A SCHEME offering crucial help and advice for families in need is appealing for volunteers to continue its work.

Volunteers in Child Protection Empowering Families project is run by the charity Community Service Volunteers, in conjunction with Southend Council.

Families are referred to the project by social services and a volunteer is then assigned to help offer support and guidance in any way they need it.

Jacki Simpson, manager, says volunteers help to get families back on track by helping them organise their lives.

She said: “It’s hands-on, practical support for families where things are going wrong and they need that extra support.

This could be helping them organise their home, putting a routine in place, or giving advice about budgeting and nutritional meals.

“Often it’s quite basic things families need help with because perhaps they haven’t had it in their own upbringing and it’s something most people take for granted, like having a bedtime in place for their children so they don’t wake up late for school.

“It’s almost a befriending role. A lot of families say it’s the first time they feel like they’ve been listened to, so the volunteer has to be able to communicate with people, be non-judgmental and have empathy.”

The project has been running for five years, and has helped more than 150 families by working closely with other agencies involved in their case.

Jacki said: “We’ve had some great feedback, and a lot of families have cited the volunteer as the person who helped them to get through it.

“The family have involvement from all the statutory services, such as schools and health visitors and some have specialist services, such as domestic abuse, so we try to complement the work they’re trying to do.

“If there’s a child protection plan from social services, for example, it outlines goals that need to be achieved and our volunteer would help to support that plan.”

The project has about 50 volunteers and offers three days of training and support to new recruits. Anyone aged 18 or above is welcome to apply to join the team.

Jacki added: “Some people think it’s too specialised, so I’d like to get the message across that anyone can do this.

“It’s so rewarding because you’re giving back to the community, and it can be useful for people who are looking at a career change into becoming a carer.”

For more information on volunteering, call 01702 534262 or e-mail catherinewhitehead @southend.gov.uk JUNE Dillow, from Southchurch, has been volunteering on the project since its launch and was one of the first people to be trained for the scheme.

June, 45, has worked with five families for an average of one or two hours per week.

She said: “Sometimes they need that bit of extra support when things got a bit tougher, but that might only be for a few weeks. It’s very flexible – you never feel as though there’s pressure to do more and the support I get from my manager is invaluable.”

When she first meets a family, June asks them what they want to achieve, and sets out a plan to help them achieve it.

She said: “I ask them what they want to do to improve their lives – even simple things like getting a calendar to keep appointments so they don’t miss them. It’s about finding out what their needs are and working together.

“It’s scary for the parents – sometimes they feel as though they’re a bad parent and don’t know how to cope, and we have to normalise it and show them how to get through it.”

June says the most rewarding part of volunteering is seeing each family change their lives with her help.

She said: “I enjoy giving back to the community and seeing families turn their lives around and enjoy their children.

“It’s really rewarding and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.”