A simple befriending scheme that means so much to children in care

A befriending scheme for children in care has been such a success it is set to expand.

Sunday, 26th November 2017, 11:32 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 3:32 am
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A befriending scheme for children in care has been such a success it is set to expand.

The West Sussex Independent Visitor Scheme supports children and young people between the ages of eight and 17 who are looked after by the local authority and are unlikely to be returning home.

The children are matched with volunteer independent visitors by an independent visitor coordinator.

They are then visited by their independent visitor once a month, with a view to building up a friendship with them and doing things together which they enjoy.

Most visits take place at weekends or in the school holidays, when children are free.

Felicity Hay, press officer for West Sussex County Council (WSCC) said activities include ‘whatever the child is interested in and wants to do’,

They range from going for a bike ride to having a chat over a hot chocolate, watching a film together or visiting a museum.

While independent visitors’ time is voluntary, they are given full training and their basic expenses, such as travel costs, are covered - as well as ‘activity fees’ on days out.

Felicity said: “Independent visitors are not professional care workers - they are adult volunteers who enjoy spending time with children and young people.”

The scheme was set up to support children who have little or no contact with their own family.

Felicity said: “The independent visitor offers them the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship outside of their placement and unconnected with social care and councillors.

“It may be a few hours a month, but a simple thing like going for a bike ride or watching a film can mean so much to a child in care.”

Children can get involved via their social care worker.

However, not all children in care are eligible for reasons such as their age or the likelihood of them returning home.

Forty children in West Sussex have already been partnered with an independent visitor over the last two financial years.

Currently, 25 young people who are waiting to be matched under the scheme.

Felicity said: “With the current positive levels of recruitment, it is hoped that many of these will be matched with an independent visitor by the end of the year.”

For more information, visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/independentvisitor or email [email protected]

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) is recruiting volunteers for its Independent Visitors Scheme.

In particular, it is looking for male role models who can be paired with young men who are looked after by the local authority and will not be returning home.

Stephen Hillier, WSCC cabinet member for children and young people, said: “We are so grateful to those who volunteer already. It may be a few hours a month, but it is so profound.”

Worthing teacher David Bailey, 31, has been paired up with a young teenager in care for the last two years.

David said: “In some ways, it is not very complicated. It’s spending time with someone else and having a nice time.

“From his point of view, it’s having that person who is there for them one-on-one, someone who is actually going to listen to them. I see him once every six weeks or so.”

David said it means quite a lot for children in care that someone have chosen to spend their time there and ‘there is no hidden agenda’.

He said: “I get a lot out of it as well. I get to see the world through a teenager’s eyes which is quite interesting.

“It takes you out of your comfort zone and you have lots of different experiences along the way.”

Joe Sacco, of West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Tactical Response Unit, has been an independent visitor for some 18 months.

Joe, whose daughter Francesca-Jo has recently taken up the role of scheme coordinator, said: “Every day the Fire and Rescue Service works on projects to protect and help vulnerable people in the community.”

He said: “I saw the independent visitor role as an extension of that care and support and a great opportunity for me personally to do something really worthwhile by befriending and directly supporting a young person in care.”

Joe and the young man he has been paired with have enjoyed all sorts of activities together - from bike rides to go-karting: “It is a fun and rewarding role, where you feel like you are making a real difference to a young person’s life.”

WSCC has plans to expand the current number of around 30 independent visitors to 150 over the next few years. Recruitment is continuing into 2018 and a public information event is being held at 6pm on December 6, at Bognor Library.