Volunteers’ Week: Q&A with Coram Voice helpline volunteers
Our wonderful volunteers contribute their time, passion and skills to our work and make a huge difference to young people in need.
This Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), two of our volunteers, Viv Parker and Colleen McDonnell share their experiences of working on our National Advocacy Helpline, a service providing advice, signposting and direct advocacy support to over 3,800 young people each year.
What does your role involve?
Viv: “We both volunteer one day per week, dealing with enquiries through the helpline and emails. We take calls from young people, children in care, young care leavers and also adults, parents, relatives and professionals wanting advice, so it’s quite varied.”
Colleen: “We are there to put across the young people’s wishes and feelings and help them get their views expressed and acknowledged.
“We work as a team, and try to allocate an advocate for young people who call as quickly as possible, and even if we can’t help directly, we make a proactive referral to other agencies on their behalf and will follow up so that no one slips through the net.”
What kind of calls do you deal with?
Viv: “Young people who have left care often call around accommodation issues, and some are homeless. They want to know what their rights are and what services they are legally entitled to.
“Children in care may want to know about care plans, having someone to support them at meetings, and uncertainty over future placements. We also help children in need, particularly disabled children who need an advocate. If young people don’t have English as their first language, we use an interpreter for a three-way conversation.”
How did you get in to the role?
Colleen: “I was a social worker for 30 years and wanted to continue to use my skills and experience to do something different. I was aware of Coram Voice and heard its training was excellent which it has proved to be.”
Viv: “After retiring I wanted to continue to use my knowledge to help. I wanted to be part of Coram Voice’s high quality work - they show a lot of empathy for young people and it’s very caring.”
What support do you receive in the role?
Colleen: “There is ongoing training and updates and never an assumption you’ll learn it all in one go. Things change and we are regularly updated on legislation and children’s rights. We work in a team and there’s a recognition that everybody’s got something to contribute and knows something about different areas of work.”
Viv: “There’s a lot of advice and support, you never feel like you are working on your own. It’s very respectful and encouraging to express your ideas.”
What do you like most about the role?
Viv: “Making a real difference to a child. They feel they are listened to and we took on board what they were saying – and that might be the first time that’s happened in a long time. It’s always memorable to hear a young person say thank you.”
Colleen: “I like how it’s child-led. From the outset of every call, we focus on what the child wants. You feel like you are starting a process for them which could bring about some changes in their life, which is very satisfying.”
Have there been any difficulties or surprises?
Viv: “It can be sad hearing calls about homelessness and other safeguarding issues. Sometimes we have to manage expectations about how long things can take but other times we can be surprised at how quickly things can move forward.”
Colleen: “Having come from a social work background where your focus is ‘best interests’ of the child, you are now focused on their own views and wishes. This was quite a big change but the training is excellent and you do quickly make that switch.
“I’m always surprised by young people’s incredible resilience. We are often a last resort when they call and we often wonder how they have managed so far in difficult situations.”
What would you say to others considering the role?
Colleen: “It is very rewarding and satisfying to contribute to working with a vulnerable section of the community. The training and support you’ll receive is excellent. Go for it!”
We are currently recruiting for volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to join our busy helpline, with a minimum commitment of one day a week for one year. Find out more and apply here.