A local man is encouraging Essex residents who are willing to travel across the country to visit a young person in care, to find out more about Essex County Council’s Independent Visitors’ (IV) service this Volunteers’ Week.
The service enables young people, who for lots of different reasons are placed in care outside of Essex, to spend time having fun with a volunteer mentor during monthly visits.
Berny Wheeler, from the mid-Essex area, joined the service six years ago and has no regrets after being matched with a young person placed over county borders.
Berny, who is in his sixties, said: “Everyone needs someone at the end of the day – we all do – and particularly with young people who are away from what has been a familiar environment, I think there’s even more of a need.”
“It’s been a fascinating experience over the years; my young person is out of the county and I’ve never batted an eyelid or thought is it worth it - it’s overly worth it. I look forward to seeing him and I know he does the same with me.
“I would absolutely, highly recommend it,” he added.
IVs act as dependable role models by building trusting and positive relationships with their young person over time.
Visits can involve day trips and different activities and an allowance is provided to contribute towards travel and other costs.
Berny said: “I found after a while, you develop a bit of an interactive thing and you decide between yourselves, but ultimately, it’s whatever that young person wants to do – within limits obviously!”
IVs are also given full training before being matched with a young person, including hearing first-hand from existing IVs who are already paired with a child placed outside the county and ongoing support afterwards.
Berny said: “I do remember that was part of the sell for me, seeing other people who are already IVs come in and explain what they get out of it.
“It’s not all about us of course, but the fact is, there is a return on it.
“I was also super impressed with the matching process; a bad match can be unsettling for the young person and the IV, but I was amazed from day one.
“Although we’re completely very different characters, and have different backgrounds and life experiences, we clicked and still do.
“It’s all about maximising the success from the outset”, he added.
Anyone considering being an IV will need to commit to regularly travelling to locations across the country, depending on the placement of the young person, over a minimum of two years.
Berny said: “With placements outside of Essex, the young person probably hasn’t chosen that location, but that’s all the more reason to do it so that they have somebody consistent in their life.
“In my own situation with the young person I’ve seen all these years, I’m the one consistent thread they’ve had throughout – I know he appreciates that. So wherever they are, wherever they go, hang on in there.”
Cllr Dick Madden, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families, said: “We’re committed to supporting children and young people in care in Essex, regardless of where they’re placed, and volunteers like Berny are integral to us being able to continue our work.
“Being in care can be an unsettling time and our Independent Visitors provide consistency and stability for young people, allowing them to be just that – young people.
“I’d urge anyone who thinks they can commit to going the extra mile for a child or young person in care to come forward and find out more about the service.”