I first became involved when I joined PROMISE (now known as Route1) as a mentor and was matched with a 16-year-old boy who was living in a residential home… He is now 37! He had many behavioural issues and had been labelled as predatory to other young people… I was really surprised how quickly he responded positively to someone taking an interest in him, who was not a social worker.
His academic skills were very limited, but he had a very agile mind… One of his main interests was horses so we used to go to the Races where he would become confident and gregarious, talking to people he had never met before…Time spent in the car travelling was particularly productive as we could talk easily, without eye contact, and with the constant diversion of where we were going and the changing scenery. George had a very low level of trust and respect for social services and, interestingly, when he had a change of social worker, he assumed that I would also be moving too. When I was able to point out that I was just a friend so would have no reason to abandon him, it was, I believe, a significant point in establishing a feeling of trust between us.
When George left the residential home and moved in to an independent flat, I helped with some of the practicalities and made an objective of finding him employment. This would prove to be too great a challenge…A change in the benefits system meant George had to report to The Job Centre and had been made available for employment. No interviews were forthcoming. Then came the suggestion that he should apply to a local charity shop as a volunteer. This he did but could make no progress as he had no one to act as a referee, I offered my services but we were rejected because two references were required and there was no other person in George’s life who he knew that fulfilled the criteria… Fortunately, I was able to get a charity shop to agree to a meeting and persuaded them that I was worth two references any day! George was taken on and has become a valued and reliable member of their team. He has purpose and responsibility and loves it.
George’s benefits were again changed and significantly reduced… I was still the only person he could turn to, and over a period of about six months we managed, with the help of the Citizens Advice Bureau and the local Health Centre, to get his benefits reinstated. It is a sobering and worrying thought that such a relatively small involvement and interest in a vulnerable individual can be so influential and important when they have no-one else. Who knows how things might have turned out for him without at least one point of contact and support in his life? I keep in touch with George (but not too much) and would encourage all adults to consider the role of an Independent Visitor. It can come with disappointments and frustrations, but almost certainly will provide enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction knowing that a young person has benefited from you,
I never felt as valuable to George as I now know I turned out to be…
*The IV is now befriending another young person through Route 1 Independent Visitors Service*