Successful friendship scheme set to expand

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A befriending scheme for children in care has been such a success it is set to expand.
The West Sussex Independent Visitor Scheme matches volunteers with children and young people from eight to 17 years old.

West Sussex County Council has plans to expand on the current number of around 30 Independent Visitors to 150 over the next few years.

David Bailey has been paired up with a young teenager in care for the last two years.
David, 31, a teacher from Worthing, said: “In some ways, it is not very complicated. It’s spending time with someone else and having a nice time.

“From his point of view, it’s having that person who is there for them one-on-one, someone who is actually going to listen to them. I see him once every six weeks or so. For children in care, it means quite a lot to them that I have chosen to spend my time there and there is no hidden agenda.

“I get a lot out of it as well. I get to see the world through a teenager’s eyes which is quite interesting. It takes you out of your comfort zone and you have lots of different experiences along the way.”

The Independent Visitor Coordinator matches up a volunteer with a particular child/young person to visit them around once a month.

An Independent Visitor volunteers their time but is given full training and basic expenses like travel costs are covered as well as ‘activity fees’ on days out.

Stephen Hillier, County Council Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “The children referred to the scheme often have little or no contact with their own family, so the Independent Visitor offers them the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship outside of their placement and unconnected with social care and councillors.

“We are so grateful to those who volunteer already. It may be a few hours a month but it is so profound. A simple thing like going for a bike ride or watching a film can mean so much.”

The County Council is particularly looking for male role models to pair with young men who are looked after by the local authority and will not be returning home.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s Joe Sacco, of the Tactical Response Unit, has been an Independent Visitor for 18 months.

Joe, whose daughter Francesca-Jo has recently taken up the role of coordinator for the scheme, said: “Every day the Fire and Rescue Service works on projects to protect and help vulnerable people in the community. I saw the Independent Visitor role as an extension of that care and support, and a great opportunity for me personally to do something really worthwhile by befriending and directly supporting a young person in care.

“We have enjoyed all sorts of activities together from bike rides to go-karting. It is a fun and rewarding role where you feel like you are making a real difference to a young person’s life.”

The deadline for the first round of applications is Friday 27 October with training being held in November. There will be two public information evenings for people to find out more on:

• Thursday 5 October from 6 to 8pm at Horsham Library
• Tuesday 17 October from 6 to 8pm at Worthing Library

For more information, visit www.westsussex.gov.uk/independentvisitor or email francesca-jo.saccojimpson@westsussex.gov.uk.

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