Working with over 45 local authorities in the UK, Safe Families’ ground-breaking volunteer project is helping churches to step up and be part of the solution to the increasing isolation felt by families and the high numbers of children going into care. The charity’s innovative approach has supported over 15,000 children in total and helped reduce the number of children going into care by between 9 and 16%.
The project connects over 1,400 isolated and vulnerable children, families and care leavers each year with its network of over 5,000 volunteers from local churches. And with the help of a £280,327 grant over three years from Benefact Trust, hundreds more ‘at risk’ families will be supported to stay together and thrive. The funding awarded by the Trust will enable Safe Families to grow its capacity and capability to work with churches across the UK. Safe Families recently received their second instalment of the grant, which was just under £100,000.
Church members are trained to give support in a wide range of ways; tailored to the needs of the family. Volunteers can 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, or provide regular contact to check in and share their advice. All volunteers go through a seven-step safer recruiting programme, including enhanced criminal record checks and personal references.
Rachel had been struggling with her son’s behaviour and school attendance and had no real friends she could turn to for support. She wanted someone who could give her the confidence to help her son.
Safe Families introduced Rachel to Mary, a local volunteer. Mary called once a week to talk to Rachel, she provided support and advice. She was able to encourage Rachel that she was a good Mum.
Rachel said: "I'm a completely different person since Mary has helped me, I was stuck in a rut before. My situation is still hard at times but instead of moping around and blaming my child I have the right skills to know how to deal with things. I've got the strength from Mary to know how to do things for myself.”
CEO of Safe Families, Kat Osborn, said: “The need is huge and there is a growing care crisis with rising numbers of children in care and early help services being cut across the country. Safe Families has a model that works; having effectively demonstrated the ability to reduce the flow of children into care, to sustain families in the community and to increase the sense of hope and connection that families have; ultimately enabling them to flourish and feel more secure.
“Facing life alone is hard, and when you feel there is no one there to support you it is a scary place to be. These church/family relationships bring hope and practical help; they encourage, they provide the support of a good friend, neighbour, aunt or grandparent that many of us would take for granted and without whom our own stories could look very different.”