Family support work is a particularly good area to volunteer in as there are so many roles and activities. Whatever skills and experience someone can bring, there is likely to be a role and a project that matches their needs as a volunteer.
Some of the most common family support roles are below:
A family or parent befriender is a volunteer who meets parents within their home or a community setting to help them with tasks that they may find difficult alone. Over time, the volunteer and family build trust and the befriender can help the family with their emotional and practical issues. This can help to increase confidence and reduce isolation at a time when a family is struggling to cope.
A mentor is often someone who has experienced the same difficulty that the family is facing and wants to help families set achievable goals to make positive changes within their life. More focused and structured than befriending, mentoring may suit volunteers who want to help others with personal development.
Family support helplines offer an important service, allowing parents and family members to talk through their problems, receive advice and learn about services that can help them. Helpline volunteers need to be good listeners, non-judgmental and have a good telephone manner. This role works well for people who are less interested in building relationships with families over time but still want to offer support and encouragement.
Stay and play/group support
Volunteers working in parenting groups or stay and play sessions can be a vital resource for children’s centres. Not only can they help with setting up on the day and the logistics of catering or organising a room, but they can be a friendly face to chat to if a parent is new to the group or can offer help to parents with more than one child.
Live chat and digital
With new technology, how people communicate is changing rapidly. Our parent survey showed that 54% of parents have sought support for parenting concerns on the internet. To meet this need, many family support projects and services are looking into ways to support parents and families via online communication. This can involve peer support via volunteer led forums, online mentoring or communication with parents via ‘Live Chat’ support.
Many children’s centres run breastfeeding support groups for new Mums to encourage breastfeeding and give advice. Volunteers may be trained in group leadership and facilitation, reasons why breastfeeding is good for mother and baby and listening skills.
Groups may provide support on such topics as preparation and expectations, getting breastfeeding off to a good start, overcoming or avoiding challenges and difficulties, nutrition, technique and weaning.
Increasingly, parenting is being seen as a skill that can be learnt and a number of courses and learning tools have been developed to aid parents in the upbringing of their children. Our parent survey showed that nearly 40% of parents had accessed support regarding the care of their children and a further 38% had felt they needed support but had been unable to access it.
Volunteers can help with parenting skills by helping with groups and courses and by supporting parents through their process of learning. Volunteers who are parents can also be on hand to help with their own experiences.
All organisations will have some kind of office work or administration to get done. Volunteers can help here by taking the pressure off paid staff and supporting a team to achieve their goals. Freeing up staff time by taking on data entry, photocopying, filing and routine organisation and correspondence means that people who may not feel comfortable supporting families directly can still volunteer in family support. This means that families get the support they need whilst volunteers can learn new office-based skills, be part of a family support team and gain experience that they can use to gain employment.
Family support organisations come in different sizes and different legal statuses. Some may be social enterprises, some registered charities and others registered companies. Whatever the structure of the organisation, someone has to take on the responsibility of keeping the organisation sustainable and working within the law.
Boards of directors, trustees, councils and committees are often made up of volunteers. They may be professionals who work in the fields of child care or family support or they may be parents who use the service and want to be a part of any big decisions that are made.
Many family support organisations and projects need volunteer help with outreach and marketing. Going out into communities to talk about the services offered, putting up posters, taking round leaflets and visiting community venues to run stalls are some of the ways that volunteers can help to spread the word about services, organisations and volunteer opportunities.
Whatever services a family support organisation offers it needs funding to carry out its activities. Volunteer fundraiser is a great role for someone who is sociable, outgoing and persuasive. Using energy and enthusiasm, fundraisers can do anything from holding events to getting themselves sponsored- whatever makes money.