Safe Families for Children UK, the charity founded by North East entrepreneur and philanthropist Sir Peter Vardy, has reached two significant milestones.
The Durham-headquartered charity, which aims to prevent children from needlessly having to go into care, has now helped more than 1,000 children, along with recruiting and training over 2,000 volunteers.
Safe Families is currently partnering with 20 local authorities across the country and this number is likely grow even more in the next year, all focused on giving struggling families help and support during difficult times.
Sir Peter said: “To have helped more than 1,000 children through our network of 2,000 volunteers is fantastic, but it’s just the start for Safe Families. Our aim is to recruit 100,000 volunteers so we can help as many families and children as possible.
“Statistics about children in care always make for depressing reading. Young people who have been in care are less likely to do well in school and they’re more likely to end up in the prison system.
“But we firmly believe that by intervening early, as soon as a family starts to have a problem, we can prevent the situation from escalating to such a point that a child has to go into care.”
Safe Families for Children first launched in Chicago 13 years ago, where it has now helped more than 25,000 families and contributed to a 50 per cent reduction in numbers of children entering the care system.
After witnessing first-hand the work Safe Families was doing in the US, Sunderland-born Sir Peter, who was awarded his knighthood for services to education, decided to bring the model to the UK in 2013.
Through the Vardy Foundation, he invested £2m in Safe Families, with the Department for Education providing matched funding through the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.
The charity has now helped 462 families with 1076 children, recruited 2152 volunteers and provided 914 bed nights for youngsters.
Safe Families accepts referrals from local authorities responding to difficult family situations.
The charity recruits and trains three types of volunteer to help deliver support; 1) Host Families who look after a child overnight for a couple of days to a couple of weeks, 2) Family Friends who befriend, mentor and support parents through difficult times and 3) Resource who Friends supply a wide range of goods and services the family needs.
Parents who are supported by a Host Family retain parental control andremain the primary carer for their children, staying as involved as possible.
Those hosting a child make day-to-day decisions in line with parent preferences, and frequent communication and visits are encouraged throughout a stay.
Local authorities are able to access the service free for the first year before being asked to make a small annual contribution towards costs. The objective is to reduce the flow of ‘looked-after’ children by at least 10 per cent per year.
Sir Peter added: “We’ve had some incredible successes so far. Our volunteers say they aren’t doing anything they wouldn’t do for a friend while, for families, having someone there to listen or to provide some respite, makes a world of difference.
“Many people who were struggling to see a future for themselves and their children say Safe Families has turned their life around. If more local authorities, and more volunteers, come on board, we can roll out Safe Families even further to ensure children, who were once at risk of going into care, can stay with their families in a safer, happier home environment.