The Ambassador Volunteer project

Mum and child playing with bubblesLife with a child with special educational needs or a disability (SEND) is full of ups and downs – seeing your amazing children succeed and having great working relationships, balanced with sometimes frustrating progress, lack of support and challenging situations.

Whatever your situation or experiences there are some things that all parents and carers need – access to information you can trust and support from other parents who understand what you’re going through. Many parents also want to share what they have learned and help services get better for everyone.

The Ambassador Volunteer Project helps parents and carers do all these things!

What is the project about?

The Ambassador Volunteer project connect parents within their own communities and more widely into a network across Devon.

Ambassador volunteers are based in communities across the county. Some are mums and dads of children with SEND and some are professionals and support staff who work with them. What they all have in common is a desire to help families and an understanding of what life is like with a child with special educational needs.

Volunteers do two main things:

  • They share information from DiAS about all kinds of SEND issues and help parents to access DiAS services. This means parents get the most up to date information and support to help them make decisions and understand what’s happening for their family.
  • They help parents share their views about Devon services and support through the local Parent Carer Forum. This is a great way to influence policy and change the way services work for children and young people with SEND in Devon.

The project is always looking for new volunteers to help support families in their local areas. If you’re interested, we’d love to hear from you. You can find out more about how volunteers support parents and carers, what being a volunteer is all about and how to apply in the sections below.

What do Ambassador volunteers do?

Ambassador volunteers do a wide range of different things, depending on what is happening in their local communities, what their interests are and how much time they can give to the role. Here are some examples:

  • sharing SEND information from DiAS out to their networks, on social media sites or locally at their schools and to their contacts
  • starting and running an SEND support group in partnership with a school
  • supporting parent carer groups or working with an organisation to share information that way

Many volunteers are parents who just want to help other parents find their way to the support they need on their SEND journey. Some volunteers are professionals and they support parent carers and their families in support groups.

You’re not expected to do any particular activity. Megan, the project coordinator, will work with you to achieve what you want and help you to support parent carers of children with SEND in your area in the best way you can.

You are also not expected to be a legal or education expert! If a parent or carer needed specific help or support about their situation the Ambassador volunteer would help them to contact DiAS directly for advice. Ambassador volunteers don’t support parent and carers at meetings either.

What is it like being a volunteer?

Ambassador volunteers have all kind of backgrounds and personal experience. Many of them choose to volunteer because they want to give something back to their community, and now feels like the right time and this feels like the right role. Volunteers enjoy helping people find their way through the system and get the right help and support. They feel like they make a real difference.

Volunteers get support and training to help them do their role and a sense of being a part of a wider network. Each month they have a virtual team meeting with other Ambassador Volunteers. They have training sessions twice a year too, focusing on topics that the volunteers have asked for help with. Volunteers don’t have to do these, but it helps them feel part of something bigger. We ask all volunteers to do safeguarding training online too.

The training is free and if you have any travelling expenses, we will refund those

What skills or personal qualities will I need if I want to volunteer in this role?

You need to be a good listener and a sense of humour helps! You’ll be meeting and talking to lots of new people, so you will need to enjoy that kind of thing and be supportive and understanding. Our volunteers have a positive attitude to life with a child with SEND and to the benefits of supporting others.
When you’re supporting parents and carers you will need to be impartial, which means you won’t take sides or tell someone to act in a certain way. You must be confidential too – that means you won’t pass on information about someone without their permission, unless there is a safety concern.
One part of the ambassador volunteer role is to listen to what parents are saying, find common themes and then pass these on to be shared with the Parent Carer Forum. So being able to pick out what is important and talk about that in an accurate and honest way is an important skill to have.

How do I become a volunteer?

Megan Kenneally-StoneIf you’re interested in becoming an Ambassador volunteer, the first thing to do is to email Megan Kenneally-Stone who runs the project.  She will ask you to fill out a registration form and we also ask for two referees.
The next step is to do the volunteer training. Volunteers will be helping parents become informed, know how to access DiAS services and have their voice heard through the Parent Carer Forum. So, you’ll need to learn about how to best do this and work out how this will happen in your local area.
Training sessions are usually face to face (but sometimes virtual) and take about four hours. After that Megan will meet with you to help you start off things in your area.

How could an ambassador volunteer help me?

If you’re a parent or carer with a child or young person with SEND, there are many ways that a volunteer might be able to help you. They could:
  • chat with you about support groups and services in your area
  • show you where to find good information about send, including DiAS information
  • discuss social media sites that are helpful and positive
  • tell you about activities or local events
  • help you feel less isolated and more connected, especially if you’re new to the area, feeling overwhelmed or new to SEND
  • introduce you to other parents in your area
  • be an understanding listener when you are finding your feet in the SEND world
What an Ambassador Volunteer can’t do is help you with specific issues and problems to do your child’s education or school, or give you support at meetings. For that kind of help you need to contact our enquiry line and speak to one of the staff at DiAS.

How can I get in touch with a volunteer?

Volunteers are spread across Devon. If you would like to be connected to an Ambassador volunteer in your area, email Megan Kenneally-Stone, the project Co-ordinator or contact us by phone.
These are the areas where there are Ambassador volunteers:
  • North Devon- Tracey & Natalie  Side by Side is a support group for parents in North Devon.
  • North Devon- Theresa, Amanda, Vikki, Danielle, Duncan and Suzy
  • Avanti School Exeter- Kate, Jo, Hannah and Yona
  • Exeter & Mid Devon –  Sam, Paula and Jane
  • East Devon-Cara, Sam, Jane, Georgia, Steph and Daisy
  • West / South- Maria, Marianne and Davina and Debi
  • Honiton- Lea and Sarah Lou – Sarah Lou runs the Parent Support Hub in Honiton and Lea runs the Additional Needs Facebook Group. 
  • Okehampton – Allyson and Heather
  • Holsworthy-  Hannah – There is a SEND Facebook Group

Find out more about some of them, why they volunteer and what’s on offer in their local area.

What is Parent Carer Forum Devon (PCFD)?

PCFD is the new independent Parent Carer Forum for Devon. It’s for all families of children and young people with additional needs and disabilities in Devon. They are an independent group of parents and carers of children with additional needs and disabilities who want to make things better for the families, children and young people of Devon.
The forum connects with parents across the county to understand the wide picture of what life is really like for families – showing problems as well as what’s working well. They work as partners with the Local Authority (LA), the NHS and other professionals to make sure that services in Devon are accessible and meet the needs of children and their families.

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Page published: May 2020 Page due for review: May 2021