I work full-time with teenagers that are in care due to neglect, abuse or problems in the family home and have done this for six years. I spent a lot of time whilst at university working in struggling schools with children who had low attendance and poor results. I always wanted to find out what could be done to try and re-engage these kids and give time to try and help them see other options.
I wanted to do some charity work and the aims of Friends of the Family was something I could really relate to. So many of the young people I work with in my job would have benefited from some early stage help or befriending; someone to talk to and spend time with who was external to their family or school. I knew instantly that Friends of the Family was what I had been looking for and contacted them straight away.
Each week I go to see my focus child and his family for two hours. During that time we find a variety of fun but simple activities to do from playing cards, playing football, going on walks, visiting local pet shops, playing computer games and visiting the library to baking at their home. As a befriender, I’m there to give my time to both my focus child and his family. We spend time talking over issues and I offer a friendly ear, signposting and seeking help or advice for them from Friends of the Family or from my own knowledge and research. I’ve also taken part in activity days with the charity, including attending Calshot Activities Centre with a group of children, helping build really positive memories for them and encouraging them to try things they may not ordinarily get to do.
I really do have fun when I spend time with my focus child and his family. We laugh and we talk and you feel you can really make a positive impact even from just two hours a week. I feel like I’ve been welcomed in to the home and the relationship you can build with the child is a real privilege. I look forward to the session every week and it’s great to know they look forward to seeing you too.
The charity provides a brilliant induction training scheme for befrienders. It gives you a chance to learn more about the role, and for them to learn more about you and match you with a family. I am in contact with the Befriending Manager, each week either via a phone call or text message to check how I am and how things are going. Friends of the Family are always on hand to speak to if you have concerns or even just want to chat about the great time you’ve had with your family that day. You never feel alone and you feel really involved and included in the work the charity does. There are always opportunities to help out in other ways too and social occasions to meet other volunteers to share ideas and experiences.
Don’t hesitate and start volunteering. There are so many families and children that need the vital support that Friends of the Family offer and they in turn need people like us to volunteer our time to make it happen. Two hours a week is so little time to us but is so much to a child. There is lots to learn and lots to gain from volunteering; whilst the children and family get lots out of your time, you too get lots back in return. Be brave and go for it; you won’t regret it.
I was a teacher before I had my children. I then worked as a nursery assistant while my children were small. I spent 12 years administering the training programme for Hampshire Probation Service and then as Complaints Administrator for Social Services. During this time I facilitated the running of the Care Action Team – a group of children in care and care-leavers who sought to improve conditions for looked-after children. I am training as an adult literacy coach with Read Easy.
Upon retirement I looked for rewarding voluntary work, that would use my strengths and experiences. A chance encounter led me to the Mums and young children service at Friends of the Family, which I loved immediately, and still do.
I am a play worker, which involves encouraging and supporting young children in child-led activities. They have often been badly affected by turbulent home lives and benefit from patient and sensitive one-to-one contact. I am also a refreshment volunteer on Fridays, offering drinks to mums and volunteers, and providing the children with a tasty and nutritious selection of snacks.
Seeing children blossom in the happy and encouraging atmosphere we provide. Having the chance to spend time with babies and toddlers and enter into their world. Enjoying the company of the mums and seeing them relax and grow in confidence.
We have a debriefing session at the end of each session, giving a chance to air concerns and discuss the best way of overcoming them. There is a monthly team meeting, sometimes attended by a child psychiatrist. I have attended a variety of useful courses, too.
This is extremely rewarding and fulfilling work for anyone with sensitivity and commitment. I feel valued and that I am making a real difference to the lives of people struggling with their circumstances and helping to break the cycle of childhood trauma which can often pass through generations.