Flourishing Babies, Perinatal Support Worker, Siobhaun shares how her volunteer experience led her to the role, and how rewarding she’s found it since, supporting vulnerable parents with infants under the age of 2, and parents to be.
My journey with Family Action started when I heard the Flourishing Babies service was looking for Volunteer Befrienders.
I had previously worked in the health sector, but I’d had a long career break to bring up my four children. For a while I’d been thinking that I would like to get back to work… But what would I do and how would I juggle home and employment? A part-time volunteering role seemed to be the perfect way to give me some valuable work experience and “test the water” so, with the support of my family, I took the plunge and applied to be a Volunteer Befriender.
I haven’t looked back since.
The Volunteer Coordinator Zoe supported me all the way, providing face-to-face training sessions covering all aspects of the role such as perinatal mental health, safeguarding and building rapport. She also encouraged me to take a wide range of online learning courses to build my knowledge further (e.g. spotting the signs of domestic violence and abuse).
Everyone in the service was so welcoming and helpful – and I found I really enjoyed being part of a team again! Then the day came when Zoe told me she had found the perfect match for me. I was really excited to meet the mum I’d be supporting, but also apprehensive – what could I offer another mum? What would I do? How would I cope? I needn’t have worried. Zoe was with me at every stage – supporting me with the first visit, helping me to identify the mum’s needs, and supporting me and “mum” to work up a series of realistic goals.
I quickly realised that having older children – my kids are now aged 11 to 21 – and running a busy household, as well as my extensive experience of working as a midwife and community nurse in the past, had helped me to develop a wide range of skills and qualities that would be invaluable in my volunteering role. Between these two jobs I’d learnt to manage my time and be approachable, organised, patient, and empathetic … not to mention flexible!
“Mum’s confidence had grown so much that she decided to apply for a job”
Over the next few months, I met ‘mum’ every week for three hours and supported her with a variety of household tasks as well as providing emotional support. I helped her to put in place routines for the children and strategies to manage any challenging behaviour and I also provided ongoing support and encouragement via text and phone. It was quite a sad day when I realised mum didn’t need me anymore and that my visits would soon be ending, but that feeling didn’t last long. Mum’s confidence had grown so much that she decided to apply for a job – and got it. I felt so proud of her – and even prouder when she said that it was because of my support that she’d felt able to take that step.
Her feedback made me realise how far I’d come too over the same period. I’d been quite isolated, anxious and lacking in confidence before but, through volunteering, I’d grown in confidence, built amazing relationships with my colleagues and my ‘mums’, and developed my skills, knowledge and qualifications along the way. I felt I had a purpose outside the home, and loved feeling I could make a real difference to someone else’s life. I decided I was now confident enough to apply for a paid role within the Flourishing Babies service when one came up – and was delighted when I was taken on as a part-time Perinatal Support Worker.
I love the flexibility and variety of my new role. On any given day I can be leading a support group for mums, recruiting and supporting new volunteers, carrying out home visits to new mums to identify their support needs, liaising with other professionals to refer a mum to another service such as therapy, and even linking up a volunteer with their first ‘mum’. Having been a volunteer myself, I can understand only too well how nerve-wracking it can be to take that first step into volunteering and how important one-to-one support is. I hope that I am as helpful, organised and professional with my volunteers as Zoe was with me.
To anyone looking to volunteer I’d say go for it! It doesn’t matter how old you are or what background you come from – you can be retired, a student, a mum or grandma yourself. What’s important is that you are able to listen, have time for someone else, and can be empathetic, reliable, trustworthy and non-judgemental. Most importantly, you need to be able to recognise how much of a privilege it is for someone to let you into their homes and into their lives. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now without volunteering first. My husband and children are very proud of what I have achieved so far – and are excited to see where my journey takes me next. Me too!
Our Perinatal Support Team is currently looking for friendly, reliable volunteers who could provide emotional and practical support to women in Northampton or Kettering who are pregnant or have a new baby by offering home visits. Volunteer Befrienders will be fully trained and will have opportunities for personal and professional development! Email Zoe.Reynolds@family-action.org.uk for more details.
Flourishing Babies is a Big Lottery funded project made up of professionals from NorPIP, Engage Antenatal and Family Action. The service supports vulnerable parents with infants under the age of 2, and parents to be, in getting off to the best possible start with their baby through Antenatal Support, Perinatal Support and Parent Infant Therapy.
The service supports them with things like recovery from a challenging birth, isolation or low self-esteem, or difficulty bonding with their child. The Perinatal Support component is led by a professional Project Co-ordinator with support from a Perinatal Support Worker and a team of volunteer befrienders.