Debate on untrained volunteers

    We asked:- should untrained volunteers be allowed to
    work unsupervised with clients?

    These are some of the comments we

    “No.  Untrained volunteers should not be allowed to work
    unsupervised with clients.  We have a duty of care to our
    volunteers just as we do to our paid staff and clients.

    These days it takes a huge commitment to become a volunteer,
    going through reference and CRB checks, we owe them something in

    All of my volunteers receive a general induction/training and
    then further training and supervision in the department they choose
    to go into.  We always provide on-going support; either one-on-one
    or group format, there is also additional training if

    Pauline James
    Volunteer Scheme Manager
    Crossroads Caring for Carers, North Somerset

    “Absolutely not. The idea does not bear thinking about and
    surely this does not give any incentive to train a competent
    workforce in the first place.

    Louise Tickle focuses perhaps too much on the altruism of
    volunteers, ignoring the fact that many of us may be unemployed and
    need to feel valued.  Not everyone has ‘time on their hands’ to

    As a jobseeker since 1977 and lifelong volunteer, I have found
    volunteering has helped at least alleviate some of the most
    dispiriting and de-skilling effects of very long-term periods of
    serial unemployment.

    Richard Katona, volunteering development officer of Depaul
    Trust, meanwhile appears to devalue the possibility that
    volunteers’ previous life experiences can equip them / us to
    be more effective mentors to their/ our service users.
    “You’re getting someone to undertake a role which may be
    nothing that their previous life has prepared them for,” he
    That statement reflects the attitude that “events happen to
    people”. Yes, supervision is indispensable. Yet creatively
    responding to
    previous experience, I believe that “people [can] happen to
    events.” A creative response to experiences we have in common with
    potential service users through volunteering can help us reframe
    our past experiences of vulnerability for mutual advantage. We can
    more genuinely empathise and ‘be with’ the vulnerable
    people we may serve as mentors.

    ‘Professional boundaries’ need not bar us from
    bonding healingly with our clients. Excessive polarisation between
    professionals and clients, politicians and minorities is a danger I
    set out to address on my personal web space as a disabled jobseeker
    and more-supervised volunteering activities. Citing personal
    experience as ‘case study’ material puts me at risk of
    being perceived as a self-isolating, whingeing bore, but saves me
    from betraying client confidences.

    Isolation and/or unwanted attention can be very damaging;
    volunteering with the right employer very healing. Liberal Democrat
    spokesperson on disability Paul Holmes MP discounted the value of
    disabled jobseekers as volunteers when he described us as
    “economically inactive” [sic]. Islington Volunteer Centre’s
    Disability Project helped me connect in June 2004 with learning
    difficulties charity the Elfrida Society. Volunteering there eased
    my preparation for a 22nd December 2004 interview for paid work,
    also at Elfrida Society but with a different section.

    Beyond the ‘safeguarding’ specifics of supervision
    in my volunteering, feedback I receive through volunteering makes
    me feel more ready for employment my experience of the interview
    and [over Christmas] decision pending time was / has been less
    intimidating as a consequence.”

    Alan Wheatley

    “As a long-term service-user, initially of children and
    family services and presently of disability services, I would not
    have wanted untrained and unsupervised volunteers involved in my
    case except as befrienders.

    I can, however, see the value of having volunteers. As it can
    take a long time for services to kick in, it would be good to have
    a pool of volunteers to bridge that gap, but they would need to
    have had sufficient training to understand the needs of clients
    (especially for confidentiality), be well informed, have ongoing
    supervision and support to deal with the situations they would
    encounter and be able to recognise when things reach urgent/crisis
    status. This training could be offered to service-users who had
    experienced services and were ready to move on with their lives.
    They would best be able to understand all the fears and anxieties
    of the clients and help them to make better use of the services
    they may be offered. Perhaps this type of trained volunteering
    would lead to some of the volunteers taking up social work as a
    profession, which could only be a good thing.

    It is easier in the voluntary sector to bring in untrained
    people. Many of those who do excellent work for charities and
    support organisations are untrained but are willing to learn new
    skills as needed. These volunteers also bring their existing skills
    and abilities and can share them to improve the skill-base of the
    organisation and/or the clients. This kind of volunteering allows
    the volunteers to share time with families who are struggling and
    to learn from those families too. Being from a non-statutory body
    means that families will find it easier to trust them than if they
    came from Social Services.
    As a family that has received support and encouragement from the
    anti-poverty organisation ATD Fourth World, my three children and I
    have all benefited from the knowledge and talents of the variety of
    people we have encountered over the past 15 years. We have each
    been given help and encouragement to learn within the organisation,
    e.g. on respite stays at Frimhurst House in Surrey and at Policy
    Forums in the ATD house in Camberwell, London, as well as through
    college courses. This made a big difference to our ability to
    function as a family and reduced our dependence on Social Services
    provision. I am now volunteering with the organisation and have
    been part of a project training service-users to go into
    universities to contribute to the training of social workers.

    I am not suggesting that social services can replicate what ATD
    have done for us, but maybe they should be willing to fund families
    in finding support in the voluntary sector at places like

    Moraene Roberts
    Family Representitive
    ATD Fourth World

    “If agencies (and the end users of their services) are to get
    the best out of the commitment that people make to work for
    nothing, doing something necessary and worthwhile – both for
    themselves and the beneficiaries of their involvement – it is
    important to ensure that they are properly managed and supported.
    So, training can improve and develop skills; supervision ought to
    highlight problems and weaknesses, and – as for paid staff –
    this provides an opportunity to address worries and concerns about

    If organisations deploying volunteers to provide services don’t
    give time and resources to the support of volunteers, it is more
    likely that things can go wrong, ‘proving’ that volunteers are
    nothing but trouble….”

    Les Bright

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