Before I began volunteering, I was working full time as an administrator in an NHS outpatient clinic. I have volunteered on and off since I was 14 years old. I have always enjoyed it and was keen to gain more experience of working with families.
I volunteered with two families on the Volunteers Supporting Families project between 2014 and 2016. When I began my first placement I found it difficult to know how to connect to the family. Initially, the family were a little resistant to my presence. I quickly had to learn how to manage boundaries and expectations.
I was matched with families who were experiencing mental health difficulties, social exclusion, poor parenting skills and financial concerns. Throughout my time as a volunteer, I have been able to support the families to feel more confident in their abilities, and offer them advice on how to support themselves once the placement ended.
I have developed many skills through volunteering such as clear communication, consistency and empathy. I have learned many practical skills such as financial budgeting and learning how to access mental health services. This experience has taught me to be more empathic and non-judgemental towards others.
I helped the families to feel supported at a time when they were struggling. I have been a consistent presence and helped them to learn to trust. Having social worker intervention in their lives is very challenging: the parents usually feel judged and this has a negative impact on their wellbeing.
When I left my last family I was presented with a canvas painting of their handprints and a small note to say thank you. I felt really appreciated. It was tough to say goodbye to the family, and it really meant a lot to me that they felt that I was a positive influence.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to support vulnerable families while social services and mental health services are struggling with very limited resources. The families may have more trust in you as a volunteer than in social services, as they may worry that what they say to social services may affect their situation negatively.
I am currently working as an assistant psychologist within the NHS. My role as a volunteer really helped me gain relevant career experience and perspective. I believe that I learnt as much from the families as they learnt from me.