Helping young adults with offending histories to volunteer

Volunteering can help young adults. It can help them engage in a cause they support, build up ‘soft’ skills and assist with CV building and employability. But volunteering can be especially helpful for young adults with offending histories.

As part of the ‘Is volunteering for everyone?’ project, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Barrow Cadbury Trust, we interviewed over 80 people. Many of the young adults had gained a great deal from volunteering – improved self-confidence, enhanced skills and new experiences.

‘You have the opportunity as a person to develop, to learn new skills. You have the opportunity to be part of life-changing experiences just in a day.’

Young volunteer

Real and perceived barriers

Sometimes though, there are barriers that make it harder for young adults with offending histories to volunteer. For example, volunteer-involving organisations’ concerns about possible risks and record checking.

This is why the Institute for Criminal Policy Research and the Institute for Volunteering Research have released a series of briefing papers to bust myths and help address some of these barriers.

Three separate briefings have been produced, aimed at:

  • volunteer-involving organisations
  • resettlement organisations (which assist offenders and ex-offenders in the community)
  • young adults.

Looking at the real opportunities

The young adults who participated in the research had committed a variety of offences, some resulting in cautions or fines, others in custodial sentences.

There are volunteering opportunities available for these young adults, including valuable volunteering involving ex-offenders in the criminal justice system, such as peer mentoring.

However, this project deliberately looked beyond this. Like all young adults, those with offending histories are a diverse group with diverse interests. Therefore we were interested about the range of volunteering opportunities open to them and whether there are particular activities they are barred from.

We found that currently, many ‘mainstream’ volunteer-involving organisations, ie those not specialising in ex-offenders, do not tend to engage large numbers of  volunteers with offending histories. Largely this wasn’t because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t have large numbers applying.

Practical solutions

Drawing on our findings, we’ve tried to counter some myths and provided practical information and signposting, both for young adults with offending histories and organisations who might work with them.

More proactive recruitment strategies for this group of young adults

While there are often concerns around this being potentially time-consuming and increasing risk for volunteer-involving organisations, this can be overstated. With a suitable and transparent volunteer recruitment process, a safeguarding policy and appropriate support structures, these risks can be addressed. However, it does require judgement calls and capacity on the part of the volunteer-involving organisations.

Criminal record checks

In our briefings, we’ve addressed issues around criminal record checks (through the Disclosure and Barring Service) and ‘safeguarding’ and procedures to make sure service users and beneficiaries are not put at risk by any volunteers, regardless of whether they have a criminal history or not.

Making a difference

We hope that the work we’ve done will make it a bit easier for young adults, who have faced considerable challenges, to volunteer. This can, one practitioner said, help young people ‘dream in colour again’…

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Avatar photo Andy Curtis was senior research officer at NCVO's Institute for Volunteering Research.

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