If volunteering is on your list of things to do in 2017 then why not consider befriending a young person in care and giving them the gift of time – or helping a young family.
Children in care spend their days surrounded by adults paid to look after them – which is why the volunteer buddies provided by the statutory Independent Visitor service are so important.
Adult Independent Visitors make a regular commitment to a young person; spending time with them and offering support and friendship. It’s an experience that can be enriching for both the young person and the volunteer.
Derek Whitfield, project manager for a bank, became a volunteer after reading about the Independent Visitor scheme run by Barnardo’s charity. “I find it very rewarding,” says Derek, who lives in Holmfirth, “I thought it would be something interesting to do in my spare time. It’s a great way to make a difference to a young person’s life and to give something back.”
Derek, who has no children of his own, was matched up with an 11-year-old boy, Noah, who had specifically asked for a male Independent Visitor. They’ve been paired up for over a year now and have discovered they have a lot of similar interests. Their outings together have included everything from go-karting to visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds and trips to the cinema.
Julie Lambert-Spencer, Volunteer Co-ordinator for the charity, says more people like Derek are needed. “We are desperately trying to recruit more men,” she says. “Most volunteers that come forward are female, but most boys want a male Independent Visitor.”
IVs have to undergo both training and rigorous background checks. Julie interviews volunteers and meets with the young person who has requested an IV. “We find out what their likes and dislikes are and about anything that might make them feel uncomfortable. I could really see Derek and Noah working together because they like so many of the same things,” she said.
The IV service is particularly beneficial to youngsters who have no contact with any family at all or feel socially isolated and have difficulties making friends. It can provide a real life role model for young people. But, as Julie explains, children in care may have experienced a lot of changes and instability in their lives, often moving schools and home placements a number of times, so it is vital that IVs make a firm commitment for at least 12 months.
It’s usual for IVs and young people to meet up once a fortnight. As Derek explains: “We meet up twice a month and talk about what we’ve seen at the cinema and things like that. When we started we went straight in with activities so you are doing things together and you talk about what you are doing.
“I don’t have any children and it’s been a learning thing for me – it’s a different challenge. I think I have gained more skills in dealing with a young person and their needs.
“I have spare time at weekends and this was a great way to fill that time and make a difference to a young person’s life. I feel that the regular and consistent visits make a real difference.”
Noah agrees: “I‘m glad I met Derek – he’s stopped me from being bored and I would have spent more time with my Xbox. I would miss it if it stopped. I’d be able to talk to Derek if I ever had any problems. If anyone asked me whether to have an IV I’d say ask for one – you can do fun stuff.”
Julie says an unpaid IV can make a real difference to a young person. She explained: “Quite often looked-after children are surrounded by people who are paid to look after them and an IV is someone who is just there for them in their life. The dream is for them to become lifelong friends and quite a lot of the time that happens.
“Our volunteers come from a really wide range of backgrounds but the main thing is that they have an interest in the young person and want to spend time with them.”
Julie, who is based in Wakefield, finds that the charity enrols from all over the region, as some volunteers prefer to travel outside their home location. The IV scheme covers young people up to the age of 25, but it is usual for children to be matched up with an adult volunteer before the age of 16.
If you’d like to know more about Barnardo’s volunteering in West Yorkshire contact Julie on 01977 552493.
In some local authority areas, it is the local council that oversees the IV service and this is the case in Kirklees. For details of the council’s scheme contact Chris Berridge on 07976 497735 / 01484 225288, email email@example.com or visit Kirklees.gov.uk/independentvisitors
* Home-Start Kirklees is looking for volunteers with parenting experience to offer support, friendship and practical help to families with young children. There are places available on a training course starting on January 26 that will run every Thursday for seven weeks (excluding school holidays). Volunteers need to be prepared to offer three hours of their time every week and will be paired up with a family in need. For details visit homestart-kirklees.org.uk, call 01484 421925 or email firstname.lastname@example.org