Volunteers could help to safeguard vulnerable adults

Tracy WhittleTracy Whittle is Project Manager for the Volunteering in Care Homes project. This project is being run in five pilot sites across England and has been funded for three years by the Department of Health.

Following the recent Panorama programme on care home abuse, there has been renewed concern about protecting vulnerable adults in care homes.

The Care Quality Commission is quick to reassure us that such instances are rare and the Care Services Minister, Norman Lamb, has responded by outlining more punitive measures for care homes that are failing residents.

However, this response is too narrow. Nick Triggle, in his commentary, highlighted that one of the problems with safeguarding vulnerable adults in care homes is that the abuse is difficult to detect. Unlike hospitals, where members of the public come and go, care homes are private spaces with limited interaction with the public.

In this light, shouldn’t the strategy to safeguard vulnerable adults incorporate an approach that supports care homes to become more open care settings?

What can be done?

The development of a cooperative relationship between care homes and their local communities is one potential solution.

Local volunteers, recruited to share their time and talents with those of residents, could enable active citizenship and unite care home and community; creating a more open and dynamic care home environment.

Volunteering in care homes

It may sound utopian but this approach is being tested in a three year pilot project with some initial promising findings.

It would be naïve to assume that bringing volunteers into a complex and busy care home setting is going to be easy. Preparatory work with care homes, residents, relatives and volunteers have highlighted concerns on all sides. Clear processes for the recruitment, selection, training, induction and support of volunteers have been established to instil confidence in the scheme.

In spite of these concerns, the relationships that have been established between volunteers and residents have been a success. There have been reports of residents appearing happier on having received volunteer support to engage in an activity of their choice. Care home staff have come to recognise the value of volunteering in their homes and, as a consequence, the relationship between community and care home has become more open and collaborative. On some sites, for example, care homes have offered the use of their meeting rooms for volunteer training and support meetings. On others, the number of visits from volunteers has increased as they feel welcome to “pop in” when passing by.

Looking forward

While we have yet to evaluate the full impact of volunteering on resident, care home and community, the additional energy, diversity and capacity that volunteers bring is already noticeable.

In the remaining two years of the project we will capture the good practice that underpins these changes and through learn and share events make this knowledge widely available.

Care homes will then be in a better position to understand what creates successful volunteering in their homes and how to engage with their local communities to make it happen.

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