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