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Research demonstrates the ‘crucial role’ of child protection volunteers

Intervention of volunteers leads to lower risks for children on protection plans

 Research carried out by Anglia Ruskin University looking at the benefits of training volunteers to support families with children at risk of serious harm and subject to child protection plans has been presented to the Children's Minister, Tim Loughton.

The Volunteers in Child Protection (ViCP) project, piloted by UK volunteering charity CSV in the wake of the Victoria Climbié tragedy, sees specially recruited, trained and supported volunteers work in partnership with children's service professionals to support good parenting, improve school attendance and provide structure and extra stability to family life.

Over an 18 month period from March 2010, researchers from Anglia Ruskin measured the outcomes of CSV's project in Southend involving 37 families with children on child protection plans.

The research – carried out by Dr Jane Akister, Niamh O'Brien and Teresa Cleary – showed that in 87% of cases involving volunteers, children moved to lower levels of risk as indicated by Child Assessment Framework Levels. This includes 11 families who were removed from child protection plans altogether and seven families who reported improved school attendance.

The researchers also reported significant improvements in scores used to assess children's emotional disturbance as well as improvements in the way families function overall – including being better able to engage with external agencies, a child's school or their doctor. There were also improvements in the mental well being of mothers who were supported by volunteers.

Dr Jane Akister, Reader in Social Work at Anglia Ruskin, said:

"This study shows what a crucial role these volunteers can play, working with extremely complex families where social services are involved because of child protection concerns.

"The families are very hard to engage and are suspicious because they are worried that people might take their children away. These families see the volunteers as being on their side, helping them to develop confidence in their own parenting.

"There is evidence of marked improvement after the ViCP intervention. Critical to the success of the programme is that CSV, as an organisation, are extremely effective in the recruitment, training, managing and supervision of volunteers."

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said:

"Projects that harness local volunteer energy, such as the one pioneered by CSV, show the enormous potential for members of the community to complement the work of social workers by providing an extra set of eyes and ears to benefit children and their families."

Lucy de Groot, Chief Executive of CSV said:

"This latest research shows the real practical impact that the volunteers have had with some of our most troubled families."