Working with young volunteers

Introduction

Volunteering can be a great way for young people to learn and develop new skills, gain experience for their future employment, 'give back' to an organisation and help their local community.

As well as the time, support and skills that young people can offer, organisations can learn from their young volunteers - particularly as their own experiences both within and outside of your group may be very different to those of adult volunteers. The peer support that young volunteers can provide can be invaluable.

If you're working with young volunteers then there are a few things you must consider. Organisations and groups must protect their young volunteers and do all they can to make sure that their volunteering experience is positive. This must be balanced with the needs of the groups and individuals you work with.

This page covers what you need to know about recruiting, safeguarding and supporting young volunteers.

Assessing risk

Assessing risk

As with all voluntary placements, you should carry out a risk assessment to identify any potential safeguarding issues that might occur with the tasks that young people are asked to undertake. These include:

  • the potential risks for exploitation of the young volunteers
  • the possible emotional impact of tasks
  • the impact of pressures young people may be experiencing in their lives (for example during exams).

Potential risks for exploitation

You should make sure measures are in place to protect young volunteers from all forms of exploitation.

Hours and type of work

There is no specific legislation about young people volunteering for a not-for-profit organisation. Following the rules for employing young people can help ensure you aren’t expecting them to work excessive hours or carry out inappropriate tasks.

You should also consider whether they are able to carry out the work and have everything they need to complete tasks. Your assessment of this should to take into account the young person’s age and stage of development, their circumstances and any additional needs they may have.

> Find out what the law states about child employment

Sexual exploitation and grooming

Forming healthy working relationships with adults is an important part of being a young volunteer. However you should be aware of the risks of grooming and other inappropriate behaviour. Measures you can take to mitigate risk include:

  • having a code of conduct that sets out how you expect young volunteers and the adults working with them to behave
  • making sure young volunteers know who they can talk to if they have a concern and that they feel safe to do so
  • making sure young volunteers aren't left alone with an adult unless as part of a designated support role.

You should also ensure that young volunteers are not being put at any risk by adults who are beneficiaries of your group or organisation.

> See the tab on conduct and behaviour

> Find out what else you need to consider when working alone with children and young people

> Find out more about protecting children from grooming

Emotional impact and other pressures

Every club, group and organisation is different. You may work with vulnerable groups of people or your volunteers may undertake activities that are challenging or sensitive. You should think about the emotional impact of these on your young volunteers and make sure support is in place if they are ever worried or concerned about anything.

In addition, young volunteers may be facing other pressures at home or at school. For example, they may experience additional stress during exam periods or if they have caring responsibilities at home. Consider whether you need to make any adjustments to their role and make sure they know who they can talk to if they need to.

Insurance

You should check your employer's liability insurance to make sure that it covers young volunteers, especially if they are under 16-years-old.

Selecting young volunteers

Selecting young volunteers

As well as making sure that a young volunteer is the right fit for a role, you should consider whether your group or organisation is right for them. Check that the activities are suitable for a young person and you've assessed any risks.

You may need to adapt your usual volunteer recruitment processes to meet the needs of young people, for example, you may choose to hold a less formal interview.

Always carry out all the necessary checks such as references and vetting checks. If your club or group works with children, young people or adults at risk of harm, and your volunteers are aged 16 or older, you must find out if you need to undertake criminal record checks such as DBS, PVG or AccessNI. 

> Find out more about vetting and barring checks

Consent and parental permission

You must get written agreement from young volunteers who want to be involved with your organisation. This should set out what they will be doing and the organisation's expectations of them. The young person should sign this document.

You should also get agreement from their parents, depending on the volunteer's age and the activities they will be doing.

Remember you may also need separate consent for specific activities, for example overnight trips.

Under-16s

You should get consent from parents or carers for volunteers aged under 16 and ask them to sign a written consent form. Make sure that parents or carers are aware of your safeguarding policy and procedures.

> See an example consent form

16- and 17-year-olds

In most cases parents have a legal responsibility for their child up to the age of 18. However for young people aged 16 and 17 you should consider whether it is appropriate to obtain parental consent depending on the volunteering activity and the young person's circumstances. If you decide you don't need consent then you should consider whether you should still inform parents that the young person is volunteering.

Although a young person may have agreed to their involvement, there may be specific activities that they feel uncomfortable taking part in and you should discuss with them what alternative arrangements would be appropriate.

Volunteers from other groups

There are lots of groups and organisations who help and encourage young people to find volunteering opportunities such as the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and National Citizen Service. Some schools and colleges also run volunteering schemes with their students. There can be benefits in working alongside groups like this that are experienced in working with young volunteers.

 If you're working with another organisation, make sure you follow their policies and procedures as well as those of your own group or organisation. You should also find out what they expect of the young volunteer and your organisation. For example, do they require regular updates or will the young volunteer need to carry out certain activities?

Induction and training

All volunteers should be given an induction and regular training, including safeguarding training. If some of your volunteers are young people you should tailor your induction process so that it is accessible for them and covers any additional requirements or questions they may have. Make sure you include what a young person should do if they have a concern either about themselves or someone else. They will also need to know how to promote positive behaviour within the group and what to do if behaviour issues arise.

Conduct and behaviour

Conduct and behaviour

Make sure that young volunteers are clear about the context of their role and that they know and understand their responsibilities and boundaries. 

Codes of conduct

Draw up a code of conduct that sets out clear rules about behaviour so that young volunteers know what is expected of them and what they can expect from your group or organisation. The code should cover issues such as:

  • bullying
  • relationships
  • drugs and alcohol
  • online behaviour.

It should also cover what steps will be taken if the code is breached.

> Find out more behaviour management and see an example behaviour code policy

Young volunteers working with vulnerable groups

If young volunteers are working with other children and young people or adults at risk of harm, it's important that they understand that they:

  • have a responsibility for others
  • are in a position of authority
  • must behave appropriately. 

Young volunteers should understand their safeguarding responsibilities, know what it is that you expect from them and what steps they should take if a safeguarding matter arises. Make sure your safeguarding policies and procedures are written and presented in an accessible way for young volunteers and ensure they can be accessed at all times.

It's important that young volunteers know who to talk to if they have any concerns and that they should do so as soon as possible rather than keep any worries to themselves. You should ensure appropriate support is in place for them. This should be part of your training and induction processes.

Some young people may not be suitable to work with other children or adults at risk. This could be for a range of reasons, including the potential impact on the young volunteer themselves. In general, volunteers aged under 18 should never be left alone to supervise others or included in adult to child supervision ratios.

> For more details, look at our recommended adult to child ratios

> Find out more about safeguarding policies and procedures

Managing allegations

Ensure that you have a procedure in place for managing any allegations made against a young volunteer. These may include, for example, allegations that they have behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed, another young person or member of the group. Any allegations must be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively and promptly.

> Find out more about managing allegations made against a child

> Take our training on managing allegations of abuse against volunteers

Supporting young volunteers

Supporting young volunteers

Young volunteers may need additional support and supervision. You should make sure that there is clear and accessible support available and that young volunteers know how to access this.

Supporting and mentoring young people

Consider putting a support or mentoring scheme in place with a named adult for each young person. Anyone acting in a supporting role should be skilled and competent at supporting young people from a variety of backgrounds and abilities.

Make sure any adults acting in a mentoring or supporting role are suitable for this role by following safer recruitment processes. Ensure there are adequate safeguarding measures in place so that young people are not placed at any additional risk.

> Find out more about safer recruitment

> Find out more about preventing abuse in positions of trust

> Find out more about protecting children from grooming 

Buddying schemes

You could create a "buddying" system where young people in a similar position can support each other - although this should never be a substitute for adult support. 

Raising concerns

It's important that young volunteers know what to do if someone tells them something that worries them or they have a concern about their role or organisation.

Make sure that young volunteers understand your safeguarding policy and procedures and know who they can talk to. You should make sure that there is support available to young volunteers if they are worried about their own or someone else's wellbeing.

You should also provide young volunteers with access to your complaints and whistleblowing procedures.

> Find out more about safeguarding policies and procedures

Resources

Related NSPCC resources

Introductory guide to safeguarding and child protection for the voluntary and community sector

Safeguarding policies and procedures

Safeguarding checklist

Childline

If a child or young person needs confidential help and advice direct them to Childline. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also contact Childline online. You can also download or order Childline posters and wallet cards.

Elearning

Our elearning courses can help develop your and your volunteers' understanding of how to protect children from abuse: