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Reaching families in need via a network of referral partners

Since starting Baby Bank in 2015, there have been a few occasions when people have asked why we don’t deal directly with the families we help. We’d like to explain here why we work alongside a growing team of referral partners instead.

If a family is lacking essential items for their baby, a health visitor or children’s centre can refer them to Baby Bank Network. These, and other professional organisations act as our referral partners. They notify us of a family in need and pass on the relevant details so we can prepare a suitable package. For example, if we know the family has a 6-month old baby boy, we’ll provide them with a full set of clothes sized 6-12 months, appropriate to the season. If they live in an apartment block without a lift, we’ll provide the lightest pram we have.

We don’t receive any more detailed information about the family’s situation or background, and have no direct contact with the families who receive our goods. We rely on the judgement of our referral partners – which include health visitors, midwives and women’s charities – to request and distribute the items that will help the most. By using a few specific criteria when assessing a family’s need, they help us ensure that we’re always working towards our mission: to try and reduce the effect of poverty.

We’ve made a very deliberate decision to use trained, professional organisations as intermediaries in this process. There are a few reasons for this.

1. To protect the families we help

The families we help are often in a vulnerable position. They may have suffered abuse or displacement. They might need emotional or psychological support. None of our volunteers have undergone the appropriate disclosure or training to deal directly with people in these situations.

We know we can provide beautifully prepared bundles of baby essentials, and our referral partners help facilitate this. But we don’t pretend we are qualified or trained to support vulnerable families in other ways.

At this point, with all our staff working as volunteers, it’s not practical or financially viable for us to implement the disclosure required.

By maintaining a distance and using an intermediary, these families can be reassured that they can still access the essentials their baby needs, without worrying about the logistical process.

2. To protect our volunteers

Our volunteers are amazing. Baby Bank Network would not exist without them. We want them to feel as comfortable as possible when they’re sorting and preparing referral bundles for our recipient families.

One way we can do this is by ensuring they know who will be collecting a referral at any given time. So, as well as having well-defined tasks, our volunteers have a clear idea of who to expect at the warehouse and when. We like to get to know our referral partners – it’s always nice to see a familiar face at collection time.

From a practical perspective if we need to change a collection time at short notice due to volunteer availability, it is less disruptive to communicate this with one referral partner, than with multiple families.

3. To offer a fair service to all families

We’ve always operated on a first-come, first-serve basis. Our donations team decides what to include in a referral package based on relevant details from our referral partners. We need this objectivity to operate a fair practice for everyone.

There are many emotional stories behind people’s need for the Baby Bank Network service. If families turned up personally at the warehouse, it would put our volunteers in a difficult situation where they would have to reply in their judgement to complete a referral rather than a pre-agreed packing list. This would vary from volunteer to volunteer and would not enable us to provide a consistent service.

By using simple but relevant facts about a family’s needs, we can still provide invaluable support and act completely impartially. No agenda, no preference, and no judgement.

4. To ensure we operate a legal and transparent service

We’re very aware of the stringent data protection regulations we would need to adhere to if we started collecting data on our families. This is not something we could – or would want to – commit to half-heartedly. While we’re still 100% volunteer run, we’re not in a position to embark on this process.

Hopefully this explains fully why we value the relationship with our referral partners so highly. It enables us to provide the best service in the most objective way, to hopefully help more Bristol families in need.

If you would like to discuss the process to become a referral partner, please get in touch.

If you would like to access Baby Bank’s service yourself, please speak to your health visitor or local children’s centre and ask them to refer you to us via our referrals web page.