Volunteering with vulnerable families: a rapid review of the literature

Publication date 2021

We wanted to explore the evidence about recruiting volunteers to support vulnerable families. So we commissioned independent researchers to review relevant literature from the NSPCC and other key sources, focusing on information published since 2012.

The literature review considers why volunteers are recruited and examines the benefits and challenges of volunteer deployment. It also looks at the support volunteers can offer families facing challenging circumstances, and the operational and strategic considerations of setting up volunteer support systems.

Authors: Dr Louca-Mai Brady and Berni Graham
Published: 2021

Download Volunteering with vulnerable families: a rapid review of the literature
Download the review (PDF)

Key findings

The volunteer coordinator plays a critical role

Volunteer coordinators have a responsibility towards supporting volunteers and families. They are important for:

  • matching the right volunteers with families
  • accurately assessing families’ needs
  • guiding volunteers’ work
  • overseeing quality, standards and safety
  • ensuring there is continuity with programme delivery
  • liaising effectively with other agencies.

Several potential benefits were identified for volunteers and families

There is evidence of volunteer support having a positive impact on families, including benefits to mothers’ mental health, wellbeing and confidence. And volunteers were also found to experience benefits, such as increased confidence and the chance to ‘give something back’ to communities.

There are also opportunities to acquire new information and skills, which helps some to pursue fresh education and employment pathways.

Various challenges were encountered while delivering volunteer projects

Challenges include targeting the right people to work as volunteers, ensuring diversity and providing appropriate training and support. There are also issues with volunteer retention, and navigating the boundary line between volunteers behaving like friends or professionals.


This report makes suggestions around three key areas for those considering involving volunteers in service delivery:

  • service design and operation
  • promoting diversity
  • supporting families and volunteers.

The report also makes recommendations for the NSPCC’s development, implementation and scaling of services.


Brady, L. and Graham, B. (2021) Volunteering with vulnerable families: a rapid review of the literature. London: NSPCC.

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