Volunteers don’t come free
New research finds urgent action is needed to maintain the sustainability of volunteer services supporting people with disability and their families
Australia’s volunteers in the disability sector and the organisations that support their contribution rely on appropriate funding and support.
These services need funding for basic infrastructure to effectively match volunteers with people with disabilities and their families in ways that best harness their skills.
But the problem for policymakers is how this is achieved when the very essence of volunteer support means that it is not attached to a monetary value.
Currently, our capacity to coordinate sustainable and high-quality volunteer-supported services is affected by uncertainty in the current policy environment following the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
Our new report outlines a sustainable framework for volunteers – the first of its kind in Australia – but also calls on the government to take immediate action to acknowledge the positive contribution of volunteers in the lives of people with disability.
CREATING A SUSTAINABLE SYSTEM
Our study, led by Keith McVilly, professor of Disability and Inclusion at the School of Social & Political Sciences, in collaboration with Kerry Uren from the not-for-profit Interchange Incorporated, and the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services, finds that volunteer programs are already closing due to concerns over the sustainability of these services.
For people with disability, their family members and carers, volunteers and service providers, the unique support that volunteers bring to the lives of people with disability and their families is invaluable.
But in economic terms, we can measure it.
According to a 2012 study, the benefits are considerable; with the annual value of volunteering for community and welfare organisations estimated at $A723 million in 2006.
However, the funding of infrastructure required to coordinate sustainable volunteer-supported services is critical.
It goes toward supporting functions like recruitment and selection, support and development, workplace safety and wellbeing, volunteer recognition, quality management and continuous improvement.
THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF VOLUNTEERISM
When compared with descriptions of the value of paid staff support, people in our study emphasised the distinct role that volunteers bring to their lives.
Volunteers provide support that complements, but cannot be replaced, by the support of paid practitioners.
But questions remain over how the support provided by volunteers will be funded and sustained to ensure appropriate safeguarding mechanisms are in place.
This becomes more important given the recent roll out of the NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework, and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse and Neglect and Exploitation of People With Disability.
Both the framework and the Royal Commission support the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Article 16 of the right to be free from exploitation, violence and abuse.
We surveyed key stakeholders from organisations involved in providing volunteer-supported services – as well as volunteers, people with disability and their families. This included two online surveys, a series of individual interviews and case studies.
Our participants described the current programs in operation and what these programs were achieving for people with disability.
They described the role that volunteers, volunteer coordinators and organisations play in the provision of volunteer supported services and the resources that are required to sustain quality and safe volunteer programs.
MODELS FOR VOLUNTEER-SUPPORTED SERVICES
We identified seven models of volunteer-supported services work in line with the NDIS Information Linkages and Capacity Building framework (NDIS-ILC) – this is a framework that provides grants to organisations to deliver projects in the community that aim to promote inclusion of people with disability to connect with wider society.
The ILC will support the achievement of outcomes for people with disability through investing in four discrete yet complementary programs; the National Information Program, the Individual Capacity Building Program, the Economic and Community Participation Program and the Mainstream Capacity Building Program.
These volunteer models provide the government with comprehensive guidance to support future policy developments.
Our seven models are:
1. Social support and community participation model: facilitating increased social connection and inclusion between people with disability in community settings.
2. Supported activity model: supporting individuals to participate in community activities including sport and recreation by facilitating meaningful engagement.
3. Skills development model: supporting individuals with disability to learn and apply new knowledge in vocational, domestic and other life areas.
4. Out-of-home support model: providing out of home support to expand the social networks of people with disability and to support carers to continue to support their child at home.
5. Practical support model: meeting the practical needs of people with disability, such as providing transport to increase community access.
6. Organisational support model: support to contribute to the general functioning of an organisation that supports people with disability.
7. Advocacy model: supports that aim to protect and safeguard the rights of people with disability.
INVESTING IN VOLUNTEERS
Current funding arrangements do not support the continuation of volunteer-supported services, and a commitment from the government is required to maintain and enhance the contribution of volunteers.
Funding the costs associated with delivering these services will enable volunteers to work in our community in ways that are safe, sustainable and which promote choice, control and quality of life for persons with disability.
Volunteers make a huge contribution to our community and to our economy, but they don’t come for free.
We need to invest in their good work if that good work is to continue.