Working for a youth club can be fun, exciting and offer many opportunities to people equally it can be hard, stressful and draining. This blog aims to look at what volunteering is within a youth club, what issues may arise and how to try and avoid/deal with them.
So what do volunteers do? Pretty much whatever you tell them to do (with the exception of not doing what you tell them) because they work for you! They will start with a range of knowledge about your service, some may already have a huge involvement in the youth club ,others may not. There are jokes about engineers asking the new apprentice/employee to go look for the left handed spanner and these jokes are around for a reason, new people especially ones without experience will do what you ask them to. This in itself is an issue if the volunteer has no briefing within the work place, for example are the young people allowed to graffiti on the wall? Some youth workers may see this as a form of expression and ownership and some may see it as a lack of respect and attempt to deface others property. Every centre will have it’s own rules and ways of functioning , volunteers need to be aware of these before having responsibility over them.
Why do volunteers volunteer? Their reasons are always different, I have come to this conclusion from my own experience of working with many volunteers and previously being one. For example: some may need to volunteer as a form of accredited award such as the Duke of Edinburgh (DofE), others may be local individuals who are looking for a career in youth work, many young volunteers would simply like the work experience and responsibility of working before they are ’employable’ at 16.
How do youth clubs get volunteers? Usually they are members who show a level of commitment to maintaining the centre, sometimes their high school suggests they come to work in youth club for award (DofE or Welsh Baccalaureate seem popular locally). Some may just decide they like the youth club and use volunteering as a way of spending more time there.
What issues can be experienced whilst volunteering?
Using the volunteer as a member of staff, the whole idea of a volunteer is that they are working because they would like too (they have chosen to be there) and not because it is their job such as with paid staff. When too much pressure is put on people in this situation they begin to lose the incentive to continue working. Sometimes volunteers have been used to substitute for a paid member of staff creating huge pressure on the individuals . Things can be a bit more innocent than this though and sometimes volunteers are offered more work because they are good at it and youth workers think they’ll benefit from it when in actual fact the young person is just too shy to say no.
Volunteers being too informal with other groups of youth club members, for example a 17 year old who is working with a group of 13year olds might add them on social networking sites, swap number and give them hugs. This would not be an issue if they were young people hanging out together but as they are working in a youth club some would argue that they have responsibility to be professional.
Howard Secombe explains that youth work by its nature causes boundary issues, relationships between worker and member are usually friendly ones. Friends are avaible at leisure time and are often welcome in each others personal spaces (eg. their house) this could cause a ‘conflict of interest’ for youth workers and volunteers. For example what if a volunteer has a youth club member on facebook and the member posts a status explaining they have been under-age drinking on the streets, would the volunteer try to interfere with the individuals choice over the internet? Or would they wait until they are next in work to tell the other staff and deal with it as a team? This option would involve sharing information which the young person has not disclosed within the youth club and breaking the ‘friendly’ relationship they had.
Another issue with volunteers is that they will have their own opinion of what ‘youth work’ is. They may have gained this through experience or from watching youth workers. If they are not included in the paperwork, staff meetings and recording of small outcomes how will they know that youth club activities have any difference from school activities? Youth club at times can be similar to a school but their is usually the exception that is it a voluntary participative process (unless it’s taking place within a targeted scheme or accreditation). When volunteers see an activity at youth club do we explain that no-one has to participate and that people can choose to sit around and do nothing?
How to (hopefully) avoid these situations
One of the best ways to deal with these issues may be to have some form of training with volunteers. If we train volunteers in the issues that they could experience then hopefully they will understand how to deal with them more effectively, which should benefit them, the rest of the team and the youth club members. Another thing is that each volunteer is different and will want to work in their own way, there is usually no ‘job description’ for a local youth club volunteer, some would like to serve in tuck shop, some would like to shadow-work members of staff and some would like to establish their own projects such as forums, committees and trips. Not pushing them to do more but not assuming they can do less will only be reached through relationship and for that close supervision may be required.
Hear I have only covered some basic issues from my own experience and some suggestions I thought up myself, please comment on other issues and ways in which they can be improved. As always this blog is open to debate and my thoughts are not set in stone -they are merely an observation.
Secombe, H. Youth Wokers as Professionals. In Banks, S (ed) (2010) Ethical Issues in Youth Work (2nd Edition). Oxon: Routledge.