Barnet young people in care offered support by Sova

Our Strengthening Communities work stream concentrates primarily on our work with children, young people and families who are at risk. The service is focused on prevention underpinned by the principles of mentoring and befriending.  Our services support young people who are at significant risk of offending, children and young people in and leaving care, and families known to social services and family intervention programmes. Our focus is on raising self-esteem and confidence and developing communication skills, supporting family relationships and positive peer relationships and providing a role model.

We are delighted to be bringing our services to the London Borough of Barnet. Our new service, Sova Barnet Independent Visitors project, aims to provide young people in care aged 5 to 17 the opportunity to form a positive relationship with an Independent Visitor (a specially trained volunteer) providing them with consistent, long term support.

Every year over 300 children and young people are looked after by the London Borough of Barnet. Looked after children and young people will normally be placed with foster carers but sometimes live in residential care homes or semi-independent living schemes. These placements are not always in the borough and children can be placed over 60 miles away from where they previously lived, went to school and had social and family connections. Being a looked after child can be an unsettling experience, especially if you have little or no contact with family and friends.

We know that some care experienced young people face significant instability caused by the lack of positive parental involvement and placement instability. This disadvantage continues into their adult life increasing the likelihood of homelessness (80% of all Big Issue sellers having been in care), young people often not having the skills to budget and maintain a tenancy. Failure to be able to budget means that the young people start with a disadvantage increasing the risk of them not paying their rent, utility bills and ultimately maintain their accommodation.

Furthermore this group are more likely to enter the criminal justice system and the "Bromley Briefings" show that whilst young people in care make up 1% of the population they make up 7.9% of young offenders and 70% of young people in custody. The young people often do not have the ability to differentiate between positive and negative relationships, non-engagement in education and training, and accruing debts all increase the potential of them engaging in criminal or anti-social behaviour.

Sova are determined to change these facts and figures, by providing as many young people with an Independent Visitor as possible.  Independent visitors are trained and supervised volunteers who give up their time to build positive long term relationships with children and young people. This is normally for a few hours each month for 18 months or more. During this time an Independent Visitor helps a child or young person build their confidence and provide a confidential relationship where the child or young person can discuss their worries and concerns.

Sova are skilled at matching each child or young person with a volunteer Independent Visitor. The children or young people often need extra support and encouragement, sometimes because they have little or no contact with their own families. The volunteer is there as someone ‘independent’ in the young person’s life, distinct from the professionals paid to support them. They might take the young person to the cinema or to the park, encourage them to try a new sport or hobby, support them at meetings or simply be there to talk to. It makes a real difference to a young person to know they have someone who is on their side, who has chosen to be there for them. One young person told us “I feel better for having my volunteer, she has helped me understand it is OK to be in foster care and I have made friends with other kids from Sova who live near my house.”

All of our volunteers are fully trained and supported throughout their time with the project. If you'd like to find out more about the service or apply to become an Independent Visitor, see our webpage