Volunteers contribute more than £23 billion* to the economy each year– giving their time, commitment, passion and enthusiasm for free in aid of countless good causes.  For a charity like NYAS, volunteers underpin the work we do and are the lifeblood of one of our most invaluable services – The Independent Visitor programme.

Independent Visitors (IVs) are often the only unpaid person in a child in care’s life and provide consistency and stability where otherwise there is little.  IVs give their time to mentor and befriend vulnerable children and young people by acting as a role model, providing fun opportunities and helping to create positive and confident futures for them.

NYAS currently has hundreds of IVs across the country but we still need many more to keep up with demand. It’s perhaps not surprising when you consider that the outcomes are so impressive – our children and young people regularly tell us how their confidence has improved, that they’ve embraced new experiences, places and activities and that they feel more settled – all from having an IV in their life for just a few hours each month.   The IVs also tell us how volunteering has enriched their lives for the better too.  It’s win-win.

Stability is the thread that runs through the whole IV concept.   Sarah has been an IV for the last four years and has charted real progress in her young person, something that has stemmed from the regularity of their meetings and Sarah’s ongoing presence.  She said: “I’ve seen her grow from a scared little girl who had never been anywhere (her idea of an afternoon out was getting to go to Asda) to a confident young woman. I’ve been there for her when she 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 towards her first diploma now, and I know I’ve played a part in encouraging her and showing her that she can have a bright future.”

NYAS asks for a minimum two-year commitment from its IVs to provide as much consistency and stability as possible. Many of the IVs even stay with their young person right up until they leave care.     Tony has been a NYAS IV for seven years and has been matched with three young people from the ages of 14 to 18 during that time.  He said: We have tried lots of new things and had some great outings but we’ve also done things that most people think are very ordinary. Sometimes the chance to do something as normal as going to town, looking in the shops and eating junk food with an adult who is there just for them and not a carer or professional, is what’s needed to remind them they are just like all the other young people around them.”

A successful and productive IV relationship relies on an effective match and NYAS IV coordinators work hard to match the specific needs and requests of looked after children with the IVs available.  Where possible common interests provide a strong starting point, but for many boys and young men in care, their requirements can be as simple as having a positive male role model in their lives. IV John said: “I’d really like to encourage more men to volunteer because very few boys in care have any male role models – my match certainly didn’t and because he was fostered by an elderly lady, he had no one he could relate to really. Our monthly visits were a chance for him to relax and have fun, forget about his worries and just be a normal teenager.”

For children and young people surrounded by paid professionals, knowing that someone is taking an interest in them for who they are and because they choose to, is hugely important for their self-worth and confidence.  As life can be very transient for those in care this stability is a valuable constant.  For some children and young people, their IV also helps with the transition as they leave care too.  IV Tony said: “As each one of the boys I have been matched with has approached 18… they really value having an adult that they trust to talk to, bounce ideas off and get a real-world perspective on things. The most rewarding thing is seeing a young person become a young adult knowing you have helped them grow in confidence, expanded their experience and broadened their horizons.  Young people have so much potential, often far more than they realise and by giving them some encouragement, a little guidance and support an I.V. can help them to live a big life despite their situation, not a small life because of it.”

All children and young people in care have the right to request an independent visitor if they feel it would be beneficial, but unfortunately not all local authorities have the funding available to make it happen.   Without volunteers, it would be even more difficult to fund what is such a vital service for children and young people in care.

As Volunteers Week 2017 gets underway we’re calling for more volunteers.  If you want to make a difference and help change young lives by volunteering for just a few hours each month, we want to hear from you!  Could you be our next volunteer?  Be an Independent Visitor with NYAS.  For more information about NYAS’ independent visitor programme visit:  https://www.nyas.net/services/independent-visitors/

*Institute for Volunteering Research