What our families say:
- "Having a volunteer allows me to look at other ideas which help me understand life better."
'She was really great, such a good listener and really supportive. She didn't care what people thought, and that really helped me when I felt anxious about going out as I always worried what people thought of me. I am really chuffed with how I was able to build a trusting relationship with her; she was really honest and didn’t sugar coat things which I thought was great. I felt I was able to share things with her that I wouldn’t tell my friends. I would recommend Home Link to others I would say give it a chance it can feel awkward to start with but am really glad I did.'
"My Home Link volunteer really understands me, and that is what I like."
"I like seeing mummy smile. You always make mummy smile now." Eddie, aged 4
- "The Big Bedtime Read made me feel very proud. I wanted to shout from the roof to let everyone how proud I was of being in the DVD. It helped me recognise what a good job I was doing with my child. It has really helped with Kyle’s speech and language and the nursery told me he was doing brilliantly."
- Watch this video about our work with Big Bedtime Read http://vimeo.com/113901375
The Befriender's Story
To begin with the mother said was really struggling with her kids. Pregnant with additional medical problems and a history of postnatal depression, very tired, she found family life overwhelming because her army husband was away all the time.
The Befriender's Story
I was matched with my Home Link family and started to visit them once a week. When I first met them, the family seemed to have a number of issues. Mum's confidence in herself and her ability as a parent was really low, dad was in the army and often away and the kids frequently behaved very badly. It took some time to get to know the family but once we were all comfortable with each other we soon got into a good routine. I would help with any homework then play games with the children. I quickly learned to give the children a 15-minute or "one last game" warning when it was nearly time for me to leave so that they expected it rather than just getting up to go which often caused outbursts from them.
When I look back now, I can see such a change in the family. Mum's confidence is so much better - she had a new baby, she attended a college course and is now working, juggling employment and hectic family life which is something she would not have seen herself doing before. She smiles a lot more now and shouts less at the kids. There was a history of mum not engaging well with other agencies (e.g. social work, health visitors) so it took a lot for her to let her barriers down and let me into her and her family's life.
Without consciously meaning to, I think that by sitting down with all of the children and playing games together I began to teach them how to share and take turns more - there were of course still times when there were arguments over who went first or whose turn it was, but I tried to make sure it was as fair as possible. Even the youngest child joined in the games, usually by being on my "team", sitting on my knee. I think they really enjoyed the focused attention I gave them because in a house with five children there wasn't often time for the parents to spend a full two hours with the kids. The kids still fight now and then but on the whole they get on well and even play together when I'm not there; last Christmas, Santa brought them board games which is something he has never done before but he obviously believes they will be able to share them now!
I feel very privileged to have played even a tiny part in helping two of the children learn to read and it was amazing to watch the younger children's language develop.
Without the experience I gained volunteering with Home Link, I do not believe I would have got the job I am doing now which I absolutely love. I am a Teen Parent Worker with a Fife charity supporting teenage parents with a range of things including confidence, parenting skills, housing issues and education.
When she finished with Home Link the mum said:
"My befriender had a great relationship with the kids but always took time to listen to me.
She didn't judge me and was willing to help with anything. She was very honest and I was able to discuss going back to work with her, which helped a lot.
The support I got from Home link was exactly what I wanted, it worked beautifully. We achieved a lot. My kids can be very boisterous but she was very good with them. She has lots of patience and that gave me more patience.
They stick to rules better now, I play with them more, the whole family is more relaxed."
Having benefitted from Home Link Family Support's befriending service when her own child was young, Amanda, a current volunteer Befriender, has a real appreciation for the type of support that is being offered to families with young children through the befriending scheme. When she had her son, she found herself depressed and isolated.
"I kept myself prisoner in my own house," she says. She had a great experience with her volunteer Befriender and endorses the value of "someone coming into your house, being supportive and non-judgmental and breaking the vicious cycle of depression that keeps you thinking that no one else knows what you need or what it's like to be in your shoes."
When her own children were both in school, Amanda decided to do something meaningful with her spare time. She found she had time on her hands and decided to see what could happen if she volunteered to offer support to other families with young kids who needed the type of support that she once did. She initially felt that she didn't have the skills that a volunteer Befriender would need. But she had lots of life experience and was reassured that this was a valuable tool and could be used to support others. She felt confident that she could use her experience to help others because she had been a tough spot herself in years past.
Since that time, Amanda has been matched with three families. At first, her confidence was shaky and she would phone the Home Link office before and after every visit with her own questions and anxieties. But as her first match got going, she found that conversation would flow naturally and if nothing else, the kids would keep things from being too quiet!
After supporting one of her families for a year, the match has drawn to a close. Amanda noticed an increase in the family's confidence, particularly in the way that they interact with their kids and how they operate in the house. The family seems much stronger and gained the confidence to handle what life brings to them.
A Little Goes a Long Way
Sean volunteered for Home Link Family Support as he was a father who knew some of the pressures that can be around when bringing up young children, especially when there is little support. He wanted to help other families who might be having stressful times. He was also interested in making a career change to social work and wanted to experience some first-hand family work to help him decide.
Coinciding with this, Home Link Family Support had a request from a social worker to provide a good male role model for a young boy who had been through some very bad life experiences.
Sean was matched with this child, taking him out weekly and building a relationship of trust. He interacted with the social worker and foster carer as well as his Home Link Family Support Project Worker, which gave Sean insight and experience in this field.
The most important outcome of his work, though, was the assessment after a year of contact which said that his input had helped move this little boy on in trust, self esteem and confidence to try new things.
Gentle Help for a Bereaved Family
A referral was made to Home Link Family Support by a Health Visitor who was concerned for a mum’s well-being as she would rarely leave the house and this was affecting her children. The family was allocated to our early years home visiting service.
The co-ordinator explains: I arranged to visit. She began to tell me what had happened. It was clear she was a very loving mother but she had suffered a lot. One of her three children had been lost in a tragic accident. The mother had withdrawn completely and had understandably not been well enough to face the world since then.
She was soon matched with a volunteer who lives locally and they hit if off from the start. The volunteer visited each week for 2 hours and they developed a trusting relationship. Together they would chat and play with her youngest child and very soon they all began to go out together. At first they went on simple walks to local parks and then to the shops together. Everyone was delighted when mum took her first bus trip in three years with her volunteer and her little one, to Gorgie City Farm.
During the course of the match mum also moved house, which in her circumstances was a huge and difficult step for her to take as she had many memories attached to her home. With emotional support from her volunteer however, she did it. This has helped her to move on and also helped her eldest child because the new house was much closer to school and friends.
Now that the match has come to end, mum is comfortable going out to new places with her youngest and is even feeling ready to return to work. No one can ever fully recover from such a tragedy but mum says that having a volunteer to take these steps alongside her has helped her to start living her life again.
In our final meeting together mum said she now feels stronger, stating that ‘Home Link Family Support have been a wonderful support to myself and my children. I feel a lot more able and have more confidence in myself due to all the encouragement from my volunteer’.
Giving Something Back
Sandra has been volunteering as a Befriender with Home Link Family Support for four years. After being helped herself by another voluntary organisation, she decided she would like to give something back. She came into contact with Home Link Family Support at a local volunteer fair. She had looked at various stands from different voluntary organisations but nothing had really appealed. She got talking to one of the workers from Home Link Family Support who was at the fair and they got chatting about the organisation and what befriending involved. Sandra decided this would be something she might enjoy. She had brought up her own family, her grandchildren were now teenagers and she felt she could pass on some of this experience.
Sandra has befriended four families over the four years she has been with Home Link Family Support. She currently befriends a family with three children and usually takes the family on outings such as to the beach or country park. As the mum is a single parent, she finds taking three young children out extremely difficult, so Sandra's help is very much appreciated.
As well as spending time with the family, Sandra really enjoys the social side of being a Home Link Family Support Befriender. She always attends the training events that are run throughout the year and has made good friends with some of the other Befrienders.
Giving the Family Some 'Me' Time
I feel I take some of the pressure off the mother. When you are helping with small children it does not take a lot – most of the time I play games with the kids. If it’s a nice day, we go out into the garden and kick a ball about. Or we play inside with toys, drawing and colouring in and we read a lot together. I also have a good chat with the other members of the family about how their week has been and any problems or concerns they have come up against and we have a laugh. It gives the family a couple of hours' 'me' time.
Julie was going through the lowest period of her life. She was trying to cope with postnatal depression, two small children and the death of her mother. She just drew the curtains and stayed in the house.
“I sometimes wonder what would have happened to us if I hadn’t had the support of a Befriender," she says today. "It made all the difference – a real life saver.” Fortunately her Health Visitor spotted she was struggling and contacted Home Link Family Support. The Edinburgh-based charity provided her with a sympathetic volunteer who visited for two hours once a week. For the first time in her life, Julie felt she had someone to talk to who was "on her side". And the children loved the attention.
“It’s been great," says Julie. "My befriender takes the kids out sometimes. That gives me some peace. I’ve had no time to myself before and it has helped me to stop and think. She’s helped me take the kids out too. It made me so happy to see them enjoying it so much. We’ve been stuck in the house a lot. My befriender has been a real life saver, helping me and just talking.”
The aim of Home Link Family Support’s befriending service is to help families with children under five to feel more resilient, confident and better connected with their community. Without grandparents, uncles, aunts and close friends to help them through the tough times, many families feel isolated. For the past 30years, Home Link has been working in Edinburgh and Midlothian to help.
Volunteers will typically bring books to families who have none, help with simple cooking, develop play through the Parents Early Education Partnership (PEEP) and generally offer encouragement and support. They feel the families trust them because they are giving their time freely and are not telling them what to do, unlike many more formal support workers. For their part, families find it a relief to talk openly without being judged. "Sometimes we talk about her son, sometimes about herself, sometimes about the other issues going on in her family," says volunteer Pam. "Sometimes we talk about shoes. Whatever makes her life a little easier, I am there to listen."
Volunteers get a real buzz from the changes they see. "Recently I introduced arts and crafts and took my play kit," says Chris who has been visiting a family for six months. "Dad and the children loved it. Then dad went out and bought loads of arts and crafts materials!"
Home Link Family Support’s volunteers come from all walks of life. Some are students who want real experience to match their social work or psychology courses. Others are parents who remember how tricky those early years are. Others are those who want to give something back and see children develop and learn. Home Link Family Support will consider any volunteers over the age of 18 who think they can offer a positive and encouraging relationship to a family.
Do you have two hours a week to spare? It could make all the difference.
How to Volunteer click here