Family support services use volunteers for a number of different reasons. Our surveys of children’s centres showed that 71% of staff thought that volunteers helped to improve outcomes for families and 56% thought that it improved the cost effectiveness of their services.
“Good committed volunteers are your bread and butter…they bring with them the on the ground knowledge, the needs, desires, background of the local community.” Commissioner at Commissioner and Volunteer Focus Group
Other reasons for engaging volunteers in family support work includes the fact that volunteers, as non-professionals, are often seen as easier to engage with than statutory services. A family who are having difficulties may find it easier to invite a volunteer parent befriender into their home than a professional support worker, increasing the reach of services and making them more accessible.
Volunteers will also bring with them knowledge and skills gained from living within the same community as people using the service. Living and working locally may mean that volunteers have the language skills and cultural knowledge of communities in the local area. Volunteers can increase the diversity of the workforce and bring with them new ideas and experience to help reach families that need support.
Another good reason to work with volunteers in family support is the fact that they may well be individuals who have been through specific experiences who can support families who are going through the same difficulties. This will allow services to be targeted and tailored to the needs of specific families.
Although volunteers are not free (recruitment, management and expenses costs must all be factored in) volunteers give thousands of hours of support to families every year. For example, our volunteer survey suggested that, on average, volunteers give 3-7 hours of their time per week to support families. When you consider the thousands of people volunteering in family support across the country, it becomes clear that many families would not get the support they need if family support services did not use volunteers- it would simply be impossible to deliver that may hours of paid staff time.