Investing in families

Somerset County Council is extending a pilot project that should see nearly 100 families receive extra support when they need it.

The Safe Families for Children scheme was trialled in Mendip and South Somerset last year and provides volunteer-led support for families struggling without traditional support networks to help them at times of crisis.

The charity’s volunteers provide that network and help families develop their own, so help is at hand when needed. Safe Families works with dozens of local authorities around the country its work has been shown to stabilise families at tough times and reduce the number of children being placed into care.

The £120,000 investment is from the Council’s new £1m Prevention Fund, set up to finance Council work and community projects that prevent issues, problems and needs developing or escalating. The aim is to improve lives while reducing future demand on the Council’s services – helping the authority remain sustainable in the long-term.

The extended pilot project expects to support around Somerset 100 families over 12 months, with volunteers providing:

  • A befriending service. Informal support and a listening ear, plus practical help such as fetching children from school or nursery.
  • A database of volunteer contacts for donations of items or skills and time, whether it’s furniture for the home or help with DIY.

Uniquely, Safe Families also offers short-term overnight stays for children. These may be planned to give the rest of the family quality time together, or to help families cope with emergencies, for example when parents have a stay in hospital. An alternative to short-term foster care placements, these stays are less disruptive for children and their families and less costly to the council.

Councillor Frances Nicholson, Lead Member for Children and Families, said: “Without the support networks that most of us take for granted, small issues can push families into crisis. This is about providing help and support that prevents that from happening.

“The approach has been shown to work in Somerset and elsewhere – improving lives while helping reduce pressure on services and budgets.”

Last year’s pilot worked with 41 adults and 63 children, providing better outcomes for families and preventing an estimated spend of nearly £300,000 in care costs.

Chris Allcock, Programme Director from Safe Families for Children, said “We are delighted to be extending the pilot across the whole of Somerset. In the last 18 months we have seen the impact of people in the community coming alongside isolated families, to give them connection and hope.

“At Safe Families we believe that no one should feel alone and that simple kindness shown by a neighbour or a friend can be the thing that can make a difference for a family when they are facing a crisis.

“We are excited to continue the partnership with the County Council as we expand our work over the coming year and enable more families across Somerset to thrive.”

Anyone interested in becoming a Safe Families For Children volunteer can visit www.safefamiliesforchildren.com for more information.