“It’s all about the young people and supporting them”: what it’s like being a volunteer mentor

Posted by / Monday 01 June 2020 / Volunteers Young people
debbie millington

At Action for Children we are lucky to work with many volunteer mentors who guide, advise and befriend young people in care. These volunteer mentors are also known as ‘independent visitors’.

Debbie Millington, who recently won our outstanding volunteer award, explains what the role is like.

What do you do as an independent visitor?

Well really it’s being a consistent adult friend for a young person who’s looked after. So just going on a regular basis - for me it’s once a fortnight - to see them.  Going out with them, doing whatever they want to do and being there to listen and to help.

What’s your favourite part of the role?

Gosh that’s really difficult. Sometimes things can be tricky, but I think it’s just coming home and feeling like you’ve made a difference. That by going out that day, by going to see that person, you’ve made a difference to them.

What kind of activities do you do with the young people you work with?

Well that really depends on the young person because that’s who it’s all about. A lot of them don’t really have any one to one time with anyone else. One young person that I supported for a while was really into transport; so we ended up on the buses, on the metro, on the train. We went from one end of the metro system in Newcastle to the other at one point. We also had the driver actually open his cab and let him go in and shut the doors and things like that. The young person I’m paired with now likes to have a browse around the shops, so things are never the same and it’s about doing what they want to do.

What has been your more memorable moment so far?

Gosh, I don’t know. One of the young people that I was paired with had significant special needs. I took him out for the first time and we went to the farm because he loved the farm. He asked me what my name was about 20 times through the day because he couldn’t remember it, and so about 20 times I told him what my name was and we went on a tractor ride round the farm. While we were on the tractor he spotted my car and he said “that’s your car”. So he couldn’t remember my name but could remember my car. And then after he turned 18 he moved to live in supported accommodation with another young person. One day while I was out with my husband I saw him along the pier with his carer and the other young person he lived with. He came over to me and said “you used to take me out.” He couldn’t remember my name again but he knew who I was! 

How have you seen the young people you work with change and grow?

In lots of ways. I’ve been paired with the young person I’m with now since she was 12 so I’ve seen her in a stable foster family, but I’ve also seen her leave, go to university and start to become independent, living her life - so lots of changes.

Why did you choose Action for Children?

It was an opportunity that came up, but Action for Children was a charity that I’d known about since I was young. So I really felt confident that I could work with Action for Children because I knew and trusted them.

What are some of the challenges faced by the young people you work with?

I think for a lot of young people who are looked after, building confidence and belief in themselves can be challenging. So, I think just encouraging them and saying “you’re really good at that” can go a long way. There’s a lad I was paired with who had special needs and you could tell that in other places in his life people were saying he’s not that good at this, he’s not that good at that. But he had a photographic memory when it came to the outdoors, he could take you anywhere! So just saying things to him like “that’s how good you are at that” is something that really helps.

What skills have you gained from becoming an independent visitor?

I think it’s about using the skills that you already have. Being an independent visitor takes you out of your comfort zone and therefore makes you grow. But really it’s all about the young people and supporting them. To me if you’ve made a difference then that’s what it’s all about

What advice would you give to someone looking to become an independent visitor?

I would really, really recommend it. You need to be consistent, you need to be able to give that time. It’s not a huge amount of time, but you need to be there for that young person because they don’t necessarily have people in their lives that are consistent. It’s a really worthwhile thing to do.


Find out more about becoming an Independent Visitor with Action for Children and many of our other volunteering opportunities.

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