Everyone loves to smile – whether you’re receiving one or sharing one, they make us feel good and brighten our mood. It’s even been proven that smiling has tangible health benefits, with smiles linked to reducing stress and training our brains to be more positive.

It’s not surprising then that smiling is one of the things we measure the success of our Independent Visitor (IV) service with.   NYAS’ IV service matches volunteers with children and young people who are particularly vulnerable.  Each volunteer is matched with someone in their area and commits to spending time with them each month as a positive role model in their life.  Our volunteers take the time to build trust and rapport with their young people, boost their confidence, encourage them to try new activities, share hobbies and most importantly, have fun.

Tasked with befriending and mentoring those they work with; our volunteers tell us that it’s not just the young people who benefit.    Independent visitor Stephen said: “It’s great being an Independent Visitor as you feel a real sense of giving something back.  The young people I have been matched with have been through various changes in their placements and I have been the only regular person during that time of change.  It helps them to know that you are going to turn up as promised and they can get away from it all.  The great thing is the sole purpose of an IV is to be their friend and nothing else.”

Volunteer Sarah’s experience has been similar: “My match was 11 when I started and she’s 15 next month.  I’ve seen her grow from a scared little girl who had never been anywhere (her idea of an afternoon out was going to Asda) into a confident young woman.  I’ve been there for her when sat her SATS in year 6 to choosing her GCSE options.  She wants to be a nursery nurse when she grows up and she’s working toward her first diploma now.  I know that as an Independent Visitor I’ve played a part in encouraging her and showing her that she can have a bright future.”

More often than not IVs are the only non-paid professional in a looked-after child’s life, which makes the regularity of their visits and the friendships made, all the more important and special.  The onus is always on the child or young person to choose the activity for their next visit, giving them a say about how they spend their time and a sense of control over their lives.  Independent visitor John said: “Most of our visits involve going to the cinema or for something to eat because, at the end of the day, it was what he wanted to do… our monthly visits were a chance for him to relax and have fun, forget about his worries and just be a normal teenager.”

From going bowling to visiting a climbing wall or simply going for a coffee to chat – the activities that IVs take their young people on are always fun and guaranteed to put a smile on their young people’s faces.

Designed to make a positive and lasting difference to the lives of the children and young people we work with, the IV programme is invaluable and we urgently need more volunteers to help us continue our work.  If you’d like to find out more about volunteering with NYAS or to learn how being an Independent Visitor could put a smile on a young person’s face, please visit https://www.nyas.net/services/independent-visitors/