Older people are to be recruited to mentor troubled teenagers and help them get back into education, training or work under a new initiative launched today at the House of Lords. The idea is credited to Lord Freud, the former Financial Times journalist, banker and New Labour advisor, now Conservative peer and Minister for Welfare Reform, whose family charity will part fund it. Under a pilot scheme, grandmentors will be recruited by Community Service Volunteers to advise and support to up to 60 14-19 year-olds in Islington and Hackney over the next three years.
The scheme will be evaluated by a team from Manchester Metropolitan University, with the aim of rolling it out nationally in due course.
Lord Freud’s boss, Iain Duncan-Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, had this to say:
“It’s clear that older people have an important role to play in building a Big Society, forging closer intergenerational links and strengthening communities. I look forward to seeing the Grandmentors programme in action and hope that it will encourage key values such as respect, responsibility and civic awareness that are essential to tackle social breakdown and help young people take control of their lives and make the right choices for themselves and their families.”
The full press release from CSV is here.
Earlier in the day, I was reading about another grandparenting scheme for people who aren’t necessarily grandparents. Danish parents are entitled to one paid day off work when their children are ill – which is obviously often not enough; Reserve Grandparents recruits retired people to help out. It’s funded by social enterprise and currently operates in seven locations across Denmark, though it remains small-scale. In the Gladsaxe municipality, for instance, there are currently five grandparents offering support to 25 families (a one-to-five ratio is generally felt to be about right). The reserve grandparents are trained in first aid and taught about childhood illnesses, and paid a small fee of €4.25 an hour by the parents. They decide when they want to work, and which families or types of family they want to work with.
Demand outstrips supply. It has proved harder to recruit volunteers than to find families who want a spare grandparent. This seems unlikely to be an issue with the British grandmentors scheme, at least in the first phase. For one thing, the work sounds very much more challenging and interesting. For another, London is bigger than Gladsaxe. And this is an absolutely core Big Society idea, and there will be a lot of pressure for it to succeed.