Home-Start Orkney is a voluntary organisation promoting the welfare of families with at least one child under the age of 5. Its volunteers offer support, friendship and practical help to families in their own homes, helping to prevent stress and family breakdown, while helping to build up parents’ self-esteem and confidence. Families are referred to our service by a number of agencies for a variety of reasons, including lone parenting, relationship breakdown, postnatal depression, ill health, children on the autistic spectrum, rural isolation, no support network – the list is endless. Families can also self-refer.

The Co-ordinator visits them at home, discusses what kind of the support they feel they need, then looks at ways a Home-Start volunteer can assist. The service is unique in that it offers families support within their own homes, working alongside them in areas they have identified, rather than the more clinical approach taken by statutory services. The family is matched with a suitable volunteer and once introduced; the volunteer visits once a week, for 2-3 hours on average, although this is dependent on individual circumstances.

Due to the very nature of support, we often find that there is a generation gap between volunteer and parent, with the parent benefiting from the experience of the volunteer. Family support is not always available to those we support, and so learning from an experienced parent volunteer, whose own children are adults themselves, is of great benefit to the parent. This in turn enhances their relationship with their own child/ren.

Currently, we are working to promote early literacy skills within families, who often are too caught up in difficult circumstances to give their children the time needed to read to them. Working in tandem with our local Bookbug provider and library, we have library membership which enables our volunteers to borrow books on our account, and they can then take these with them to families, and read to the children. The library also lends us books for our weekly Drop-In, changing these on a rotational basis. The time given by the volunteers in reading to the children and in encouraging their early language skills will help prepare them for starting nursery and formal education, giving them the starting blocks for skills for life.

Successful Strategy

Home-Start’s approach works because the formula is a simple one – one parent helping another. At its recent Quality Assurance Review, the following was said by families taking part:

“It’s given me get up and go – my self-esteem to get back into the world again….been on verge of suicide and the volunteer instinctively knew how I felt.”

“Motivation to get things done now.”

“I’ve kept my sanity….think I may have had a breakdown – it’s great just knowing someone is there.”

“Home-Start is the best thing I ever did.”

“My older child has problems she shared with volunteer. This has helped to get our relationship back on track again.”

“Without Home-Start I don’t know where the kids and I would be.”