, who offer mentoring support to parents struggling through difficult times and Resource Friends, who provide goods and services families might need.

From October, Southampton City Council will begin referring children from families in need of help. Safe Families for Children UK has so far partnered with 20 local authorities and 418 churches, and aims to increase its network of volunteers to 100,000.

Sir Peter decided to bring Safe Families for Children to the UK after seeing, first-hand, its work in the US, where it has helped more than 25,000 families and contributed to a 50% reduction in children entering care since it launched in Chicago 13 years ago.

Sir Peter Vardy said: “Statistics about children in care always make depressing reading. Young people who have been in care are less likely to do well in school and they’re more likely to end up in the prison system.

“But we firmly believe that by intervening early, as soon as a family starts to have problems, we can prevent the situation from escalating to the point that a child has to go into care.”

Keith Danby, Chief Executive of Safe Families for Children UK, added: “Safe Families’ focus is on providing a community-based solution to a community-based problem, using volunteers from that community, to work alongside vulnerable families.

“We are really pleased to be expanding our provision into Southampton, and hope soon to be offering support right across the Solent and the south coast.”

The Department for Education’s Social Innovation Fund and Sir Peter Vardy each contributed £2million towards the first three years’ funding for the charity. The average annual cost of a placement for a child taken into care is around £48,000, whereas the total cost for the suite of services provided by Safe Families for Children is around £367 per child.

Cllr Simon Letts, Leader of Southampton City Council, said:

“Southampton City Council is pleased to announce that we are in the process of agreeing to a grant-funded pilot project with Safe Families for Children–a charity that works with local authorities’ children services to link families in need with trained local volunteers who can provide help and support. The pilot project will trial a service model which has brought good results for families in crisis in other areas of the country.

“One of our priorities as a council is to give children the best start in life. Research shows that this early intervention and respite within a family environment can prevent crises further down the line.

“Under the terms of the grant, the council will be expecting the pilot project to recruit several hundred volunteers and to have supported up to 50 families. This will be a new type of intervention for Southampton families. Safe Families for Children and the council will be working with families with a least one child under 10 and will provide up to six months of support. The council will closely monitor how the grant is used and outcomes achieved.”

Bishop Jonathan Frost who has been instrumental in supporting and promoting Safe Families in the Solent says, “I am delighted to support Safe Families in its transformative and life giving approach to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities”.