Support for families feeling the strain

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LAST week I briefly mentioned a visit I’d made to Home-Start, a charity based in Crawley that offers information, advice and guidance to Horsham families suffering the strains of family life, and I thought readers might like to know a bit more.

They offer emotional and practical help, often in families’ own homes. Volunteers work with the family assigned to them and help them access services which can help with their specific needs.

There are also weekly family groups such as the popular session that takes place in Billingshurst. So, all in all, Home-Start finds the most appropriate way to link-up and work with a family.

When I visited, I was told that now more than ever, volunteers need to be increasingly innovative about how they go about their work - issues are always changing and can become urgent to address.

Some parents experience difficulties because English is not their first language or they barely have any English at all; parents and children can suffer from mental health problems and debt and the effects of poverty are increasingly common.

Volunteers, staff, parents and children were keen to explain to me just what a difference Home-Start can make to families’ daily lives. As with many successful charities, Home-Start goes about its business in a quiet way, not seeking attention but working with family after family, making a real difference to whole communities.

Readers may have guessed what my colleagues have long known – I am a big fan of this type of early intervention. Home-Start is highly successful in mobilising volunteers – who number some 19,000 across the country. Volunteers like working with Home-Start – much more than they do with, say, local authorities, who find it harder to generate the same enthusiasm.

Since the general election, we’ve asked Labour MPs Frank Field and Graham Allen to conduct two studies into how to help the most disadvantaged people in society and both have concluded that this type of early-intervention is key. It gets families back on track and prevents problems in the future, such as sinking further and further into debt and real poverty, and turning to a life of crime.

So, it’s clear – early intervention and Home-Start pay dividends – both in human happiness and savings for the public purse. Home-Start also gives an awful lot to the people who volunteer their time.

In fact, our local Home-Start simply wouldn’t function without the dedication of some 80 volunteers, who are backed up by a small team of equally passionate staff.

To find out more about getting involved, call Home-Start on 01293 416 327 or visit homestartchams.org.uk.

FRANCIS MAUDE

MP for Horsham