Sometimes you get the best idea of how valuable a project is through its impact on service users.
Paula*, who has had two previous children removed from her care because she couldn’t meet their needs, sits in the child-protection conference being told by the chair that her one-year-old no longer needs to be subject to a child-protection plan. Paula is joined in the conference not just by the usual professionals but also by her volunteer, who sits next to her for support.
The Volunteers in Child Protection project has been up and running in Southend for a year. Key aspects of the project:
- It is one element in co-ordinated volunteer programmes which run through our stages of intervention. In Southend, if any citizen is concerned about the welfare of children, they can play a positive part in improving that welfare - from helping children to read in libraries to working in child protection or youth offending.
- It is embedded in our staged intervention model - preventing the need for families to move up the stages of intervention and supporting moves down.
- The volunteers work to a child-in-need or child-protection plan, and focus on specific changes in family life. The work requires a structure of supports to train and supervise volunteers, ensuring they reflect on “use of self” and keep in mind the plan they’re working to.
In the year the project has been running, there have been numerous individual successes. From a child-protection perspective, effecting change in areas of neglect can be difficult.
Previously, we may have offered support through parenting programmes and advice from professionals to help families establish after-school routines for their children. We can arrange for a volunteer to visit the family weekly to help the parents plan for their children returning from school and to stay through the evening to observe and support new routines.
As the project progresses, we need to ensure value for money, so Community Service Volunteers has arranged for an independent evaluation of the project. The whole project with three staff costs £140,000.
This is not cheap, but when the cost of 50 volunteers is measured against that of a foster placement, which can be £45,000 per year, the finances speak for themselves.
Finally, back to Paula. It’s impossible to say whether the volunteer was the decisive factor that kept her child with the family. But as she faced the prospect of her child no longer needing a child-protection plan, she expressed relief that her volunteer would be staying with her, saying: “She’s like a sister to me.”
* Details changed to protect identity
Michael Stephenson, group manager for specialist resources and quality assurance, Southend-on-Sea BC