This text is based on my Master’s thesis on social work, which I completed for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland. I have almost 10 years of experience in working as a volunteer coordinator for the city of Helsinki, and that is why I wanted to study volunteering as a part of social work. I did my studies to pinpoint and clarify the role of volunteering in the field of social work. This is not about juxtaposing social work with volunteering, but finding out how volunteer work can be used as a tool in social work.
Volunteer work is unpaid and voluntary work done to benefit other people or communities. Volunteering can be regarded from the perspective of it increasing the common-good, providing meaningful activities for one’s free time, or increasing citizen activity. The motivation that drives people to participate is crucial in volunteer work. Volunteering brings involvement and participation, which is the prerequisite for human agency. Through participation and human agency, a person can be empowered – in this case, empowerment is the goal and purpose of volunteering.
The material of the study consist of two complementary data collections: a Webropol-questionnaire (23 answers) and theme interviews of five social workers. During the study, I have asked social workers about their views on volunteering; what kind of position do they think volunteering could have as a part of social work practices; and what do the social workers think about volunteering as a way to support the human agency of their clients.
The views of the social workers
Directing people to do volunteer work can be an extra service that helps with the lack of resources in the field of social work. It would be an addition to the services that can be offered to clients. Social workers think that positive aspects of volunteering are the fact that it does not cost anything and that the field is extensive. They see that the benefits of volunteering include having something meaningful to do and the feeling of importance. Challenges, however, include volunteering being considered free labor and it being used to replace paid work.
Volunteering in the field of social work
Volunteering can be a part of the life of a social office’s client in two situations: 1. preventive activity, before crisis and 2. after crisis, i.e. after surviving the crisis. The importance of well-coordinated and organized volunteer work was also brought up in my studies. According to my thesis, the primary role of a social worker in the field of volunteering is directing clients towards volunteer activities. Other roles are recognizing the clients’ resources and taking care of them. Volunteering gives the client of a social office an opportunity to do something meaningful. This strengthens his or her human agency and meets other goals of social work. Human agency creates empowerment and participation in the society.
Volunteer coordinator in the Helsinki Social Services and Health Care Division, currently on study leave
A link to the Master’s thesis will be posted once the thesis has been published.
Translation: Satu Puolitaival