Charities are suffering a PR crisis, be it Safeguarding and Abuse issues or CEO salaries.
Being the CEO of a small charity this frustrates me. Home-Start Horizons is one of a network of over 260 Home-Starts across the UK. A network that started with us, in Leicester, in 1973 by Margaret Harrison, a visionary who saw the gaps in Social Care and the potential of Volunteers to make a difference to family life.
Over 40 years on, Home-Start in Leicester still survives – we survive many Home-Starts who have been created to meet significant need and fallen with the onset of austerity. We have survived Local Authority cuts with a combination of mergers (we now support families in Leicester, Melton, Rutland, Charnwood, Blaby, Oadby and Wigston in Leicestershire), streamlining staffing and services and focussing as much available funds as possible on direct family support.
But our survival is threatened by the public perception of charities in the UK. Now, more than ever, we rely on public and corporate support. Local Authorities no longer fund our Early Help, Preventative services that keep families together, improve child school readiness, allay crisis in families and strengthen the bond between parent and child. The bond that if effective, will see children grow into adults who are confident, productive and effective members of society. The bond that if it fails, lessens the life chances, employability and happiness of our future adults.
Local Authorities would love to fund us; they know investment in effective early help is money well spent, it avoids escalation to costly statutory interventions, never mind the adverse impact such interventions can have on a child and family. Looking at cold, hard cash, statutory interventions where children are taken into care cost over £50k a year per child. A Home-Start intervention, utilising highly trained, supported and skilled volunteers, costs less than £1,000 a year. This can and often does help keep Children out of the Care System. So, when we ask for donations and what they can fund, we know that this money makes a difference.
But how do supporters and potential donors know that their donations are not propping up a huge management structure and excessive salaries? How do they know work is effective and who they want supported (generally children) are safeguarded?
We are very different from the the big, multi-national charities. Our turnover is under £300k a year. Most of our staff are involved in direct delivery of services, management is streamlined, as well as office space, to ensure every penny we can gets funnelled to supporting families.
There’s no fat cat salaries. All staff are paid a decent wage for what is often a taxing and stressful job, but no more than that. How would you deal with supporting a mother and child who had been sex trafficked across Europe, suffering untold abuses, and who qualify for no Social Care help? How would you maintain positivity, professionalism and commitment seeing the suffering of children at the hands of abusive parents? On the other hand, how would you enjoy contributing to the change in a frightened, introverted, scared child to a joyful, social and developed child who now loves his time with his Mum? No longer trapped in a house because Mum can’t face the world, but through Home-Starts support she now can, with confidence.
This is what we, our amazing volunteers and staff do, day in and day out, for little thanks but massive reward. And in order to continue making this difference we must fund it.
As a charity we compete against many others who do amazing work. We see animal charities fundraising millions a year. We see huge charities, that will remain nameless, who have mismanaged services and put vulnerable people at risk, achieving huge public sector funding and public donations. How do we compete? We must skill ourselves up, spread the message, correct misconceptions about our sector and how it contains both huge charities and small, local amazing micro-charities fighting every day to stay alive.
So, your £10 per month direct debit could help support a family to stay together, a child to have massively improved life chances, a Mum suffering post-natal depression a way out and a support network that will bring her through and out of the toughest times. And you can be secure in the fact that your donation, however large or small, directly contributes to these children and families and in turn makes a difference to our entire society.
CEO, Home-Start Horizons in Leicester and Leicestershire