Four questions to ask before reaching out to families

Resource cuts in the UK mean there are fewer statutory support services for families going through difficulties. Teachers struggle to know where to signpost families for help, when, for example, they see children turning up to school not having had breakfast.

In response, our Oxford-based network, Doorsteps, is piloting H2O (Here to Help Oxford), a befriending project to support families with primary school aged children. Viva volunteer Georgina Chetwynd shares four key questions posed when designing the initiative.

1. How can we be non-stigmatising?
Parenting is hard! And it’s difficult to reach out for help when we struggle – and how much more so when we are afraid of being judged. We recruited and trained volunteers who are clear that it is a two-way process. They are not there to solve families’ problems but to listen, befriend, to build on families’ strengths – and also to learn themselves. A homeschool link worker advised us on how practically to best involve parents.

2. Where should we target the support?
Our research in Oxford showed that there is a gap in services for families with primary school aged children. However, this is still very broad! We want to prioritise working with families that fall beneath the remit of statutory services but we recognise that crises do happen and volunteers may be faced with supporting families with social service’s involvement. The volunteer’s role is not to co-ordinate services, or to reach objectives, but to befriend and support.

3. How can we best support volunteers?
It is important that volunteers feel equipped and confident in their role. We’ve run comprehensive training days and have put clear boundaries in place; for example, volunteers are expected to let staff know when they visit and when they leave. A qualified social worker provides weekly group supervision sessions and is also available on the phone for support.

4. What role should our faith play?
H2O is driven by our calling to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, to enable us to be his hands and feet in a hurting world, and to love, respect and recognise the intrinsic worth of everyone. If the families we work with are interested in our faith then we are very happy to talk to them about this, although this is entirely led by the will and interest of the family.

If you would like to know more, please contact Hannah Barr, Doorsteps Project Manager, on 01865 811660 or

This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 8