High Sheriff of West Sussex learns how Home-Start helps families and strengthens the communities in which they live

The High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, meets a Home-Start volunteer and discovers more about how the charity helps parents to improve family life.

Research has shown that children who are raised in a stable, loving family environment are more likely to have a positive and healthy future.

It is therefore not surprising that when family life has not been a happy one, the consequences can be far-ranging and long-lasting. Indeed, the links between adverse childhood experiences and the development of mental health difficulties and increased rates of criminal behaviour in adolescence and adulthood are, sadly, well-substantiated.

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Although families are often remarkably resilient, any parent can become overwhelmed if they are already struggling with poor mental health, disability, job loss, financial instability, bereavement, or isolation. However, with the right support, families can still thrive and, during times of trial, the charity Home-Start is on hand to help.

Family groups were proving very successful pre-Covid

In West Sussex, Home-Start operates through three locally-registered charities, based in Chichester and District; Arun, Worthing and Adur; and Crawley, Horsham and Mid-Sussex.

The Home-Start model is based on the belief that volunteers, who are experienced parents themselves and have received comprehensive training, are best placed to support families. All volunteers are recruited from their local communities and, once trained, they are matched with a family who, in normal times, they visit at home to offer practical and emotional support.

One Midhurst mum describes her volunteer as providing her with ‘friendly, non-judgemental and practical advice’ which she finds both doable and helpful.

Over the past year, Home-Start has witnessed a significant increase in referrals from new mums who have found prolonged periods of lockdown very isolating. One study has shown that rates of post-natal depression and anxiety have tripled during the crisis, especially where usual safety-networks of support have not been available.

Home-Start Chichester and District has been supporting families via phone and Zoom calls during the pandemic

Home-Start Chichester and District has therefore had to learn new ways to support families via phone and Zoom calls with volunteers and staff co-ordinators, and through storytelling and song sessions.

In addition, they have introduced a baby massage course, delivered via Zoom by a qualified instructor. These sessions have helped parents gain a better understanding of their baby, promoting bonding and secure attachment, as well as decreasing their stress and supporting their recovery from postnatal depression.

Some families in the north of the Chichester district are also geographically isolated, unable to access any other groups, and cannot afford, or do not have the confidence, to attend any other activities. For these families, Home-Start Chichester and District established a fortnightly family group in the Midhurst area, which was proving very successful pre-Covid.

As one mother said: “Going to the group, I have had support and help with things like school admissions, mental health, support and advice. I have made some good friends. My toddlers have really enjoyed the group with lots of things to play with and do and they engaged and socialised with other children.”

Home-Start is committed to restarting its family groups as soon as social restrictions permit but, in the meantime, their volunteers and co-ordinators are still reaching out and making a difference.

In their 2019 report, the charity showed that, through their interventions, more than 90 per cent of their families felt less isolated and experienced improvements, both in the parents’ mental health and in their involvement in their children’s development.

Home-Start has demonstrated that these benefits not only strengthen the families themselves but also the communities within which they live. But, most importantly, their work ensures the children of these special families will be even more likely to enjoy the best possible start to life.

Information about receiving help from Home-Start or volunteering with them can be found at www.home-start.org.uk or telephone Alyson Attoe, volunteer co-ordinator for Home-Start Chichester and District on 01243 773477.