First Person: Margaret Harrison - Why parents need our help more than ever
When my three children were young, I was involved in voluntary work with parents and children here in Leicester – in children's homes, with the Family Service Unit, mother and toddler groups and the Child Guidance Clinic. Invariably, parents, many of whom were involved with social workers and other statutory agencies, would ask me to visit them at home "so we can really talk".
What I learned was that what they longed for most was to have a friend – another parent who would understand them and, in an informal way, would help them feel more confident as parents.
Perhaps above all, they wanted someone with time to be with them at home where their problems existed, who would listen and care.
So it seemed natural to set up a new kind of voluntary organisation in which volunteer parents could offer support, friendship and help to any family with at least one child under school age in the city of Leicester. We called it Home-Start.
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Little did I know in 1973 that Home-Start Leicester was the pioneer for what is now the largest voluntary family support organisation in the UK. There are more than 300 local Home-Starts in existence today.
Home-Start works with British forces' families in Germany and Cyprus, too. It is particularly needed while some service parents are deployed in Afghanistan.
Internationally, Home-Start has been adopted and adapted in 25 countries. The needs of families are remarkably similar, irrespective of culture, religion, geography or politics.
Home-Start supports families with a wide-range of issues, from post-natal illness and disability through to domestic violence and poverty. We work with the whole family; our support is non-judgemental, confidential and there for as long as the family need it.
Our trained parent volunteers are the bedrock of everything we do: visiting families in their homes for two to three hours every week, listening, caring, helping with practical tasks, accessing health and other services for the benefit of their children.
Since 1973, more than 6,000 families and 12,000 children have been supported by almost 3,000 volunteers here in the city.
Today in Leicester, the needs of families with young children are more urgent than ever.
With welfare reform on its way and one in three children living in poverty in the city, families in Leicester are at breaking point. So it's critical that this Leicester-grown charity continues its vital family support work in the city.
This year, Home-Start Leicester celebrates its ruby anniversary of supporting local families. I hope the charity we began all those years ago will continue to develop and thrive like the families who need us. Home-Start has much to celebrate in its 40th year.
Margaret Harrison CBE is founder and life president of Home-Start.
Charity receives funding boost, Page 19.