“It’s not really a question a 6 year old child should have to ask, is it? I told him my answer was the same as it was the first time I met him, I will be his friend for as long as he wants me to be”said Ken
As part of Volunteers Week (1-12 June) we take a look at Leeds Independent Visitor which is staffed by volunteers and talks to Ken about why he joined the scheme.
Why does anybody decide to become an Independent visitor?
In my case it was a very long process starting with wondering what I could possibly offer a young person, and eventually realising it was the simplest things, turning up on time when you say you will, listening to someone, trying to do things with them that they like and gradually building a friendship. On our training, Esther did a session where she asked us where our given names came from, and then pointed out that a lot of looked after young people don’t even know that.
I found the training really interesting, and the IVs on my group were such a nice bunch of people. I think the most important thing for me was understanding that you had to be able to see quite personal things from other people’s points of view, so if someone asked you what would you do in a situation, and you didn’t give a very good answer, you were prepared to let it go and learn.
So I got matched up with T, a very small six year old boy. The first time I met him, his two older sisters crowded in on the meeting and exerted some influence, to the extent that when I asked him what he wanted to do on his first visit he said “Shopping!” and then as soon as I got him into the car and asked him the same question again he said “McDonalds. Not shopping…”
You worry on the training that you’re going to get all the tricky situations happening at once and of course they don’t, but on the first visit he asked me “How long will you be my friend?” There were some other comments on subsequent visits, more subtle… such as ‘I’d like us to come back here when I’m 16…’ and then he carefully watched my reaction…
The first visit started off awkwardly, we were in a McDonalds in central Leeds, and it was very crowded, with a lot of bolshy teenagers around us. I had to get a 16 year old girl and her mates to move over which was a lot harder than going through the whole IV process!
He sat there very quietly, the only things moving were his eyes, watching other families, and one hand, snaking back and forth to his bag of chips… But it got better very quickly, we wandered round town and I found Clintons Card Shop was a godsend because of all their fluffy toys at small child height…
Another time I’d suggested the York Railway Museum, he seemed up for that. Getting in the car to go there, I said “Would you prefer me to drive or would you rather catch the train?” He said “Drive. I don’t like trains.” “OK, so you know we’re going to a RAILWAY museum, don’t you?…” It was doomed really. We got 20 steps into the main gallery and he said “Can we go somewhere else?” Fortunately York is a fascinating city and we spent some time down by the river watching the boats. And that subsequently led to us going to Knaresborough on the next visit and hiring a rowboat, and he had a fantastic time. He thought it was like water dodgems and kept steering us into other boats…
He is always well behaved when he is with me, and at times you forget that he’s been through some really difficult stuff. And the enduring thing is that he knows the people who are looking after him at the moment are paid to do it, and however nice they are, it’s not the same as being with a family who want you and who would do anything to keep you. That must be really hard for a six year old.
There have been some problems at his placement recently, Helen was really good about making sure that I was aware of them. Actually Helen has been just brilliant from day one, and it makes a huge difference to how good a job I can do at being an IV, knowing what’s going on. T doesn’t tend to refer to things at home directly, so the background information helps me connect up the dots. On our last visit, he casually asked me the same question he asked me when we first met six months ago, “How long will you be my friend?” It’s not really a question a 6 year old child should have to ask, is it? I told him my answer was the same as it was the first time I met him, I will be his friend for as long as he wants me to be. Ken
An Independent Visitor (IV) is a volunteer who befriends and visits a child or young person living in the care of the local authority. They also provide support and advice, which contributes towards the child’s social, emotional and educational development.
They are called ‘Independent Visitors’ because, in this role, they are volunteers and are not part of the paid children’s services workforce; they work purely for the benefit of the looked after child or young person. Independent Visitors are hugely valued by the young people as they are often the only people involved in their lives who are not paid to be there.
All looked after children have the right to be appointed an Independent Visitor, if they wish. We generally provide volunteers for children over 5 years of age and we have recently extended the service to include support for care leavers. An Independent Visitor will visit the child or young person on a monthly basis, with the aim of establishing a consistent, positive adult-child relationship.
This one-to-one relationship can involve anything from football in the park, seeing the latest films, or new things that the young person and Independent Visitor want to do! In addition to the one to one activities we work to provide group activities which Independent Visitors and their young person can access if they choose to. An activity budget and travel expenses are provided each month.
If you can spare a few hours a month and would like to volunteer why not get in touch with us or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.