Ros Scott, Director of Organisational Development, Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS). The charity provides the only hospice services in Scotland for children and young people who have life-shortening conditions for which there is no known cure: Rachel House, in Kinross and Robin House in Balloch, and a home care service called CHAS at Home.
I was in one of the hospices the other day at a volunteer event, talking with volunteers; hearing about their lives and activities. It made me stop to reflect on just how busy they were, yet still found so much time and energy for CHAS. Time is a precious commodity today as people lead increasingly hectic lives. However, I never cease to be amazed by the generosity of volunteers in terms of the hours, skills, and commitment that they share so freely with children’s hospices. There is no doubt that we could not do all that we do in children’s hospices without this vital contribution.
What do volunteers do?
Today volunteers play a significant and diverse role in children’s hospices. This may include everything from: involvement in providing activities, befriending children, young adults and families, bereavement support and complementary therapies, to helping with meals, housekeeping, gardening or driving. Volunteers also play a key role in fundraising. However, this list is not exhaustive and there are many different ways in which volunteers contribute.
Staff attitudes to volunteering
We entrust volunteers with the governance of our hospices in their role as Trustees. This carries significant responsibility for the strategic direction and effective management of the organisation and yet some tensions still exist around the involvement of volunteers with children and families, even in social care roles. In a study of staff attitudes to volunteering, Pastor found that there were conflicting attitudes to volunteers amongst paid staff. Some with experience of working with volunteers were very positive, whilst others with no such experience were reluctant to embrace the concept.
What do families think?
In a study of volunteering in my own organisation, families reported very few concerns about volunteers. They enjoyed the range of additional support that volunteers provided, enabling them to experience a range of services that they would not otherwise have been able to access. Through involvement with volunteers, families found a new ability to trust other people and to become less isolated.
The role of volunteers in children’s hospices today is increasingly recognised. I believe that this is a really exciting and important time for volunteering. Never before has there been such a level of interest in exploring how volunteering in this field may be researched, championed and further developed. Volunteering can help us to develop new and imaginative approaches to caring for children and families – if we are ready to embrace it!
Pastor D. (2010). Exploring Attitudes to Volunteering at Hospices for Children and Young Adults. Unpublished MSc Thesis. Faculty of Business, Computing and Information Management, London South Bank University; 2010.
Scott R. Volunteers in a children’s hospice. Voluntary Action 2006; 8 (2): 54-63.
Tell us your story…
We’d love to hear more about volunteering in hospices and palliative care services in Europe and beyond. Are you managing or coordinating volunteers, or are you yourself a volunteer in a hospice or palliative care service? If you’d like to contribute please email the editor, or download a copy of our Contributor’s Guidelines.