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Managing volunteers through a bereavement

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One Westminster shares its experiences of managing volunteers in care homes through the bereavement process when residents have died, with beneficial results for volunteers, residents, staff and relatives.

Background

Befriending residents in care homes can be a very rewarding experience for volunteers. Many of the residents supported by the project are elderly and physically frail and shortly after the first volunteers were placed in the care homes, one of the residents taking part in the project died suddenly. Although the volunteer had not known the resident for a long time, she still required bereavement support.  

The issues we faced

The support to the volunteer was provided by the care home manager as the volunteer centre did not have the expertise and knowledge to manage this process. In spite of being supported through the initial aftermath, the volunteer decided not to continue with the volunteer role and resigned.

The actions we took

It was important to prepare volunteers for the likelihood of residents dying so the project lead commissioned Skills for Care to incorporate in the volunteer induction, a session for volunteers on how to manage their emotions.

This was then delivered to all new volunteers as part of the volunteer induction training and existing volunteers were also invited to attend this part of the training. The care home staff were included in the invitation.

The situation made us review our processes for informing volunteers of the death of a resident. It was decided that this would be a role for a member of the care home staff and where possible, volunteers should be notified in person, as for some it can be quite a shock.  This is also the preferred option for informing those for whom English is not the first language.

The telephone would be used where this is not possible.

Positive outcomes

The opportunity to bring together existing volunteers with new volunteers at the training was effective as it enabled new volunteers to ask questions of the existing.

The training helped to prepare volunteers for this part of their journey as a volunteer in a care home, and to recognise the signs of grief and how they can help themselves to manage their feelings

The clarity of the process for informing volunteers of a death was important going forward so as to limit volunteers’ distress in the future

Having the care home staff present at the training helped volunteers to feel that if they do find themselves in such circumstance, they will be supported in the home.

Negative outcomes

With hindsight these measures should have been put in place before the volunteers took up their roles.

Lessons learnt

Volunteers feel valued and supported which results in them feeling motivated and therefore more likely to stay in their roles which in turn, increases volunteer retention.

Care home staff have a clearly defined supporting role which strengthens the relationship between volunteer and care home which again strengthens volunteer continuity. 

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Page last edited Aug 11, 2015

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