Across home care, thousands of volunteers are carrying out a range of important roles to benefit clients, but just like the paid workforce, they need deliberate and considered organisational support, reports Darragh O’Keeffe.
Every day, they’re getting in their cars and paying a visit to isolated community care clients to bring much-needed social support, and they’re helping to organise and run a variety of social activities and outings. And they’re providing companionship and laughter to clients in their homes.
The 96 volunteers who give up their time to assist across Feros Care services are dedicated, committed and bring enormous value to the organisation, says CEO Jennene Buckley.
Many of the organisation’s volunteers joined through word-of-mouth and because they knew someone who had some kind of involvement with Feros, she says.
“Our success to date is that people have heard about and related to our organisation,” says Buckley.
Volunteers are an invaluable resource, she says. “We are very lucky to have so many generous volunteers in our residential villages and the community. Many of our volunteers are retired, and with them bring so much life experience,” she adds.
A growing army of support
Feros is certainly not alone in utilising the support of volunteers across its services.
Volunteers are an increasingly common source of assistance in the delivery of community aged care programs, according to the last major review of the sector’s workforce, the Aged Care Workforce Census and Survey 2012.
The community care services that responded to the survey reported they had 57,000 volunteers who provided more than 250,000 hours of service in a fortnight period. “This equates to an average of 27 volunteers per outlet, with each volunteer averaging 4.6 hours for the fortnight,” the census found.
“If we extrapolate these hours over a year it comes to more than 6.7 million hours of volunteer service in community aged care,” it said.
Across community care, volunteers helped to provide a range of existing services, such as taking clients shopping or to appointments, delivering a community bus service or helping to run other programs in the community, the census noted.
‘Fundamental to the service’
In South Australia, the state’s Meals on Wheels (MoW) service has some 8,000 volunteers who are involved in the cooking, preparation and delivery of meals.
“They are fundamental to the service we have been delivering for some 62 years,” says CEO Sharyn Broer.
Volunteers provide a variety of roles that keep the day-to-day operations of the agency’s 88 branches running – from cooks and kitchen helpers to drivers and administration, including customer management, volunteer coordination, menu ordering and finance.
“Our volunteers can be cooks who start to prepare a three-course meal from scratch each day, through to the deliverers who truly deliver more than just a meal,” says Broer.
Like Feros, MoW SA says that word-of-mouth from current volunteers has been one way that new volunteers are recruited. The service also also uses media coverage, online recruiting sites such as Seek and Volunteering SA, and promotes available corporate volunteering opportunities. But the most successful trigger has been an awareness campaign on TV, the service says.
“Our messaging to volunteers is that MoW has clearly defined volunteering tasks, with reasonably regulated time periods and processes, which allows volunteers to carry on their lifestyles whilst still giving to the community,” says Broer.
Importance of training, support
Given that volunteers carry out a variety of important roles across community care, it’s essential they are properly inducted and given ongoing training and support – much like the paid workforce.
Feros Care says its volunteer program is professionally run with all volunteers officially recruited, registered and trained by the organisation prior to undertaking any tasks.
“Our volunteers go through a comprehensive orientation program, similar to our staff orientation program,” says Buckley. “This gives them a thorough overview of the organisation, the different business arms, and introduces them to many of the staff and management team.
“Feros Care supports the ongoing education of our volunteers. Over the past year, volunteers have not only completed mandatory training but have also attended external courses in first aid, an introduction to aged care and education about dementia, as well as the internal education provided as part of the volunteer meetings.”
Similarly, MoW SA reports its volunteers receive an initial orientation and induction according to their main role, with appropriate training at their allocated branch.
“They are supported in practical ways with things like insurance cover, driver reimbursement, and recognition of service,” says Broer.
“We support our volunteers through our branch support officers, who regularly meet with branches to discuss and share knowledge and experience as well as assist in implementing programs.
“Volunteers are also encouraged to attend regular workshops and provide feedback on process/quality improvements.”
Resolving issues, challenges
Despite the best ongoing training and support, HR issues and challenges can sometimes arise, and providers need to respond accordingly.
For instance, MoW says it acknowledges that risks do not discriminate whether the worker is paid or voluntary, so it maintains high standards of duty of care to both volunteers and customers.
MoW says that volunteers tend to dislike red tape, and so is mindful when rolling out new processes and policy that it’s made as easy as possible for all.
For example, to ensure a smooth process to meet the statutory requirement for police checks for all volunteers MoW set up local peer volunteers to conduct the 100-point checks.
The organisation also advocates at a policy level for the introduction of volunteer cards that can be used for multiple volunteering roles.
Doing it well: advice to others
Much like paid workers, successfully recruiting and retaining volunteers requires a deliberate and considered approach, and surveys have identified what volunteers appreciate from the organisations to which they give up their free time.
The Volunteering Australia State of Volunteering in Australia 2016 report, released in April, found that what motivated volunteers the most was an opportunity to give back to the community, followed by a personal belief in the cause, and the chance to make a difference.
When asked how organisations could improve their volunteer experience – training and professional development opportunities and more frequent feedback featured high on the list of responses.
Indeed, Buckley advises community care providers that they must “never underestimate the value volunteers bring to an organisation.” She points out that volunteers are there because they believe in the provider’s cause. “They want to volunteer with you, and they are one of your biggest advocates,” she says.
Similarly, MoW advises fellow services looking to utilise more volunteers that they value and have regard for their volunteers. “Provide meaningful roles that are well explained and well thought out,” says Broer.
“It’s important to have empathy – place yourself in their shoes. Recognise your volunteers by acknowledging their service and contribution as regularly as you can. Respect them and be caring – understand that they are giving their time to undertake roles that they do not have to do. And provide roles that the volunteers can use or retain current skills as well acquire new skills,” she says.
This article appears in the current edition of Community Care Review magazine.
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