We hope to share our experiences of home volunteering through a hospice for children and young adults, exploring the need, the challenges (and how we deal with these), and initial thoughts about impact. Volunteering outside the hospice offers new solutions to key questions around people, partnerships and potential.
Children and young people visit our hospices for respite, symptom management, stepped discharge and end-of-life care. Their visits are brief and infrequent. One way to bridge these gaps and address the practical and emotional challenges children, young people and their families face is through volunteers.
Home volunteering has two distinct strands:
Support for families For many families, their lives are dominated by supporting a child with a life-limiting condition, particularly where that child also has physical and/or learning disabilities. On top of this they face the same day to day challenges as others – looking after other children, getting to work, managing the home. Families often find that there is a ‘last straw’– a pile of ironing or a weed-filled garden. Small, frequent help from a volunteer can have a big impact.
Befriending for young adults Like families, young adults can be overwhelmed by their situations, but instead of being overloaded with things to do, they are more often socially isolated, physically dependent and lacking things to do. Volunteer befrienders seem symbolically important because they aren’t paid to be with the young adults, nor are they there to perform a functional task for them. They simply spend time with them.
Though these two strands look very different in practice, we have observed a similar impact, with parents and young adults alike experiencing reduced stress, increased confidence and – perhaps most crucially – a level of control in their lives, no matter how small. Both strands provide a crucial link between hospice support and life outside.
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