This week I thought I’d write a quick blog about my experiences as an Independent Visitor. I’ve described what this is in other blogs, but since I’ve been matched with my young person for over six months now, I just want to give a quick summary of some of my experiences so far.
Being an IV means you are matched with one child or young person who is no longer in contact with their family. The idea is that you can form a friendship with them that has been chosen by both of you and is ‘independent’ of the many other adults in their lives who encounter the young person as part of their job.
Once a month you take the young person out to do some kind of activity like go to the cinema or to the science museum or out for a meal, something that most children would take for granted with a family member.
Although the role is designed to be independent of social services there is a lot of training with them that has to be completed before you begin, and it is by no means a normal friendship. Every meeting has to be reported back to children’s rights services when you claim your expenses, and you are not allowed to fully introduce the young person into your own life– for example you can’t friend them on Facebook or introduce them to one of your friends who you think they might like.
The idea is that the emphasis is on the young person, allowing them a chance to talk about their own lives and problems and to do things that they like to do. The way the scheme is set up makes good sense– reporting on what you did and talked about briefly helps you get the support you need to deal with any issues that come up, for example if you’re not sure what to advise about your young person being bullied at school.
One of the things that being an IV is teaching me, which I didn’t expect, is to sometimes hold back and consider information or advice or help. To fight the instinct to swoop in and try to solve my young person’s problems.
This is because they already have enough people in their life trying to do that, people infinitely more qualified and understanding than I think I am being in a moment of empathy, and the last thing I want to do is give the impression that I can offer masses and masses of help and then let them down by not being able to keep that up.
This is very applicable to my everyday life, as I can be a very over enthusiastic person who tends to jump into new projects without looking for potential future pitfalls, so this need for a slight level of professionalism and taking a step back has been a challenging and rewarding outlook for me!
I’ve found choosing activities to do quite daunting, because I am suddenly the responsible adult– the one who has to find the place and arrange payments and decide what to do if the restaurant which you booked a table in has suddenly closed down (this happened to me on my second month in!)
It is also tricky to even have a conversation with someone who shares very little common ground with you. I was unaware of how much I took for granted when talking to people– little things like discussing a family member’s funny story or talking about driving lessons become hard to explain.
English is not the first or even second language of my young person. They live in a hostel for young homeless people and they have to deal with things I had never even considered– belonging in a country that you feel is not your own, and growing up without a family.
In six months, we have gone from people who struggled to understand each other, other than just smiling and nodding, to real friends. My young person now offers me information about their life, comes to me for help with their questions, confides in my about their difficulties at school, is someone who asked me ‘how is it that people can stay upstairs without falling down?’ which transpired to mean how can people stay in orbit, something that I as a physics student was overjoyed to be able to explain!
I have had some really fun times with my young person– we’ve been to the beach, to the cinema, for meals in places I’ve never eaten before. I’ve also had the chance to meet someone that I would never have met otherwise, someone who has been through things I will probably never understand and who is still excited, curious and completely resilient!
I’ve done lots of volunteering over the years, lots with young people too, but so far this has been the most rewarding. It also has the advantage of fitting around anyone’s schedule as the actual contact time is only one day a month plus occasional meetings with children’s rights services and the other IVs and young people.
If you would like to become an IV, all councils run the program. If you are at Imperial and would like to, here is the Hammersmith and Fulham webpage. It isn’t a well-advertised scheme so you might have to dig deep on other council websites to find it!