Over the past months since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a whole Army of unpaid volunteers have stepped up to help their local communities in a multitude of different ways. Most of the volunteers help the NHS, but recent calls from the Children’s Commissioner for England has led calls for a similar scheme to support social care, in order to stop some of the country’s most vulnerable children from falling through the gaps.
Teachers and other education professionals were raising concerns back before the school summer holidays about children who had not engaged with teachers during the lockdown period, and who were not in the groups who went back into school in June and July. Some of these children, with very troubled backgrounds, didn’t return to school in September either. Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, highlights the fact that even when there’s not a pandemic, social services are overstretched. Ms Longfield estimates that in England alone there are up to one million children who could be falling through the net and is calling for urgent action to stop these children from becoming invisible to authorities.
The Commissioner is planning on tackling this gap between professional social workers and demand by calling on an army of volunteers to support paid staff. Experts estimate that around 200 additional volunteer staff would be needed across each local authority in England, making around 30,000 volunteers in total to complement the work of paid staff. In the first instance, the Commissioner is advising trying to recruit people who have recently retired from social work positions, who can easily go back into a similar role as they have done previously. Another idea is to ask staff who have been furloughed, or lost their job as a consequence of cuts, to step in and support their local community.
DBS Checks for Volunteers
The major hurdle to overcome in terms of volunteers in social services is around DBS checks. These checks are criminal background checks which are done on anyone who wants to work with children. As children who are under the care of Social Services are among the most vulnerable in society, it is crucial that all steps are taken to ensure they are safeguarded. Someone who has recently retired from a position in social services, or who has a DBS check from a similar position in a nursery or school has already proven their suitability to work with children.
For new volunteers into the system, the process is a bit more complicated. Before volunteers in any position with children can be let loose on the general public, they will have to go through the process of getting a new, enhanced, DBS check. These certificates show not only your current convictions and cautions, but any older information which is relevant too. Volunteers get their DBS checks free of charge but must go through the same process as everyone else. There is sure to be more information about any proposed scheme, so keep your eyes on the local press.