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

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.