Community Service Volunteer's (CSV's) Volunteers in Child Protection (ViCP) project

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Safeguarding
  • Families, Parents and Carers
  • General resources
  • Early Help

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Protecting children living in families where they are at high risk of abuse, harm or neglect

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Community Service Volunteers (CSV)

Local authority/local area:


The context and rationale

Community Service Volunteers' (CSV's) Volunteers in Child Protection (ViCP) project is an initiative that matches volunteers to families where one or more children are suffering from neglect and are at risk of significant harm. CSV’s volunteers provide support and encouragement to help these families address the many problems they face and ultimately assist them in turning a chaotic, dysfunctional home into a happy, stable and safe environment in which they can thrive. 

Specifically ViCP’s aims for the family are to:

• Help support a child to come off and stay off a Child Protection Plan/Child in Need plan.
• Help support children so they can stay with their families.
• Support and help families to effect positive change to turn unhappy, volatile and potentially dangerous homes into loving, stable and safe environments in which the whole family can thrive.
• Introduce boundaries and routines into otherwise chaotic homes.
• Reduce isolation and raise self-esteem.

ViCP is run by CSV which is the UK’s largest volunteering and learning charity, founded in 1962. CSV believes that social workers alone cannot keep children safe; the community can also play a significant part. CSV piloted ViCP in two local authorities (LAs), the London Borough of Bromley and Sunderland. The pilots ran from 2004 to 2007 and were positively evaluated in 2007. The project was then extended to other LAs including Southend-on-Sea which is the focus of this example.

Southend-on-Sea first became interested in the programme in early 2008. There were a number of pressures on services in Southend-on-Sea which led to the adoption of the programme. 

In 2005 there was a review of the looked-after children population in Southend-on-Sea. The numbers were significantly higher than those in the LA's statistical neighbour LAs and a decision was taken to reduce the numbers, on a managed basis, over a seven-year period to move the LA in line with the best of its statistical neighbours. Over the first five-year period, 2005-2010, there was a reduction in numbers of looked-after children from 327 to 263; this 20 per cent reduction took place at a time when many LAs were reporting a significant increase in numbers. 

In making the decision to reduce numbers, it was acknowledged that children’s services had placed too much emphasis on resolving family difficulties by removing children from home. Southend-on-Sea was aware this was not just a social care problem and that, if there was going to be a move towards managing risk with children remaining at home, they had to provide supportive structures and resources at the lower stages of intervention.

Over this period, as the number of looked-after children reduced, the number of children with a Child Protection Plan increased. In addition, children were subject to Child Protection Plans for longer periods – an indication that risk was not being adequately managed at the lower stages of intervention. Instead, referrals were continuing to be made to social care and the pressure on that service increased. Again, this suggested that attention had to be paid to the whole children’s services system, not just social care.

A number of initiatives were put in place to address these pressures:

• A robust locality framework of assessment, planning and reviewing was developed, based on the use of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF). 
• 'Whole family' approaches to support effective intervention – such as 'Think Family', the 'Family Intervention Project' and 'Family Group Conferencing' were introduced. 
• A risk management process was put in place to help contain staff anxiety. This approach was embedded for very high risk cases and rolled out to staff working with significant levels of high risk behaviour at lower stages of intervention. Discussions with all partners around risk management were important in ensuring that staff could really engage with managing risk while children remained at home.
• Volunteering was co-ordinated across the Children’s Trust and this identified gaps in the range of family support provided by volunteers.

Within this context, the CSV ViCP Programme was focused on three main areas:

• Reducing the number of children requiring a Child Protection Plan. A significant number of children had been deemed to require a Child Protection Plan, only to be deregistered at the first or second review. This indicated a willingness on the part of those parents to work with a focused plan and that those cases could have been managed through a Child in Need Plan rather than a Child Protection Plan. Staff feedback was that, often, cases were escalated because it was easier to access resources for Child Protection Plans. Because of this, Southend-On-Sea wanted the CSV volunteers to be accessed for Child in Need Plans as well as Child Protection Plans. In moving away from the original ViCP model of only providing volunteers for child protection cases, and instead allocating half of the provision to high level children in need, they became a major resource for this group of children and avoided the need for cases to escalate to child protection. Although the CSV branding for this project is ViCP, Southend-on-Sea felt that the name did not reflect the broader use of volunteers in this area and decided to brand it locally under the title of “empowering families”. CSV were happy to allow this broadening out of the project to fit local needs.
• Reducing the need for children to be subject to a Child Protection Plan for more than 18 months. In Southend-on-Sea there was a group of children, usually registered under the category of neglect, a group identified with having difficulty to affect change – the initial evidence from the pilots suggested that volunteer support might be particularly effective with this group. 
• Supporting families where children had had plans discontinued. Volunteers therefore stay with families as they move down the stages of intervention.

The practice

The ViCP Model: from Start-up to Delivery

Recruitment of Project Manager
The post is advertised within the local area where the project will run and on the CSV website. CSV employs the member of staff and the LA or funding partner/agency is encouraged to participate in both the short-listing and interviews. Once the Project Manager has been appointed he/she receives an induction in both CSV and the funding partner’s processes. 

ViCP requests that Project Managers have office space within social care teams as far as possible, as this makes for much more effective communication between them and the referring social workers. Funding partners are asked to provide the basic but essential equipment (computer, desk, chair, filing cabinet, telephone etc) to enable the Project Manager to do their job. CSV also requests there is an Operational Link who ensures that local processes are adhered to and that, for example, appropriate referrals are generated. The Operational Link, CSV Development Director and Project Manager meet quarterly to provide feedback and iron out any difficulties. 

Volunteers: Recruitment and Training
Volunteers are recruited from within the local area where the project will run. Training is usually over a period of 2.5 days, comprising half a day information/assessment followed by two full days of training. Volunteers are assessed for their suitability throughout the 2.5 days and may be asked to leave at any point if there is doubt. Volunteers are also asked to establish if this is the right volunteering experience for them. Only once volunteers have clearance (CBS, LA check and references) can they be accepted onto the scheme. 

Referrals and Volunteer Involvement Plan
Referrals are made via social care teams or another body as agreed during initial negotiations. Currently children are being supported to prevent them from needing a Child Protection Plan. 

Once a referral is made a Volunteer Involvement Plan (VIP) is drawn up. This plan is a crucial element in the success of the project as it sets out the parameters of the volunteering support, along with the specific tasks that a volunteer would be expected to work on with the family. These are drawn from the Child Protection Plan and agreed between the referring social worker and the Project Manager. 

The Project Manager will, at this stage, visit the family home to speak with the family, and assess the family’s needs using the Family Star Assessment tool. The VIP is shared with the family who are encouraged to input into it before it is formally agreed with everyone including the volunteer. 

Matching Volunteers to Families
Volunteers are matched with families based on the skills they have and the needs of the family. It is important that the right match is made; this is done very carefully with much thought and consideration. The Project Manager will take into account age, ethnicity, skills, interests, knowledge, availability and where the volunteer lives before matching, and will also try to accommodate specific needs of the family/requests from the referring agency, such as, for a male volunteer; 2/3 visits a week etc.

There is a finite length for each match, based on the needs of each family. The support provided is tailored to the needs of each individual family. 

Record of Contact and Endings
Volunteers are required to complete a Record of Contact following each visit which must be returned to the Project Manager within 48 hours. 

At the end of the volunteering the ViCP Project Manager will conduct an evaluation with the family, the social worker and the volunteer. These evaluations help to assess the support provided by the volunteer and the impact of the support on the children and families. 

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

The project in Southend-on-Sea was evaluated in 2011 by Anglia Ruskin University. (The evaluation report is available by contacting the C4EO team at NFER.)

The research found compelling evidence that the project delivers positive outcomes for:

• Children and families - enabling parents to improve their parenting skills and family functioning; often helping children to come off Child Protection Plans; and enabling parents to engage with universal services, access health checks and improve children’s school attendance. The level of safeguarding concern for families also decreases after the ViCP intervention and the SDQ scores for the children improve, suggesting improvement in the children’s wellbeing.
• Volunteers - who have a positive experience and are well managed and supported throughout the process.
• Stakeholders, including social workers - who welcome the extra resource offered to families and the different approach volunteers bring.

The research also showed that, in 87% of the families tracked during the period of the research, there had been significant improvements, with families having moved to lower levels of safeguarding concern as reflected in their CAF levels. In 13% of the families, volunteers are still engaged and support is ongoing.

ViCP volunteers have made a real difference. They have enabled many children with a Child Protection Plan to complete their plan successfully and no child has needed to be re-registered. The national average for re-registration is 20%.

Outcomes in CAF levels:

Families referred at Stage 4 successfully completing their Child Protection Plan and no longer requiring support - 5 families, 11 children
Families referred at Stage 3 successfully completing their Child Protection Plan and no longer requiring support - 6 families, 13 children
Children who were returned to their family from care - 1 family, 2 children
Families referred at Stage 4 moving to Stage 3 of the Child Protection Plan - 2 families, 6 children
Families referred at Stage 4 moving to Stage 2 - 2 families, 4 children
Families referred at Stage 3 moving to Stage 2 - 3 families, 6 children
Families reporting improved school attendance for children -7 families, 14 children.

Case studies and feedback have also been collated. If you are intersted in seeing these, they can be provided by contacting the C4EO team at NFER.

Helping others to replicate your practice

ViCP is currently being delivered in 4 localities: Lewisham, Bromley, Southend-on-Sea and Coventry, supporting over 129 families and 300 children each year across all four projects. Each project is managed by a Manager who is both committed and experienced in working with children and families, as well as in supporting volunteers.

Costs of the Programme

For 50 families a year, the costs saved by the ViCP scheme are in excess of £81,597 (from Angela Ruskin University evaluation).

Savings and Costs of ViCP for 64 families
Total savings from ViCP adjusted for 64 families per annum: £283,644

Cost of ViCP commissioned for 50 families per annum: £140,000

Overall savings from ViCP adjusted for 64 families per annum: £143,644

The ViCP programme was the overall winner of the Charity Aid Foundation ‘Charity of the Year’ 2010.

The characteristics of this programme in Southend-on-Sea are:

Flexibility – Southend-on-Sea wanted the programme to fit within its own staged intervention framework and the ViCP programme was adaptable without compromising the integrity of its own governance arrangements. The negotiations over this were not always smooth, but helped clarify expectations from both agencies.

Volunteers receive a comprehensive training programme – the training sessions have the additional advantage of allowing the supervisors to get to know the volunteers which helps with matching to families and forms the basis for the future supervision relationship. Volunteers have to constantly keep in mind the purpose of their involvement. They need the time and space to reflect on the work they do and on their own responses to the families they work with.

Another important characteristic is that, because volunteers work alone in the family home, it is vital that all referrals are risk assessed and the initial meeting with the family is led by one of the coordinators. This has the additional advantage of giving the coordinator a good knowledge of the family and home conditions. So if, for instance, a volunteer comes back from the first meeting with a judgement about the cleanliness of the home, the coordinator will be able to gauge the judgement objectively.

Equally important if the case goes to Court is that the volunteer keeps notes of their involvement – these notes are also referred to during supervision.

The project is based in Southend-on-Sea’s social care First Contact team office and so communication with social workers is excellent. Arrangements are made for specific times to be spent with locality coordinators who are responsible for lower stages of intervention.

Each case is evaluated – The project uses the “Outcomes Star” tools which both volunteers and families find helpful and a final evaluation is also undertaken with families, volunteers and the referring social workers.

Hot Tips

• Review the project so that it remains current.
• Get feedback from all service users and use this to develop the project.
• Develop close links with funding partners and others who will endorse the project. 

Links to C4EO's 'Golden Threads':

• It takes a community to raise a child.
• Together with children, parents and families.
• Unite to succeed.

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