We talk to Ian, one of our Independent Visitors, who supports a young person living in care, D. Here, Ian tells us a about his and D’s experience.

What was it that made you want to be involved as an Independent Visitor in the first place?

Sarah Randall (Head of Targeted Youth Services) and her colleague came into my work and gave a presentation about volunteering opportunities. BG&H, the company I work for are patrons of Bolton Lads & Girls Club. As I heard more about volunteering at BLGC it seemed like something I wanted to get involved in to give something back, but I wasn’t sure what capacity. I contacted Sarah and she thought I was best suited for an Independent Visitor (IV) role and so we took it from there!

Did you find the training helped you in your role?

The young people IV’s work with are children in care and so for me the training was a great introduction to the care system and environment. The training also provided an awareness of the system in which these children exist. There was good advice on what to do and how to behave as an IV, and an introduction to ‘safeguarding’ and raising awareness of the issues that the children may be facing in their lives.

What support do you get?

Every few months I have a supervision meeting with Sarah, my Coordinator, which is helpful as it gives me an opportunity to bring up any issues which may have risen during my contact with D, the young person I am an IV for, we talk through any issues raised and develop strategies for providing assistance to D as a team.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience as an Independent Visitor?

The role of the IV is to be a constant and stable contact for the young person regardless of their ‘care situation’. Fortunately D lives with a very stable and great foster family and has been there for about 8 years. D is just an ordinary boy in unordinary circumstances and he actually requested to have an IV himself. He is just turning into a teenager and the family he lives with is quite big, so I think he just needed a bit of quality one to one time with someone to help him with some self-confidence issues and some school bullying.

The first time I met D, Sarah and I picked D up together and we all went for a walk. D and I have been matched for about 18months now and meet every other Tuesday. I give him a few options of things we can do together such as ten pin bowling, going to the cinema, going to the park, playing board games (we are really enjoying Monopoly at the moment). He is really smart and there is no limit on his imagination. He enjoys making up new board games and it has been really interesting to see his imagination at work. It is all just about being a kid, which also brings out my ‘inner child’ too! Sometimes we need to talk about more serious things; he has a Child in Care meeting shortly and we need to write a report together so that D can have his voice heard in that meeting.

Sometimes I don’t feel like I’m utilised enough by D, I’m always trying to help him with his homework, but he just wants to spend time having fun! However, I think it is just about being there for D, as long as he gets what he needs from the relationship and he is happy, I’m happy.

How do you think having an Independent Visitor has helped D?

He has really come out of his shell and his character and personality are bright, shiny & cheeky, just like they should be. He’s also started to come to me with some more serious issues that he is facing and if something is bothering him he knows he can talk to me about it. Fortunately D seems to accept my advice and act on it so we’ve been able to overcome a couple of bullying issues he was experiencing at school. I gave him some advice on how to handle the bullies, he listened and implemented those techniques and it seems to have made a difference. For me, having made a difference in his life is just the best thing possible. On another occasion his foster parents mentioned he was struggling with some anger management issues. D was getting frustrated when people weren’t doing what he wanted them to, so we had a little chat while out 10 pin bowling, and now he seems to be more relaxed about things. We tend to have our best talks in the car, it’s easier and less confrontational/intimidating I think to open up when you are not directly facing someone. We talk stuff through, I listen to what D has to say and D listens to what I have to say. I think D has found that useful, he has listened and really taken stuff on board.

How has being an Independent Visitor impacted you as a person?

I always felt like I had an idyllic childhood. My sister was adopted into the family as a baby so I’ve always been vaguely aware of the social care system, but not to a great extent. Through being an IV I have become more aware of social services and the situation that these young people face, and more importantly the vast numbers of children in that situation.  Being an IV was something I could do that was useful and would actually make a difference which, personally, gives me a huge sense of fulfillment. I have massively benefited from it as well and it has grown from me just supporting D to something for me as well. The first few times I went along to meet D I kept thinking “what have I got myself in to, I can’t afford this time, it’s never going to work”. However, the commitment I made and my desire to contribute required me to spend some quality time with D and slowly I’ve realized I’m having fun myself! I now really look forward to those Tuesdays.

What has been your most rewarding or favourite time with D?

We go bowling a lot, we are quite equally matched, so it makes for an interesting challenge! There was a group activity at Christmas where all Mentors/IV’s and their young people went bowling together which was a lot of fun. When we were walking back to the car D turned to me and said “Ian, you are the best IV”. The sentiment completely floored me.

What’s next for you and D?

We will carry on for as long as D wants me in his life. I am his IV, but the best way I can describe the role is that I’m like a big step-brother or cousin to him, we don’t spend much time together, but I’m there for him. He only has to ask his foster mum to call me or text me. Sometimes I get texts from his foster mums phone which are clearly D. We do activities that he enjoys, and I look out for him and I am someone he can go to if something is bothering him.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming an Independent Visitor?

Do it! When I first heard about being an IV I thought this was something that I could do which could really make a difference. It started off as me giving up my time, but its completely turned on its head and now and this is my time to enjoy and do something completely outside my normal life, and I genuinely look forward to those Tuesdays I see D. Being an IV is just as beneficial for me as it is for D.

If you are interested in becoming an Independent Visitor like Ian call 01204 540 139 or email volunteering@blgc.co.uk for more information.