Monday, 18 June 2012

Family Lives, Part Two

In part two of our brace of blogs from Family Lives, we hear from Pepper Harrow, Volunteer Co-ordinator, who gives an insight into the development of their new Instructions Not Included toolkit.

Part Two - Pepper Harrow, Volunteer Co-ordinator, Family Lives

“We all know that family life doesn’t come with instructions.  Dealing with problems such as children’s difficult behaviour, money worries, time pressures or health problems can make anybody feel overwhelmed. Being a new parent or taking on caring responsibilities for someone else’s children can leave people isolated and confused as they try to adjust to their new circumstances and navigate the services that are out there. Family Lives has 30 years’ worth of experience of empowering people who have experienced these issues to help each other cope with the ups and downs of family life through volunteering. Historically, our volunteers have supported other parents on our helpline by emotionally supporting them using empathy and providing a listening ear.

However, we wanted to take the idea of volunteers supporting families using our ethos of listening and empathy even further. How could we empower people to volunteer face-to-face with families? Could we set up systems to have people volunteering in family homes, rather than having to travel to one of our call centres? How could we reach those families who needed a longer term service that helped them to make positive changes over time?

The ‘Instructions not Included’ project, launched twelve months ago, allows us to reach families who need support over a longer period of time and offers a face to face befriending service within the family home or somewhere else within their community. Volunteers are matched with families who need support; they may have come to us through one of our other services or through a professional like a GP or Teacher. Once the volunteer and family start to meet, they can identify issues that they want to work on and set goals that they want to achieve throughout the befriending relationship. This can be anything from getting a child back to school to getting out of the house more after a period of isolation.

The overall aim of the project is to give people the support they need by having someone there for them whilst they work though their problems. Volunteers are not professionals, they will keep the contents of sessions confidential (unless, of course they feel that someone may be in danger) and, most importantly, they do not pass judgement on families or parents for being who they are and having the problems that they do. They also do not represent any type of authority, something that is so important for families who may have had problems engaging with professionals before.

We aim to match volunteers with families that share their experiences like having a large family, being a single Mum or being a Dad who has little access to his children. Our volunteers have been there themselves and have had our extensive training to help them to help others. They are also recruited from the area in which they will be volunteering which means that they are part of the same community, understanding the issues that the family faces even more deeply.

As befriending takes off in our project locations, more and more parents are coming forward not only to receive some support but to volunteer themselves. We are also hoping that those who receive the service may go on to give their time to another family in need once they have been supported with their own issues.  Families in the project tell us that the support they receive helps them build their confidence in communicating with each other, makes them feel safe and non-judged and allows them to offload.

All of this work allows us to spread our message that asking for help with your family is a sign of strength rather than weakness. As the project continues, we are also helping to prove to government, the voluntary sector and families themselves that, sometimes, volunteers are best placed to support people to access that help. “

Family Lives runs a campaign “Instructions Not included” that encourages people to take up family support, information and advice.  Visit

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