In September 2008, I became employed by Yeovil Community Church as the Children’s and Families Leader. As part of this role I had an oversight of all the work done by our church relating to children aged 0-11 years, including children’s groups and parent and toddler groups run for our local community, with some great volunteers leading and investing in the people coming to the groups.
Some of the families that we came into contact with through these groups were in crisis – whether as a result of divorce, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol misuse that was affecting their parenting and families, whose children were the subject of Child Protection Plans. They were at risk of having their children removed.
Families came to talk to me because they felt they had nowhere else to go. They needed someone to listen to them, to value them, encourage them and help them to work out a plan for their lives. So I began to support some families more intensely – almost 8 altogether.
I realised that although I was using skills I had gained as a Family Law Solicitor and knowledge I had from doing my EYPS; what I was doing was not rocket science, so there had to be a way of duplicating this support as a model. In fact, I was asked by a Social Worker engaged with a family I was supporting, if I had more people available to support other families that she was working with.
So, the idea was born to train and equip volunteers to support and mentor Parents and Carers – walking the journey with them by ‘Helping Families to Help Themselves’.
We expected to find an ‘off the shelf’ model that we could use. However, the closest model we found was the ‘Home Start’ model, which was expensive to set up as a franchise model. It also restricted the work you could do, as families had to have a child aged 0-5 years in the family. This did not work for us, as some of our families had just junior aged children or teenagers.
We formed a working group and spent many months researching the idea, the model, what we would train our volunteers on, how the system would work etc. As our plan developed we shared our thoughts with the Manager of our local Children’s Social Care office, as we knew it was important to complement statutory support and not go off ‘on a frolic of our own’.
We then invited other people form local churches who had a heart and passion for families, and shared our vision with them.
In May 2011, we embarked on our first training course of 12 candidate Family Mentors from 5 different local churches – Yeovil4Family was born.
In September 2011, Children’s Social Care in our area formed an Early Intervention Team. Because of our consultation with CSC, as we developed the programme, the EIT’s Targeted Family Support Workers immediately began working collaboratively with us.
In February 2012, Yeovil4family were invited to speak at the Local Strategic Partnership’s High Contact Families’ Steering Group. They were exploring ‘Best Practice’ in supporting families and they were interested in our model of work.
Following our attendance, we were invited to join the Steering Group. This group then absorbed the DCLG’s ‘Troubled Families Agenda’ at a local level.
The LSP invited Tenders to deliver a Family Support Programme on their behalf to respond positively to the ‘Troubled Families Agenda’.
We bid in June 2012, and were subsequently awarded the contract to deliver the programme in Yeovil. In 2013 we were asked to extend our programme across South Somerset by the ‘Local Strategic Partnership’ (Council and other local organisations).
Our role is to deliver the ‘Family Focus’ support programme by providing Family Mentors to work alongside isolated families in South Somerset. This work sees Yeovil4Family play a key part in the local council’s response to the national government initiative to positively impact families with complex needs in Britain (Troubled Families).
Our volunteer Family Mentors provide one-to-one listening support in the home with families where there are children aged 0-18 years, for one hour a week. We are here to ‘help families to help themselves’. To do this, Mentors are trained to work with the family by listening to them in a non-judgemental way and helping them gain the support they need to make changes, find solutions to their challenges and bring new hope into their lives.
Our Mentors are supported by a team of Family Link Workers who act as the key link between all the agencies involved, the Mentor, and most importantly the family themselves. It is our hope we can help be the families’ voice amongst the agencies so they can regain control over their lives and feel empowered and equipped to move forward without these agency interventions.
Yeovil4Family work with all types of families where there are children and young people, cared for by one or two adults regardless of faith, gender, race, disability, marital status, social class, age or sexual preference. All families come in different shapes and sizes, with different experiences, achievements and struggles.
To date, in delivering Family Focus we have worked with 115 Families and seen 43 ‘turned around’ as part of the Department for Community and Local Government’s Troubled Families Agenda.
In the time we have been working with families as part of the Family Focus Programme we have been able to help families with areas such as housing issues, parents being out of work, encouraging children to improve their school attendance, and helping young people who have been socially isolated to engage in social activity and make a positive contribution to their community.
We have had some really encouraging feedback from families who have been part of the programme: one family said, “Our Mentors are really good at understanding our situation. They have grown up children of their own and are able to relate some of their experiences to those that we have been going through.”
Another family stressed that the programme was helpful saying, “It aided me in looking at things in a different way and gave me the strength to be able to change things that needed changing.”
As our Family Mentors and Link Workers walk the journey with various families they are finding that they have a key role in helping to show families there is a chance that things can be different, not just for now but also for generations to come. One Mentor recently said that, “To be able to support a family that was very fragmented but who now see themselves as a ‘family’ has been an amazing privilege.”