social workers use volunteer support to help vulunerable families on volunteers supporting families project

“My social work team leader told me about the Volunteers Supporting Families service offered by Volunteering Matters, and asked if I’d like a trained volunteer to support me on one of my cases. I had a lady called Anne on my case list. Anne is a single mother who lives in Greenwich with three young children on a ‘child in need’ plan. All of her children have medical conditions, and Anne suffers from depression. I thought that Anne would really benefit from some additional support at home to help her establish routines for her children, manage her health and finances, and hopefully feel less isolated and overwhelmed.

I’m a busy social worker and, while I’d love to be able to offer the best possible support to every family on both a practical and an emotional level, realistically I am stretched to the limit and often juggling several complex cases every week. So the idea of having a volunteer to help support this family did ease some of my stress in terms of managing my workload.

Rafiat, the volunteer who supported Anne, was fantastic. Rafiat began working with Anne and her children in March 2015, and by November 2015 the children were no longer subject to ‘child in need’ plans. Without Rafiat’s patience, empathy and commitment, I’m not sure that we would have managed to achieve this so quickly, as the family were facing some serious social, economic and medical challenges. In December 2015, Anne welcomed her fourth child into the family, and Rafiat continued to support the family through this period of time (agreeing to extent to volunteer placement beyond the usual six months).

Rafiat visited Anne and her children for at least two hours every week. She helped Anne establish clear domestic routines to ensure that all the children were fed healthy meals, given their medication on time, and had clean clothes for school every day. These changes made a huge difference for both Anne and her children. Rafiat helped Anne to create filing systems to manage her finances and health appointments. Establishing these systems and routines helped Anne feel less stressed and more in control, which in turn helped her to manage her depression. Rafiat also made sure to offer Anne some dedicated time to discuss her stress levels and any other practical or emotional issues she needed support with.

On the family star scale, a measurement tool that we use to track progress for families, Anne and her children went from 7.1/10 when Rafiat began to support them, to 9.6/10 at the end of the volunteer placement. Anne was very grateful to Rafiat for her valuable help and support, she said: “Rafiat was really down to earth and helpful. She was always proactive and knew when I needed a hand. She had a great relationship with the kids as well.”

In social work, it’s not always easy to find positive stories to tell, but this is one. I’m very proud of the work that Rafiat and Anne have done to rebuild this family and provide a safe and happy home for the children. I’d certainly recommend that busy social workers consider making use of the Volunteers Supporting Families programme: committed and compassionate volunteers can make the world of difference to vulnerable families.   

Some names have been changed to protect privacy.