How to volunteer in the UK
Social workers care for a living. But many people working in social care also help others in their spare time, as volunteers. Social work skills are highly valued in the world of volunteering. An astonishing 7% of ChildLine volunteers have a background in social care. Volunteering can complement the day job and assist with career development, as social workers at all stages of their careers explain below.
1 What do you want to do?
The first step is deciding to volunteer. Think about what type of volunteering you’d like to try and how much time you can commit.
If you admire a particular charity’s work, contact them and ask about volunteering. Or think local: what about becoming a parent-governor?
Alternatively, for something completely different volunteer at your local museum, football club or donkey sanctuary.
2 Use your social work knowledge
Helen Hughes is a child protection social worker with Wandsworth Council in London. She is also a volunteer independent visitor – befriending a child in care – with a scheme run by children’s charity NCH. Hughes visits a six-year-old disabled boy with complex needs once a month. He lives at a specialist residential unit and doesn’t have much contact with his family.
“We go out and have a good time. I am a friend who cares about him, who is stable in his life,” says Hughes. “In my job I don’t do a lot of face-to-face work with young people. I enjoy this friendship,” she adds.
Knowing the care system and her years of social work experience are hugely helpful with volunteering, says Hughes. In turn, she finds the chance to look into the world of a six-year-old looked-after child extremely valuable in her job.
“As a child protection social worker you have to do the nasty tasks, and often face criticism. You don’t get that as a volunteer,” she says.
3 Acquire skills
Consider volunteering to develop your career. ChildLine recruits volunteer qualified and experienced social workers to supervise and develop volunteer counsellors and manage shifts on its helpline. The charity would like to hear from those “seeking a new challenge or professional development” and says it can offer in-house training in counselling and unrivalled experience. Call ChildLine on 0870 3362993 to find out more.
Social worker Joan Martin is a volunteer for ChildLine’s counselling centre in Belfast. She recently retired and wished she’d “started volunteering sooner and married it more with my professional career and development”.
Adam Curtis did just that. He volunteered while studying for his social work degree and intends to continue now he’s link and social skills worker at the Brookvale youth mental health team with Southampton Primary Care Trust. Curtis has volunteered with mental health charity Mind and with NCH, as an independent visitor, appropriate adult and mentor. As a volunteer, Curtis says he offers young people time, honesty and commitment and gets back generous and honest feedback in return, that is more useful than supervision and appraisals.
Former social worker Carolyn Wyndham works for older people’s charity Abbeyfield as PR and events officer. She also volunteers with Abbeyfield at its High Wycombe house, home to nine older people. Wyndham finds volunteering “immensely satisfying”, although “demanding when you’re also working”. Her skills from a previous career in social work are very useful when volunteering, she says.
5 Further information
Do it www.do-it.org.uk and Timebank www.timebank.org.uk both include many UK volunteering opportunities and general information about becoming a volunteer.
To find out about becoming an independent visitor with NCH click here www.nch.org.uk/getinvolved/index.php?i=117) and to volunteer with ChildLine www.childline.org.uk/Volunteering.asp.