Bringing up young children is a tough job. And if over and above the usual hard work of parenting, life is complicated by isolation, mental health issues, or a child with additional needs, it can quickly become overwhelming.
Home-Start West Lothian provides friendly support at home for young families. By helping the parents, the children have a better chance at a good start in life, hence the charity’s name. It was originally set up in Leicester, England, in 1973 by a woman who ran parenting groups. She noticed a lot of the mums wanted a one-on-one chat with her in addition to the group activities. So she started visiting them at home on a one-on-one basis, and Home-Start was born.
There are now independent local Home-Start groups all over Britain. The West Lothian one has been in existence since 2000.
Sometimes when things are hard, knowing you’re not alone, you’re not a bad parent, that it’s normal to find it tough, and knowing that others have similar challenges, can make all the difference to how you cope. “Our volunteer befrienders visit at home, provide peer-to-peer support, lend a hand practically (such as watch the toddler while mum has a chance to have a shower in peace), be a non-judgemental, confidential listening ear and provide signposting to local groups or services that may be able to support with specific issues,” explains Allie, Manager of Home-Start West Lothian. I met Allie and Carol-Anne, Volunteer Co-ordinator, at the Home-Start premises in Livingston.
“The main difficulty people used to come to us for was social isolation; people moving out from Edinburgh or Glasgow for cheaper housing in West Lothian, but not having a network or knowing how to meet other young families, and struggling alone. There may be language barriers, health problems or other difficulties in addition to that. In recent years, we see a lot more families in crisis though - through domestic violence, poor mental health, disabilities, a whole range of issues.”
Home-Start see people from all walks of life. “It makes no difference how big your house or your bank account is,” says Allie. If as a parent of young children you’re not coping, then that is pretty normal and help is available. And, while most of the families they help tend to be in crisis or have multiple challenges, it’s not all about crisis. “We have some families we help as they have triplets, and not necessarily any other challenges. Three babies is challenging enough!”
Referrals for Home-Start’s befriending service can come from anywhere – health workers, social workers, GP and even self-referral. The choice as to whether to engage or not is with the family – it’s not like a formal social service where there may be mandatory engagement, although Home-Start may be supporting a family who already has social work, healthcare or other professionals involved. Navigating the numerous agencies that exist to help, and understanding the jargon thrown around, is one of the things the befriender can help with. It’s peer-to-peer support, where the parent/s and the Home-Start befriender work through things together. Volunteers are carefully matched to families to maximise the chance of the relationship being successful.
“We work predominantly with young mums and single mums, but also sometimes with dads or both parents. And we are always looking for more volunteers.” Older volunteers are welcome - sometimes a grandparent figure is just what a young family needs. Every family’s needs are different, so a wide range of volunteers with different experiences is ideal. Male volunteers are also welcome. “It’s really about having life experience and an ability to emphathise, non-judgementally,” summarises Allie.
If you can spare two or three hours a week to make daily life just that bit less daunting for a local young parent, please contact Home-Start West Lothian on the details below.
Contact Home-Start West Lothian on 01506 415755 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cameron House, 13a Fairbairn Road, Livingston, EH54 6TS
Home-Start West Lothian is a charity registered in Scotland, charity number SC029770
First published in Konect February 2018
Author: Helen-Jane Shearer