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Supporting your volunteers

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As a volunteer manager, you have a responsibility to make sure that all volunteers are safe and secure day to day. Your trustees have a legal duty of care to consider volunteers health, safety and well-being that you can help them deliver. Many of the practices that will help you take a safeguarding approach also help with other goals as a volunteer manager such as making sure you have equality of opportunities or helping you keep volunteers engaged with your organisation. 

You can take a number of different approaches to preventing harm as part of your safeguarding approach. You should have in place:

Ongoing or regular support 

You should aim to provide the right level of supervision and support to your volunteers throughout the time they are volunteering. You need to work out what the demands are of the role, what you can offer, and what is best for both you and the volunteer. For example, volunteers at a one-off social event may need less support than someone volunteering several times a week in a Hospice.

In safeguarding, supervision can mean different things at different times. 

Supervision as a form of support is a way for you to provide  a safe space to explore how your volunteers are feeling and how they are doing in the role. It also gives you a way of monitoring the volunteer to ensure that they are operating safely. By providing supervision sessions you can make sure your volunteers know they have someone turn to for support. You can also make sure you are building a culture of vigilance where people feel comfortable raising concerns.

Some methods you may find effective:

  • buddying systems (either alongside other volunteers or a paid member of staff) - these have the advantage of making sure there are two people present in any situation
  • volunteer meetings where peer support and discussion is encouraged
  • formal supervision meetings which allow for a regular one to one discussion following a set agenda
  • less formal, but regular meetings (including by online channels) that have the same purpose.

You should make sure to treat volunteers that have the same responsibilities fairly. When planning meetings you should consider:

  • the amount of time the volunteer is spending
  • the nature and demands of the role, particularly in relation to emotional burden and to safeguarding risks.

Some volunteers may see support or supervision meetings as a distraction from the reason they wanted to volunteer in the first place. You should aim to:

  • make sure they understand it is for them to feedback about the organisation, others in the team and their role
  • help them see this is about giving better support or care to the people you work with
  • hold sessions that fit within their usual volunteering pattern
  • for less regular peer support sessions give lots of notice, and consider arranging child care, transport and other things to help people attend.

 You should take away these things from the meetings: 

  • a clearer understanding of the tasks and issues involved in the volunteer role
  • the volunteers perception of how things are going
  • any needs for additional training or guidance to meet their safeguarding responsibilities
  • views and ideas that the volunteer has about the organisation as a whole
  • any potentially problematic behaviours of their or others in the team which need to be addressed.

And you should make sure the volunteer gets:

  • clear direction from you and your management committee or trustees
  • feedback on their work
  • support and advice
  • an opportunity to vent, fret, and question both their own actions and others actions.

Some questions to ask:

  • What has gone well or what do you like about what you did?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • What support do you need from me or others?
  • Have you got any concerns about others you want to share?  

Some volunteering roles are more inherently stressful, create emotional burden or more likely to be exposed to safeguarding concerns of your organisations intended beneficiaries. These roles should have more regular supervision and more opportunity to seek more support as they need it. 

If you have any volunteering roles who are undertaking the role of designated safeguarding lead or where a volunteer has been involved in a safeguarding concern – because they were told something, saw a concern or an allegation has been made about their behaviour – they may need additional support. You should consider whether there is additional support that can be offered, for example if you have an employee assistance programme could this be extended to cover the volunteer. 

A volunteer is working for a small charity that has limited staff and volunteers. The organisation recognises that volunteers have been leaving recently because they feel unsupported. One of the staff team is asked to look at how supervision could help retain volunteers. They sit down and discuss with the volunteers how this could work and explain what supervision is all about. They make is clear it’s a supportive process and not a discipline or checking up activity.
The first supervision session is very much about exploring what the volunteer wants to talk about and an agenda and timetable is drawn up, that they agree to. After a few sessions, the staff member checks the volunteer is gaining from the session and that they are seeing the value personally. If this was not happening then they discussed why this was not happening, and whether things needed to change.

You can use the supervision process to address concerns with a volunteers behaviour. If they do not respond well, and particularly if they stop volunteering as a result, you have a duty to discuss those concerns and potentially refer them to statutory authorities.

Barsden Youth Club had a new volunteer that was great, really flexible and supportive. After a while the volunteer manager started to hear mutterings about this person’s personal boundaries. In supervision meetings with other volunteers they asked specifically if they had any concerns and identified that they had a tendency to spend large amounts of time working with certain club attendees and inappropriate language and physical contact were mentioned. The volunteer manager speaks to the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and they agree to discuss this in their supervision meeting first. The meeting does not go well, and the volunteer says that people are making it up. After the meeting, the volunteer manager plans to discuss suspension and investigations with the DSL, but the volunteer does not show up to their next session or any other sessions. The volunteer manager provides the DSL with a write up of everything that happened.

Responding to a volunteers concern

As a volunteer manager, you will often be the first person a volunteer comes to with a safeguarding concern, even if you are not the designated safeguarding lead for your organisation.

When a volunteer speaks to you about something that is then there are a number of things you should do.

  • Put them at ease - it can be very difficult to raise concerns. Reassure them that any complaint made in good faith will not come back to negatively affect the volunteer. However don’t make promises in case if you later find this is a malicious allegation.
  • Help them feel at ease enough to ‘own’ the issue they are raising. Anonymous issues can be more difficult to follow through.
  • Make an initial assessment of the problem raised as soon as information is shared with you by the volunteer, and be aware that you may need to act quickly to prevent further harm.
  • Begin to record what you are being told in case you need to investigate or act.
  • Ask questions about anything else they have done in relation to their worries. Never make assumptions. You need to know enough to identify whether the issue is a safeguarding concern, an allegation, a complaint or another type of issue.
  • Tell the volunteer when you will get back to them.

You need to make sure you are familiar with your organisation’s processes for:

  • responding to, recording and reporting a safeguarding concern
  • problem solving, complaints or whistleblowing
  • mechanisms for providing support to those involved
  • referring issues outside of the organisation
HighHopes assists teenagers from poor households to excel at school and achieve their potential. Simon has been volunteering with the charity for a number of years and undergone regular safeguarding training. Simon has seen Phil in town with a programme participant outside of the charity’s activities. Simon calls his volunteer manager to talk through the concern and checks whether this was a breach of their code of conduct. The volunteer manager helps Simon record the incident and pass it to the organisations designated safeguarding lead. The volunteer manager and the safeguarding lead meet with Phil to discuss the concern and the breach of the suspected code of conduct. Phil is not told that Simon raised the concern. 

In all situations you should follow your processes or procedures for the type of issue you have identified. If you have any uncertainty at all always speak with the designated safeguarding lead for your organisation if you have one.

Page last edited Jun 22, 2021

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