Support Workers and Volunteering
Support workers and referrers have a key role to play in helping a client secure a volunteer position. Often clients are more successful in finding a placement if a support worker is involved alongside specialist advisers (you can find them at your nearest volunteer centre). Here we suggest the stages support staff might follow and some advice regarding things to think about and questions to ask.
Discussing volunteering with your client
- Ensure your client has a good understanding of what volunteering is and isn’t.
- Identify their interests and experience and ensure they are ready to do something to help someone else.
- Have an honest and realistic discussion about how much and the nature of the support they will require and make sure you are in a position to provide the support.
- Alternatively you might be expecting someone else to provide support. If your client has serious criminal convictions it might be useful to speak to a specialist adviser before proceeding, for instance, a health and wellbeing specialist.
Looking at opportunities
You can find volunteering opportunities at your local volunteer centre, both on the website or at its premises. Recognise that the website gives you information about opportunities but it does not tell you important information about whether it is a suitable placement for your client. If an opportunity seems too large or complicated it is worth discussing simplifying the role with the organisation.
Contacting the organisation
Find out as much as possible about the organisation and the opportunity. You might want to visit a project to have a look around or get a feel for it especially if it is open to the public, for example, a café or charity shop. But it would be best to phone the manager/volunteer manager in advance rather than introduce yourself “cold”. Be ready to give as “whole” a picture of your client as possible highlighting abilities and support needs – what are they good at; what experience do they have; what do they struggle with; what would a manager have to be aware of. Also, make it clear how much support you can provide and be prepared to give the organisation guidance and support about particular issues related to your client’s personal circumstances. Try to understand and respect the manager’s position. They might not have the capacity or experience to take on your client. They might be under pressure from their head office to meet targets. They may be reticent to involve a volunteer after a previous bad experience; they might already be offering a lot of support to an existing volunteer; they may be short-staffed. All in all, they might not be in a position to say “yes” however much they want to. It is better to give a project the opportunity to say “no” than persuade them to create an opportunity that has the potential to be a negative experience for everyone.
When your client visits the opportunity
Decide whether you need to accompany your client. Make sure they are clear about what the volunteering involves and give them a chance to ask questions. Try to get a feeling about the atmosphere of the opportunity and whether your client will fit in. Also try to ascertain whether the project has the capacity, ability, experience to support your client. Ask about taster shifts, trial periods – these will provide an opportunity for the volunteer and the organisation to assess whether this is the right opportunity.
When your client starts volunteering
Decide together whether you will need to accompany your client. It might be helpful to buddy your client but consider the practical arrangements. For example, try to avoid a different worker accompanying your client each week. Be sure to check in with the project and offer ongoing support to them to help you support your client. If the volunteering doesn’t work out, discuss this with the project.
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