A project using volunteers in child protection cases has seen risk levels for children decrease in more than three-quarters of cases new research has shown.
The research by Anglia Ruskin University on the use of child protection volunteers in Southend since March 2010 found that in 87% of cases the levels of risk had decreased as indicated by child assessment framework (CAF) levels.
Of the 64 families involved in the project, including 37 on child protection plans, 11 had been removed from child protection plans altogether while seven families reported improved school attendance.
Even after taking account of the costs of running the scheme, researchers found the scheme had resulted in savings to the council of £143,644.
The study also examined parental and child mental health before and after the involvement of volunteers and found significant improvements in scores of children's emotional disturbance and the well-being of mothers.
Dr Jane Akister, Reader in Social Work at Anglia Ruskin University, said the study backed the use of volunteers in extremely complex child protection cases.
"The families are very hard to engage and are suspicious because they are worried that people might take their children away. These families see the volunteers as being on their side, helping them to develop confidence in their own parenting.
"There is evidence of marked improvement after the ViCP intervention. Critical to the success of the programme is that CSV (Community Service Volunteers), as an organisation, are extremely effective in the recruitment, training, managing and supervision of volunteers."
Lucy de Groot, chief executive of CSV – involved in the three projects currently operating in England – said there had been no shortage of volunteers coming forward to help in child protection cases. "This research adds to the evidence that the scheme is not only effective in supporting children and families but is also a cost effective model for early intervention."
A mother involved in the volunteer scheme, who wished to remain anonymous, said she had previously been someone who had shut the door on social workers and had missed appointments regularly. However, her volunteer had helped her plan her budget, manage her time better and helped organise a routine for her children.
"If I need to go to the council, she'll come with me so I am not on my own and I've got someone there to support me. My kids have seen a much a happier mum and I've bonded with them a bit more. It's been really good to have had someone to talk to, I consider her a good friend. I was amazed to hear they don't get paid, I thought that was quite mad, I wouldn't want to put up with me if I didn't get paid for it but the volunteers are helping people and making the world a better place."
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