Using volunteers to help support families with children at risk of being taken into care can be 20 times cheaper than a conventional support programme, according to one programme operator.
Early results from Community Service Volunteers (CSV) pilot programmes suggest that funding co-ordinators who arrange parenting mentors to work alongside child-protection professionals may achieve longer-lasting results than conventional programmes, and cost much less (see In Practice, right).
CSV has run Volunteers in Child Protection programmes in conjunction with Bromley, Lewisham, and Islington LBCs, Sunderland City Council, Southend-on-Sea BC, and is setting up a programme at Coventry City Council.
Sue Gwaspari, director of part-time volunteering at CSV, said that in some cases using volunteer mentors could prevent children getting to the stage where councils needed to put them on a child protection plan.
She said that the potential investment of £1,000-£2,500 a year per child could result in huge savings on the £40,000-£50,000 costs of child protection plans.
“One 20th of the cost is a reasonable figure,” she said.
“Saving money is definitely secondary to helping to improve people’s lives. But if it is possible to stop children needing to go into care, or needing child protection plans, then there are big savings to be made.”
Ms Gwaspari said that even improving people’s parenting skills to the extent that children were inoculated on time produced positive knock-on effects for the health service.
She added that in Bromley hardly any of the children who had been involved with the programme during its first six years had had to go back on to child protection plans, versus a local average of about 11%.
Volunteers on the programme receive out-of-pocket expenses but are not paid. The cost associated with the programme comprises the £60,000-£70,000 a year to fund a co-ordinator who recruits approximately 35 volunteers.