The founder of an American organisation that inspired millionaire businessman Sir Peter Vardy to launch a movement to help families in crisis has met volunteers in our region.
Dave Anderson founded Safe Families in Chicago 10 years ago and it has since spread to 65 US cities across 25 states.
In Chicago, the organisation has 900 volunteer families who provide a temporary safe place for children when their parents are facing a crisis due to drug abuse, violence, financial difficulties, homelessness or illness.
Around 1,000 children in Chicago have entered the programme, saving the city potential welfare costs of $40,000 per child.
Sir Peter launched Safe Families for Children on Tyneside and brought Mr Anderson to meet church leaders and volunteers.
Volunteers can be “host families” who take in children for temporary stays of between two and 28 days, and family friends or mentors who work alongside parents facing difficulties.
Other supporters donate equipment, nappies, baby food and other items that might be needed.
At a meeting at Chowdene Community Church, in Low Fell, Gateshead, Mr Anderson said: “Safe Families is part of the solution to helping families in difficulties by providing safe places for kids.
“It’s not coercive, it’s purely voluntary on the part of the parents we help and, although the initial separation from mum is difficult, the kids sense the positive context in which it’s happening.
“The parents are not only incredibly appreciative but also, when they’re given some time to sort out their problems, the home life is stabilised and we see them doing better as a result. We help change the trajectory of all their lives.”
The movement has recruited 215 volunteers across the region via local churches and the first child, a four-month-old boy, has been placed with a family in Durham for a weekend while his single mother was admitted to hospital.
The service is free, and volunteers receive no payment or costs. All the volunteer families are extensively screened, and undergo CRB checks and training.
Volunteer David Wilson, from Hebburn, South Tyneside, who with his wife Jean has fostered 40 children over the last 25 years, said: “We want to become involved because there is a need.
“We envisage that we’ll be providing meals, taking children to school and just being there.
“We tend to look to the Third World when we want to help but there’s plenty of need on our own doorsteps.”
Volunteer Danielle Cruickshank, of Amble, Northumberland, added: “I’m retired now and I feel I want to do something meaningful.”
Referrals typically come from social services, doctors, schools and other organisations, and people can also refer themselves to the dedicated Safe Families professional social worker and community coordinator based on Tyneside.
The aim is to have 500 volunteers on Tyneside so children can stay with a family near home and normal routines such as school are maintained.
Sir Peter added: “People look at society now and they want to do something but they don’t know what. This is something everyone with something to give can get involved with.
“I truly believe it could be the biggest intervention to bring about positive social change that we have seen in many years.”
For more information call 0191 374 4777 or visit www.safefamiliesforchildren.com
We tend to look to the Third World … but there’s plenty of need on our own doorsteps