Church volunteer project helps reduce the number of children from vulnerable families going into care

In January this year, the Department of Education reported1 a 28% increase in children in care over the last decade, while The Early Intervention Foundation revealed in a recent report2 that school closures, social distancing and lockdown measures as a result of COVID-19 had seriously affected the ability of services to support struggling families and children.

Working with more than 30 local authorities in the UK, the Safe Families charity’s groundbreaking ‘befriending and hosting’ volunteer project is helping churches to step up and be part of the solution to the increasing numbers of children going into care. Their innovative approach has helped reduce the number of children going into care by between nine and 16%.

The project connects over a 1,000 isolated and vulnerable children, families and care leavers each year with its network of over 4,500 volunteers from local churches. And with the help of a £280,327 grant over three years from Allchurches Trust, hundreds more ‘at risk’ families will be supported to stay together and thrive.

CEO of Safe Families, Kat Osborn, said:

“The need is huge and there is a growing care crisis with rising numbers of children in care and early help services being cut across the country. Safe Families has a model that works; having effectively demonstrated the ability to reduce the flow of children into care, to sustain families in the community and to increase the sense of hope and connection that families have; ultimately enabling them to flourish and feel more secure.”

Safe Families connects vulnerable families with regular church members, who give support in a wide range of ways; tailored to the needs of the family. Host family volunteers can offer short periods of respite when children cannot stay at home, in much the same way a good neighbour or relative might step in when things are difficult. It is a voluntary arrangement, and one in which the parent/carer remains in control at all times.

Around 90% of referrals are made by local authorities, and through this innovative model, the charity has demonstrated a decrease in the flow of children into care of between 9 and 16%. All volunteers go through a seven-step safer recruiting programme, including enhanced criminal record checks and personal references. All volunteers receive ongoing training.

Kat Osborn said:

“Facing life alone is hard, and when you feel there is no one there to support you it is a scary place to be. These church/family relationships bring hope and practical help; they encourage, they provide the support of a good friend, neighbour, aunt or grandparent that many of us would take for granted and without whom our own stories could look very different.”

Safe Families already has a network of more than 4,500 trained and supported volunteers from over 1,000 churches and community groups across the UK. In 2020, the charity expects to support 1,300 families, connecting them with these volunteers so they no longer feel alone.

The funding provided from Allchurches Trust will enable Safe Families to grow its capacity and capability to work with churches across the UK, enabling them to develop their already successful model of church partnerships with a strong focus on serving churches in their mission to impact community.

Kat Osborn added:

“At Safe Families we know that local churches long to make a genuine and lasting impact in their communities. We love having the opportunity to partner with them as they offer safe, consistent, hope-filled friendships to children and families.

“We have seen volunteers from churches benefit 10,000 children across the UK in the last seven years. Allchurches’ funding will enable us to continue this work with churches across the UK in a new way, empowering them to engage in their communities and create belonging and connection with some of the most isolated families in society.”

Grants and Relationships Manager at Allchurches Trust, Jeremy Noles, said:

“We’re living in a time where so many families are experiencing increasing hardship and suffering. Safe Families and their network of church volunteers are making a profound difference in the lives of thousands of at-risk children and their families, when help and comfort is most needed. We’re thankful we are be able to support the incredible work they are doing through the church in some of the most vulnerable communities across the UK.”

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