All local authorities have a statutory duty to provide independent visitors to all children in care (aged 8 – 16+) who would benefit. In Hounslow, London, we’ve been providing an Independent Visitor Service – Hounslow Allies – for over 12 years. We also run Grandmentors in Hounslow. Grandmentors is an intergenerational mentoring programme that matches older professional with young care leavers.
Both the Hounslow Allies and Grandmentors depend on volunteers, who are trained and supported through the challenges both roles do bring. These projects have been so successful because children and young people like the fact that someone is there because they want to be, and not because they are paid to be there.
About Hounslow Allies
Hounslow Allies are typically in their 30s and Grandmentors will be 50+ and the roles have a different focus.
Allies befriend their children, picking them up from placements or Foster Carers at least monthly and spending time doing activities they both enjoy, having fun while developing the child’s social skills and confidence. An Ally is someone important in a child’s life that is just there for them.
Several of our Allies have been visiting their child for several years. They have been a ‘constant’ friend as s/he moves from primary school to secondary school and into jobs or university. And when the young person leaves care, they might continue that friendship independent of the Independent Visitor Service and Hounslow Children’s Services.
Hounslow Ally Gub said about his relationship with Justin “It’s been a wonderful experience for both of us. We were invited to a charity dinner by Volunteering Matters. It was a lovely evening for us both as we met a lot of benefactors and the CEO of the organisation. It was hosted at the Italian Embassy near Bond Street.”
And Lauren who has been friends with Nadia since April 2018 explains “Nadia had multiple foster families and until the end of last year hadn’t ever discussed her home life, her family or her past so I knew not to push her as this was her way of protecting herself and not getting too close. Now that Nadia knows I am “in it for the long term” (as I often tell her) she has really let her guard down and we can now talk openly about her friends, family, school and even her boyfriend!”
And when a befriending relationship comes to a natural end, what better than matching the care leaver to a Grandmentor!
Grandmentors meet their mentees more often, build a relationship of trust and mutual support to achieve personal objectives as the young person leaves care and makes the transition to independent living and reach their full potential. Mentees are typically 18 – 25, have come through the care system or have recently arrived in the UK and are often vulnerable and disadvantaged. The relationship with their mentor can last at least a year but often goes beyond that.
Chris has recently become a Grandmentor and was matched with Ali who needs to improve his English language skills. Their shared passion for cricket has been a huge help in building their relationship with Chris encouraging and supporting Tom to read up on the rules so he can challenge the umpire at the local cricket club when a ruling goes against him! Volunteering Matters was able to access funding to cover the cost of the kit and Tom is making new friends and sees himself playing for Afghanistan one day.
Today, Grandmentors operates in eight areas in England – Islington, Hounslow, Ipswich, Kent, Stockton, Milton Keynes and Wiltshire, with other areas due to join them in the coming months.
Volunteering Matters is proud to be running both programmes in Hounslow, working with Children’s Services who are passionate about getting the best outcomes for their children.
Hounslow Allies and Grandmentors work best when we have these strong relationships with the social workers, when team managers encourage and support their staff to use the services to the full. Successful matches – between children and Allies and care leavers and Grandmentors depend on social workers making intelligent referrals to the appropriate service. This can help Volunteer Managers make the perfect match – the right person with the skills, qualities and personality for the child or care leaver.
And of course, involving volunteers adds value and enables us to make that difference that care professionals are just not able to make.
(Some of the names of persons have been altered to protect their privacy).