24 October 2017
Last week, I was lucky enough to visit the inspirational Parent Champions in Wolverhampton. The local scheme has been running for almost two years and in that time, they have maximised the skills and talents of their volunteers to reach out to other parents in the community.
Improving outcomes for children is at the heart of the work in Wolverhampton. They have seen a dramatic increase in take up of free childcare for disadvantaged two year olds, and they attribute this to the work of the Parent Champions. In 2015, just 57 per cent of eligible two year olds took up their free childcare, but by 2017 this figure had shot up to 77 per cent. There is strong evidence that early education helps children to develop both cognitive and socioemotional development – meaning being better able to name different objects as well as take turns with other children. This early boost can make a difference far into a child's future.
There were a number of other things that really impressed me about Parent Champions Wolverhampton. The first was that the scheme was set up to respond to the skills and strengths of the individual Parent Champions – even when the Parent Champions themselves did not recognise these strengths. For example, one volunteer had struggled with poor mental health, and she was encouraged to use her own experience to support other parents in similar situations. She set up a group for parents with poor mental health, recognising that parents who are struggling often find it even harder to access mainstream services, perhaps worrying about judgement from other parents. This group provided a safe place where parents could support each other through the challenges they were facing. It was moving to hear her talk about the changes she had seen in some of the parents attending the group.
The scheme also has a strong employment focus. The Parent Champions Coordinator, Reeta, said that she worked with all of the volunteers to make sure that they were progressing towards paid work. She is clearly successful at this, as half of the parents that finished the program went on to paid employment. The Parent Champions themselves also try to let parents know about services that are out there that can help parents get closer to employment, including working out of Jobcentre Plus offices.
But I think the most inspiring part of my day in Wolverhampton was the massive enthusiasm from everybody involved in the scheme about the difference the scheme was making. Earlier this year, Reeta won Parent Champion Coordinator of the Year at our annual Parent Champions conference and awards, and it was clear to see why she had won so much praise from the volunteers and staff she worked with. Her passion and enthusiasm was infectious, which made for a team of highly motivated Parent Champion volunteers. Meeting the team made me really excited about what they are going to do next!