“I offer support and advice on parenting, local activities and services through home visits and groups,” explains Karen, “but these can take place face to face, within the Children’s Centre, in a hall, outside area or any other place which suits the family.”
Many of Karen’s home visits are aimed at encouraging parents and carers to enjoy reading with children from as early an age as possible through the national Bookstart programme. Research has found that children who receive Bookstart packs are clearly ahead of other children in both literacy and numeracy upon entering school.
“The Bookstart visits are so rewarding,” says Karen. “One parent said that I had opened their eyes to how much their child enjoys books. And studies show that 45% of parents have spent quality time with their child as a result of Bookstart Baby, increasing to 49% of Bookstart Treasure recipients.”
Family cases also take up a large part of Karen’s working week. She visits a local Mother and Baby unit which houses vulnerable young mothers in crisis between the ages of 17 and 21.
“Some families require intensive support as they have a number of complex issues,” she explains. “I give parenting advice, talk about healthy eating and exercise and we can arrange counselling where it’s needed.”
One young mother at the unit had previously suffered from low self-confidence, not wanting to join in with Stay & Play toddler groups. She has now gone on to become a volunteer and her self-esteem has increased dramatically.
Every fortnight, Karen goes into the Family Centre at Highdown Prison on the outskirts of Banstead. Working with Epsom Downs Children’s Centre, she welcomes visiting families onto a Playbus, interacting with the children and introducing parents to the range of family support services and activities available in the area.
This year, YMCA Banstead Children’s Centre has engaged with 336 individuals through their Outreach project work.
“With the Early Help Assessment programme, Holiday Outreach work during the holidays and breast feeding workshops among the many other services we offer, there are never enough hours in a day,” says Karen.
“We are a vital link in the local community, bridging a gap between social care and the health services. Through us, families get the early intervention support which helps to prevent problems growing too big for them to handle themselves.”