He was a cadet nurse, she was a midwife; now they use their skills to support vulnerable families in the North East. “We’ve been together since we were 16 and 17,” says Hazel of Tyne and Wear.
Rob and Hazel have been volunteering with Safe Families for Children since the charity was founded in the UK in 2013 and have provided support to a dozen different families over the past 3 years.
“When Safe Families Community Volunteer Manager came to our church it was Hazel that put her hand up. The day of the meeting she said to me ‘…when we go to this meeting tonight at church’. I said ‘we?’. ‘Yes, you have to come and give me support’ she said. The next thing I knew I was filling in the volunteer forms! I thought I was going to be a bystander, but I’ve enjoyed it,” Rob says with a chuckle.
Their role at Safe Families includes being Host Families, taking in children overnight from a night to a fortnight while parents resolve pressing issues, go into hospital for treatment, or have a respite break. The Parkers have also taken on the role of Family Friends, befriending and mentoring isolated parents, and the role of Family Coaches, overseeing and guiding other volunteers who are helping families.
“Families have their problems but they’re nice. We’ve never had anyone be horrible to us. They’re always very grateful,” Hazel says nodding.
Safe Families for Children UK seeks to reduce the flow of children going into care by providing early intervention support to struggling families. The charity works in partnership with 21 local authority children’s services departments and hundreds of churches across England. It engages and trains volunteers across the country who provide support for struggling families, in a ‘people helping people’ approach, preventing problems from escalating and reducing the flow of children being taken into care. Through befriending, mentoring, providing respite and resources, volunteers provide a lifeline for many families.
Grandparents to five young children they help look after, Rob and Hazel decided they had free time, so they could help other people.
The very first family they supported was a mum going through chemotherapy who needed someone to look after her two little girls while she went in for radiotherapy treatment every week day for a month.
“We thought if our first attempt at support doesn’t work out it might alter our view of volunteering, but it went so well that three years later we’re still there!” Rob
The couple have provided support to a dozen struggling families but a recent family situation in particular stands out.
The Rob and Hazel stepped forward to answer a request to support the brother of a little boy who was suffering from a rare and very serious condition that affects skin, muscle and bone. Because of the severity of Joe’s (name is fictitious to protect identity) brother’s condition and the many associated hospital visits, Joe needed some extra attention while mum was caring for the brother’s need. The family had nobody to turn to for help so they were referred to Safe Families for Children by the local authority. Mum was not only overwhelmed with her son’s condition and needs but was also concerned because the only time Joe got to go out and do something he enjoyed was when his brother was in nursery or over school holidays.
Hazel and Robb took the pressure off mum by taking Joe to and from school, taking him out to McDonalds for tea, giving him some 1-1 attention and introducing him to their own grandchildren, who loved him, played football with him and asked after him when he wasn’t there. Even after support officially ended, because of the strong relationship and bonding between Joe and Rob and Hazel’s grandson, the friendship has continued with the couple still taking Joe for a day regularly every month.
Rob and Hazel know what it’s like to receive much needed help with their children. After they moved up to Scotland with their two young children they were far from their usual network of family and friends. When Hazel needed to do a refresher course for midwifery a friend took holiday from work to come and watch the children. For Hazel it was a real lifesaver and she says she couldn’t have done it without her.
The pair have helped families with mental and physical health problems, isolation, disability, unemployment, pregnancy and bereavement.
“When you’ve got on well with a family it gives you an encouragement to go forward. You think, ‘I’ve actually managed that and it was alright.’ So you feel you can do it again,” says Hazel.
Although not every story had a happy ending, Rob and Hazel say they were always very grateful they were able to help families going through a difficult time.
In just three years, Safe Families has already supported over 2400 children with a network of more than 3000 volunteers nationwide. Safe Families’ community-based solution to a community-based problem links volunteers with struggling families, allowing neighbourly volunteers to step in at the outset of any issues in families lives before they escalate and cause lasting, sometimes irreparable, damage.