Debbie: I’m Debbie Wood and I’ve been volunteering at Children Heard and Seen just for a few months actually. My role in my day job is a lecturer in accounting and law at the Open University. So I wanted to volunteer to do something different, and I’ve been doing that a few months now.
‘How did you find out about CHAS?’
D: So I found out about CHAS on Twitter. I was doing some work with prisons last year through UCLan. I was working with people leaving prison to set up small businesses and I was working with a social enterprise at RIFT. I also teach at Open University and work with people in prison there. So I was sort of following a lot of similar Twitter feeds and then I saw CHAS pop up – I think it was in parliament actually where they were being represented by an MP. I had never really thought about the impact on children, and from a child’s perspective, so I looked into it more and I started to volunteer.
‘What do you think are the benefits to the child you support?’
D: So far I’ve been involved in group mentoring with a Little Inventors session, working with children online and in small breakout groups. We’ve been doing things like drawing, coloring and talking about feelings and talking about growth and positive things. The benefits I’ve seen is just having a space to be themselves and to talk openly and freely in an environment that they know is a safe environment. The other children in those sessions, they know that they’ve got similar things going on in their lives. So it gives them a sense I think – I don’t know, but I imagine – being less isolated in the whole situation. Also it’s fun as well! The Little Inventors sessions that we’ve been running on Sundays, they seem to enjoy. Doing artwork and being really creative is always good I think.
‘What do you get out of volunteering?’
D: So it’s just something really different from the day job. I work as a lecturer and so that age group is anywhere between 18 to 25. So working with children, I mean I’ve got two young children myself, but meeting different children is just a really positive thing because you just hear their views and you get a bit of an insight into what’s going on. It just gives you a bit of a different perspective. Some of the children are so creative, and you just come out of the sessions feeling really positive that you may be done a little bit of good, but also just it’s generally interesting to hear things from their point of view.
‘What is your favourite memory as a mentor?’
D: Well I’ve not been mentor for long, but I don’t know if there’s one memory that stands out at the moment. I think seeing some of the creative stuff that the children do. Some of the children are obviously going through really, really tough times and that I can’t comprehend. To see some of their artwork – I think is a great form of getting messages across – some of their pictures are so creative. The memories I guess are talking to them and they give you little insights and snippets, then maybe you stand back and think. Overall, one of the huge benefits has just been opening my eyes to the children’s voice in all of this. I’ve always been a campaigner in various social justice issues and particularly from a from a prisoner point of view, and this has given me a really new perspective.
I’ve never really thought about impact on children – I don’t know, why but I didn’t – you just don’t really think about children. I guess the biggest impact it has had on me is just thinking about things through a new lens – even though I’ve got children myself. Like what is the impact on children..? I think there needs to be far more. CHAS are doing amazing things, but a child’s perspective is so important in an area like this.
‘Do you feel supported by CHAS?’
D: So, the support from CHAS has been amazing. I probably couldn’t have done the volunteering role without that. We’ve got a volunteer coordinator who is always there to ask things. When we’ve been doing volunteering sessions we’ve had debriefs after, because sometimes issues crop up that I’ve wanted to just flag up. They’re always there via email and I’ve had great training on a new workbook that we’re using to work with children. We’ve had some really useful training on that at a really good pace, explaining lots of different scenarios so you definitely don’t feel unsupported – like perhaps I have done in roles in the past. It’s really supportive and they’re always really, really clear that if something crops up – that you’re not comfortable about or you’re just not sure about – then contact them. So you don’t feel alone at all. It’s been a really positive experience so far.
‘What do you think makes a good mentor?’
D: I think it’s someone that listens to the child. Lots of the time I’ve noticed children just want to speak and tell you things. You know you’ve just got to be prepared to listen – often just things about their everyday lives but it’s so important to them. I think if you can be a good role model and give them some positive encouragement for future goals, that’s great. I’m always keen to hear about what the children have got planned for the future. Just encouraging, really encouraging and just being there to listen. I think it’s so important that they know that their opinion and their voice is being valued.
‘What would you say to someone who’s thinking of becoming a mentor?’
D: So if you’re thinking of becoming a mentor I’d say definitely give it a go! There’s lots of flexible opportunities, so you can volunteer online like I’m doing at the moment, otherwise they can they charity can connect you with children in your local area. So there’s lots of different volunteer opportunities. If you’re not sure maybe about one to one mentoring (I’d say give it a go), but that’s not the only opportunity, there are lots of things. It’s a really good charity to volunteer with because you’ve got these different experiences. It’s real privilege I’d say – I came off the first session with the children, and I thought what a privilege to have the opportunity. You know you could make a difference to someone who’s going through an incredibly tough time.