A scheme which encourages parents who have received help from Children’s Services to “champion” the support available to other mums and dads has received a national award.
The City of Wolverhampton Council’s Parent Champion scheme manager Reeta Shemar was named Coordinator of the Year by the Family and Childcare Trust last month – and representatives of the Trust have subsequently visited Wolverhampton to meet local Parent Champions and see the scheme in action.
The Parent Champion scheme recruits local men and women to talk to other parents about their experiences of children’s social care services.
The volunteers work to build trust among families, and inform parents about the various opportunities available to them – such as the free childcare for three and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds.
They also offer a befriending service, encourage new and prospective mums and dads to get help and support from their local Strengthening Families Hub and elsewhere, and enable parents to have their say on the development of services.
As well as helping others, Parent Champions reap benefits of their own. Becoming a Parent Champion strengthens participants’ employability by developing their skills and confidence – and a number have gone on to secure paid employment or join training programmes thanks to the support they receive in their voluntary role.
Emma Harriott, who started accessing children’s services in 2013 when she became a mum for the first time, became a parent champion last year. It gave her the experience and confidence to look for a job working with children, and she was encouraged to apply for a role as a Strengthening Families Worker at one of the City’s Strengthening Families Hubs, a post she secured in July.
She said: “The support and confidence that I gained while volunteering encouraged me to apply for a job that I thought I would never get.
“I have no hesitation in recommending the Parent Champion programme to families as it really does change people’s lives. Now I help families to improve their prospects, just like I did.”
Councillor Val Gibson, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, said: “The Parent Champions scheme is a wonderful initiative which enables mothers and fathers who have had first-hand experience of children’s services in Wolverhampton to share their knowledge with others.
“They give a few hours a week to talk to other local parents about the services which are available to them, and because they are parents themselves, they are able to share their own experiences in a relatable, trusted and informal way.
“We have trained up 18 volunteers over the last year or so, and have just recruited a third cohort of nine who will soon be out and about sharing their knowledge with local families.
“Emma is a fantastic example of the benefits of volunteering as a Parent Champion can bring, and I would encourage anyone who is interested in taking on this important role to contact us to find out more.”
She added: “I am delighted that the efforts of our Parent Champions, and the fantastic support of the City of Wolverhampton Council, has been recognised on a national stage by the Family and Childcare Trust, particularly as the scheme has only been running in Wolverhampton for 16 months.”