WCVA hosted an online event in January, to learn from the experience of two pilot projects which are developing volunteering in care homes. Fiona Liddell, Helpforce Cymru Manager, shares some of the common themes and success factors.
RESPONDING TO THE ‘VISITING CRISIS’
When Covid 19 took hold in 2020, the impact on care homes, residents , relatives and staff was unprecedented. Maintaining contact between residents and their relatives is vital to their wellbeing but this priority put huge pressures on care home staff, who were already overstretched.
‘Quite a few visitors are elderly themselves and children aren’t allowed at the moment…. One chap has said one half-hour visit a week to see his wife isn’t enough. He lives by himself and is very lonely.’ – Volunteer
With funding from Welsh Government and support from Helpforce Cymru (WCVA), Age Cymru was able to pilot an approach which aimed to support visiting and social contact between residents and relatives, while also relieving some of the pressure on care home staff.
Seven care homes across Wales participated in the project – all of them had prior relationships with Age Cymru. 12 volunteers were recruited, trained and introduced to care homes.
BUILDING ON PARTNERSHIPS
Flintshire County Voluntary Council (FLVC) worked closely with Flintshire County Council (FCC) during the pandemic, developing bespoke volunteering roles and recruiting and training 64 volunteers in 2020, to complement the work of social care staff and support the continuation of essential services.
Timely grant funding allowed feasibility work to be undertaken and for the development of volunteering within care homes, under the auspices of a cross sector partnership. FLVC was responsible for volunteer recruitment and training. FCC’s contracts team advised on matching volunteers with care homes, based on their knowledge of services and relationship with care home managers. Volunteers took on befriending roles to provide companionship and a listening ear to residents.
CARE HOME PERSPECTIVES
Considerable time was invested in talking to care home managers and other stakeholders to understand local needs, and address questions and
concerns. There are many areas to address, to ensure common understanding and a mutual willingness to commit what it takes to introduce volunteering into the care home environment, safely and effectively.
- How do we maintain clear boundaries between staff and volunteer roles?
- How will relatives perceive volunteers, when they themselves aren’t allowed to visit?
- What management processes are needed to support volunteers?
- Will volunteers be a benefit or a drain on care home resources?
Minimising infection and ensuring the safety of all concerned has been a priority concern, but periods of local lockdown, illness and the isolation of residents have also posed an enormous challenge.
Where volunteers were successfully introduced and their roles established, care homes valued their support and commitment.
‘It has been an absolute privilege to have our volunteer at the home. She originally offered to volunteer before or after seeing her aunt, she has now increased her hours and has given up her visiting slot for another family. It really helped when she was inputting the test results to the portal – that took a lot of pressure off us.’ – Care home manager
Staff recognised and appreciated seeing how some volunteers grew in confidence – many of them having had no previous experience of the care home environment.
‘Volunteering is a two-way process. One of our volunteers was very shy when he first visited. Being with the residents, he has come out of his shell now.’ – Care home manager
The involvement of an experienced external organisation was welcomed, relieving them of the ‘admin’ associated with volunteering, including recruitment, DBS checks and induction training. Partner organisations (Age Cymru and FLVC) provided ongoing support, keeping volunteers engaged and informed along every step of the way. They proactively sought feedback from volunteers and staff alike and were able to make or suggest adaptations where necessary.
Voluntary sector partners produced written and informal guidance and support to care home staff on different aspects of volunteer involvement, and also information for families and relatives so that they would be clear as to the role and purpose of the volunteers.
The changing circumstances of Covid-19, with consequent ups and downs of staff capacity and restrictions imposed within individual homes meant that at times volunteer placements had to be put ‘on hold’ and expectations managed.
Volunteers’ availability and commitment varies; in some cases volunteers were trained and recruited but declined to take up a placement due to unease about adding to infection risks. But those who embraced the opportunity enthusiastically were generally keen to do more, including having more direct contact with residents.
‘D was one of the first volunteers and was very keen to expand what she did. She engages with residents quite often, especially during lockdown; residents see the same faces all the time so a new face, new conversation is just wonderful’ – Care home manager
Volunteers included a range of age and ethnicities – including far more young people than had been anticipated.
Links with Mold Alun school, Coleg Cambria and Glyndwr University resulted in students of health and social care being attached to Flintshire care homes for placements. Initial training included an introduction to volunteering, introduction to social care and how to inspire residents to engage in digital activities, all of which added valuable career related learning and experience.
‘I tend to paint their nails and the ladies love that. We have spoken about lots of things.. it’s nice to talk about common interests and hobbies with them. I think they enjoy talking to me and I really enjoy talking with them. It’s been really lovely’. – Volunteer
Despite its challenges Covid was in some ways an enabler – giving people an incentive to volunteer and enabling fresh thinking about where and how volunteers can be of help.
The involvement of a voluntary sector organisation with expertise in managing volunteers was a vital catalyst in both projects, brokering and supporting the relationship between volunteers and care homes. Having a key contact person within the host organisation was crucial.
Care homes, or groups of care homes, work independently and have their own ways of doing things and there is no ‘one size fits all’. Preparing the ground with extensive engagement of stakeholders was important in order to secure mutual understanding and commitment at the outset.
‘The time that we invested in matching volunteers to the best possible settings and the efforts we made to meet with care home managers and volunteers helped to make the project such a success. We can really build on this now’ – FCC contract team staff member
Volunteers were well prepared and had a clear understanding of their role within the care setting and the importance of respecting the boundaries of their role. Having said that, where their role was mainly Covid related, including welcoming visitors, supporting compliance with PPE and hand sanitising, it became clear that volunteers, staff and residents alike look forward to a time when more direct personal contact would be possible, such as supporting activities and having more opportunity for conversation.
It takes significant time, resources, patience and a willingness to be flexible, for volunteering to be safe and successful for all concerned.
However, the gains are clear when different partners play to their strengths, enabling the many mutual benefits that can come from bringing volunteers and care home residents together.
As Covid restrictions ease, we look forward to seeing the development of student placements in Flintshire care homes on a wider scale and the extension of volunteering into other aspects of social care.
Age Cymru plans to develop the volunteering role to focus on engaging care home residents in sharing their experiences and hopes for the future, as part of the ongoing Tell me more project.
We look forward to supporting care homes, voluntary sector and local authority partners to develop volunteering in their own way, within their locality.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
On Age Cymru care home project: firstname.lastname@example.org
A project report and toolkit resource will shortly be available
On Flintshire care home project: email@example.com
On care homes and volunteering generally: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helpforce Cymru is working with Third Sector Support Wales (WCVA and 19 CVCs), Welsh Government and other partners to develop the potential of volunteering to support health and social care services in Wales.