In the first of a new series of articles to give insight into life at the Rendezvous, we asked Sarah Childs to tell us in her own words what a typical day is like for her.
Sarah has been running the Young Parents Support project for eight years. In that time she has nurtured and developed the project to make sure we can provide the right support in the right way. She has built links with the health visitor teams and for the first time ever we can now make home visits which is a great way to get to know young parents before inviting them to the weekly group sessions. In 2019 she also launched a new young parents project in Gillingham which continues to go from strength to strength.
This is what Sarah has to say:
“I usually start my day by checking emails and phone messages and picking up anything urgent that needs immediate attention – if it’s a Wednesday I’ll do it in the centre in Sherborne but if I’m in Gillingham then I’ll do it from home before or after the session.
Most weeks there are new referrals from the Health Visitors to deal with and since Covid I’ve had a lot more people needing help with housing and universal credit applications. Sometimes I may get passed someone who is not a young parent but who needs advice and information around housing or benefits. It’s not complicated but it can be time consuming – particularly if they ‘don’t fit into a box’.
I’ll try to make that first contact with a new parent by phone and arrange to do home visits the following week and keeping the Health Visitors involved is important. I try to fit in one or two appointments each day and try to keep each day for a specific area although it doesn’t always work out like that and I can sometimes end up in Gillingham on both days. It’s not ideal as the extra time spent travelling is wasteful and costly and it’s important that we try to keep costs down.
It takes about 45mins to get ready for group and I normally have at least one but preferably two volunteers to help. They really help the group run smoothly and we now have two young parent volunteers which is great for us and also for them as it enhances their CVs. It’s great to have creative people who enjoy making things and doing crafty activities to keep the children occupied and whilst we try to get things for free we do have a small budget. By delivering activities I’m freed up to talk to each mum and dad throughout the session to check in with them and follow up on any conversations from the previous week.
Having good connections within the community is a real help when it comes to finding household items or things for the children that our mums may be short of – we’ve helped with things ranging from fridges and carpet to outdoor waste bins.
It’s really important to give everyone a really big welcome and we all work hard to make sure that any new members feel valued and included from the minute they walk through the door – we don’t want cliques to develop so work hard to encourage mixing and will ask a long-standing member of the group to buddy up with a new young mum to make that happen.
With the children occupied I will do the register and collect subs which go towards the cost of tea and coffee although if things are tight money-wise for some people then we can waive them. Sometimes I’m able to do the registration paperwork then and there with new members as I’ve got a mobile and laptop but if I can’t I’ll try to get everyone onto our database with a couple of weeks of joining up.
As the children grow I always have an eye out on helping the young parents move on and start thinking about working or studying and so keeping in touch with the Volunteer/Training Manager is really important and I will often refer young parents to her which works well. Many of the young mums have gone on to get their English and Maths qualifications and find paid employment.
I have had to deal with some very difficult situations which have involved working in partnership with social care and the police to keep young families safe. But, the Rendezvous is a really supportive place to work and supervision helps too. We have a group or individual session each half term which gives us all space to share and process some of the difficult things we have to deal with.
I try to talk to ‘boss’ too. We have informal chats most weeks to talk through ideas and developments. Keeping her up to date with what’s going on helps with planning and shaping the funding applications! She sometimes needs me to write reports which is when good up-to-date record-keeping pays off. I also have to give presentations to the Trustees and to partners – it’s not my favourite part of the job but it’s important to be able to talk about the positive impact we have.
I can say I’ve had a good day when there’s been some progress – when someone sorted out a housing problem or a debt payment plan, or if a young parent left the house anxious and alone and came to group for the first time and left with smiles and feeling less alone – and when I know all my paperwork is up to date!”
In the autumn we will be recruiting Sarah’s successor as she will be stepping down at the end of the year. If you think you have what it takes to take on the role then get in touch. Recruitment packs will be posted on the jobs page of the website in September (you will find it in the about section).