Using volunteers to support people on personal budgets

Live-in volunteers are helping people with disabilities pursue independent lives, reports Daniel Lombard

Live-in volunteers are helping people with disabilities pursue independent lives, reports Daniel Lombard

Project name: CSV Choices

Aims and objectives: To support greater independence for disabled adults on personal budgets by providing live-in volunteers to deliver round-the-clock care. Volunteers are typically aged 18-35 and work with one person for six to 12 months.

Number of volunteers: 97

Number of service users: 56

Funding: Between £100 and £140 per volunteer per week. Costs include administration, support of a regional project manager, and a £75 weekly allowance for the volunteer to cover living costs.

Outcomes: Disabled adults can live independent lives with greater choice and control over their support and can develop friendships with volunteers.

Replacing care workers with volunteers to support disabled people on a daily basis may sound radical. But CSV Choices, in which disabled adults are matched with volunteers who work as full-time, live-in carers, is not a new concept. CSV has been using live-in volunteers to support people with care needs since the 1970s.

Its latest model, however, is particularly suited to people on personal budgets as it chimes with modern principles of self-directed support, says Is Szoneberg, the charity’s director of full-time volunteering.

The volunteers, aged 18 to 35, commit to placements for up to one year and perform tasks that include accompanying people to work, facilitating social and leisure activities, administration, cooking and personal care.

The support can be organised around the needs of the disabled person and a volunteer is on call 24 hours a day. This additional flexibility is especially suitable for people with variable schedules, such as university students (see case study).

“It offers real choice and the person is totally in control,” says Szoneberg. “If somebody receives support from a care agency, they might not receive the help at the times when they want it and end up seeing three, four, five people in a week.

“But with Choices the volunteer is there because they want to be and people with disabilities tell us they appreciate that.”

Critics may argue that there is no substitute for a skilled workforce in roles such as personal care, and using volunteers in this way may devalue efforts to promote social care as a profession.

But Szoneberg says all volunteers receive training tailored to the needs of the individual they are supporting. Employing non-professionals also helps raise awareness of disability issues as a whole, she adds.

“There is a full training and induction programme that each volunteer will go through to make sure they carry out the role competently and safely,” she says.

“For manual tasks such as handling and lifting, we would have the professional input of an external trainer such as an occupational therapist.”

The benefits are not confined to service users. Volunteers come from all over the world, and Szoneberg says it’s an opportunity for many young people to gain life experience. “They go away from home, they’ve got something to do and a roof over their head and a little bit of money in their pocket,” she says.

Bradford Council has been commissioning the scheme on behalf of users since 2007. Liz Keogh, transitions worker for physical disabilities in the council’s adults’ services department, says it helps disabled people build confidence in different areas.

“We tend to place younger adults on the scheme, and it gives them good experience of managing their own staff team and that’s probably something they would be doing in the future with personal assistants,” she says.

Helen Bowers, a senior researcher at the National Development Team for Inclusion, says: “Evidence indicates that volunteers consistently provide what older and disabled people want in terms of their support – that is, friendly, reliable, flexible support focused on helping you do the things that are of fundamental importance to you.”

However, she warns against viewing volunteer support as “a cheaper option”, highlighting the importance of “skilled human resource management” for the recruitment and retention of volunteers.

Keogh adds that the model is “cost-effective” but not necessarily cheaper than other forms of care. Two of her council’s service users are involved in the scheme and all their personal budgets are spent on CSV Choices, although this does not cover the full costs. Volunteers are also paid expenses.

Bowers says a key challenge in rolling out schemes of this nature lies in convincing professionals and organisations of the benefits of working in partnership with volunteers and charities such as CSV.

“This requires national as well as local leadership within professional training and development as well as statutory and non-statutory agencies employing those staff and commissioning local services,” she says.

There has been no formal evaluation of the CSV Choices scheme, but Bowers and Szoneberg agree that, not only can it provide disabled people with greater control over their lives, but friendship, the one thing professionals cannot offer.

“We try to match people with similar aspirations and interests by asking volunteers to complete a written profile and showing these to people needing support before any meetings take place,” says Szoneberg. “We don’t always get it right but many people establish a really fulfilling and ongoing friendship with their clients.

“People can’t do that with professionals because that’s not why they are there.”

‘It’s like having your mates care for you’

When Owen Walker began planning his university education two years ago, he had to take a few more factors into account than the average student. Not only had he to find an institution that offered a course matching his interests, but its facilities had to be suited to his needs as a wheelchair user.

Since birth the 20-year-old has had Dejerine-Sottas syndrome – a rare condition which affects the nervous system – and needs help with nearly all everyday tasks.

With the support of Bradford Council’s adults’ services team, he came to an agreement with Warwick University to allow a team of four CSV volunteers to live in the same campus accommodation and support him during term time.

He spends holidays at home in West Yorkshire, with one volunteer, and is preparing to enter his third and final year of a politics and history degree course at Warwick.

Walker describes the support provided by CSV Choices as “brilliant” and “very comprehensive”.

“During term time the team works on a shift rota so there’s only one person working at a time,” he explains.

“They help me with going to the library, going to lectures, getting something to eat and general personal care. Each volunteer has their own room. It’s almost as if they’re students but without any university work.”

Walker is currently being supported by Marny Solano, who decided to take part during a year out before resuming a career in international development.

“I have enjoyed the experience,” he says. “You get to know another person’s needs and it’s raised my awareness of other people’s lives.”

Walker and Solano plan to stay in touch after the volunteer returns home to Costa Rica later this year.

“All the volunteers are around the same age as me and they’ve become part of my circle of friends,” Walker says. “After you get to know them, it’s like having your mates care for you rather than having carers.”

Pictured top: Owen Walker (right) is supported by Costa Rican CSV volunteer Marny Solano.

Published in Community Care magazine under the heading Voluntary Aid for Personal Budget Holders. 22 September 2011

Simon Heng on his good experiences with overseas volunteers

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