2.4 Youth volunteering at national level
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There is no national programme for youth volunteering in Ireland. However, there are a range of programmes and initiatives targeting young people that promote youth volunteering.
Young Social Innovators
Young Social Innovators (YSI) provides a range of services to young people, including the Junior and Senior Innovation Action Programmes. Their programmes and initiatives target young people in second level schools, Youthreach or youth organisations. YSI programmes and initiatives support young people and their educators to develop innovative solutions to tackle social issues in their communities and the wider society. These programmes promote education for social innovation by empowering and supporting young people to realise their potential as social innovators, giving them the skills and confidence to tackle social issues facing them, their communities and wider society. YSI programmes and initiatives often include volunteering.
YSI’s last strategy was called ‘Social Innovation Thinking Differently, A Plan to Develop Ireland’s Innovators and Entrepreneurs who will Build a Fairer, Inclusive and Sustainable World.’ This Strategy featured YSI’s history, vision and impact stories from young social innovators across Ireland. It also outlined YSI goals and actions for 2017-2020 and provided commentary on Ireland’s potential to be a leader in social innovation, including what steps should be taken to ensure this can happen.
YSI is also endorsed in the Social Inclusion Division under the Department of Social Protection in particular under the recently published Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025; Ambition, Goals and Commitments.
This programme is funded through several public and private sponsors, including the Department of Rural and Community Development.
Gaisce - The Presidents Award
Gaisce or ‘great achievement’ in Irish, is a self-development programme for young people between the ages of 15-25 in Ireland.
There are three levels of Gaisce award- Bronze, Silver and Gold
- The minimum starting age for the Bronze award is 15 years and the average length is 26 weeks;
- The minimum starting age for the Silver award is 16 years and the average length is 52 weeks;
- The minimum starting age for the Gold award is 17 years and the average length is 78 weeks.
The core values of Gaisce are empowerment, inclusion and equality, respect and excellence. There are four different challenge areas in the Award programme. Participants must participate in each challenge area for at least one hour per week to earn an Award.
The four challenge areas are:
- Community involvement- this usually involves some form of volunteering
- Personal skills
- Physical recreation
- Adventure journey.
Young people are supported in their journey to achieving their Gaisce Award by an adult supervisor called a President’s Award Leader (PAL). A PAL can be any adult (other than a family member) who is involved in supporting the personal development of young people.
Over 300,000 young people have participated in the Gaisce Programme.
Gaisce is a charitable organisation that receives funding from a number of public and private sponsors. The main public sponsor is the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY).
Pope John Paul II Award
The Pope John Paul II Award is a faith achievement award for young people between the age of 16 and 18. It is non-competitive, inclusive, flexible and voluntary. It enables participants to take an active part in the life of their Church and in the life of their community and society.
This Award is run by the Diocese and is suitable for
- Students in Year 13 in Northern Ireland
- Students in 4th year in Republic Ireland
- Students in full-time education who have completed GCSEs or Junior Certificate
- Students in Transition Year
- Anyone between the age of 16 and 18, not in post-primary education.
The Award is non-competitive, flexible and voluntary and requires an ongoing commitment. Awards are earned by taking part in parish and social activities – 1 hour per week over 8, 14 or 20 weeks. There are 3 Awards – Gold, Silver & Bronze. Those that have completed the Gold Award have a further option of completing the Papal Cross Award.
Localise is a youth volunteering programme. The programme engages young people aged 11 and over in local community work. It is a not-for-profit company and is supported by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability and Youth and the Office of Migrant Integration within the Department of Justice. Localise runs the ‘Volunteering for All’ award that is a nationwide initiative that recognises and affirms volunteering and charitable work undertaken by young people from all backgrounds and circumstances.
Other youth volunteering programmes
- Macra na Ferime (Stalwarts of the Land)
Young Social Innovators is funded through several public and private sponsors, including the Department of Rural and Community Development.
Gaisce is a charitable organisation that receives funding from a number of public and private sponsors. The main public sponsor is the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
The Pope John Paul II Award is coordinated by the Derry Diocesan Catechetical Centre in Northern Ireland, and ran in schools and parishes throughout Ireland and the UK.
Localise is a not-for-profit company, supported by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability and Youth and the Office of Migrant Integration within the Department of Justice.
Recent information on youth volunteering in Ireland is limited. The National Volunteering Strategy sets out that by 2026 there will be an ‘increase in the evidence base of the quantity and demographic breakdown of volunteers, contribution to volunteers and the value and benefits of volunteering individuals, groups and communities.’ (pg. 40) To achieve this, the Strategy includes the medium term action of establishing a National Survey on Volunteering to provide baseline data on volunteers.
Statistics from the national database of volunteering opportunities, iVol, show that of 13,148 volunteers registered in 2016, 418 (3%) were aged 16-17 years old and 2,428 (18%) were aged 18-22 years.
A report published by the National Youth Council in 2011 titled ‘Lending a Hand: Young People and Volunteering’ found that the Transition Year (TY) programme in schools is the main place where young people get involved in volunteering activity. This is usually through national volunteering programmes such as The Gaisce Award (The Presidents Award) or the Young Social Innovators Initiative Programme.
Youth Volunteering and Covid-19
Since the call for volunteers to support the community response to COVID-19 went out in March 2020, over 30,000 indicated their willingness to volunteer in response t the crisis on the national volunteering database, I-VOL.Although there are no statistics on young persons volunteering during the pandemic, it should be presumed a percentage of newly registered volunteers were young persons.
The Gaisce Award adapted its programme entirely to reflect the Covid-19 realities facing young people and adopted the #GaisceAtHome or Gaisce Sa Bhaile initiative. This enabled young people to still receive their award in a Covid safe way.
There are no top-level policy measures to support young volunteers established in Ireland, to cover indirect expenses participants might incur. However, individual organisations may cover volunteer’s expenses. Legal rights protecting volunteers are covered by the Civil Law Bill 2010.
Volunteer Ireland manages Investing in Volunteers (IiV) which is the national quality standard for good practice in volunteer management, in the Republic of Ireland. The standards provide organisations with the framework to benchmark the quality of their volunteer programme.
- Guiding organisations in putting the necessary steps in place to improve volunteer retention;
- Helping organisations manage volunteer programmes more easily and effectively;
- Helping organisations with their reputation so volunteers want to be involved;
- Helping organisations deliver a quality service to their clients.
Volunteer Ireland is currently piloting a new user-friendly quality standard to support, recognise and reward groups who are good at involving volunteers. The award is funded by the National Volunteering Strategy and is designed to be accessible by organisations of all sizes.
Volunteering Ireland also develops and supports best practice in volunteering and Volunteer Centres. This includes the evaluation of Volunteer Centres according to the quality standard framework.
Young Social Innovators and the John Paul II Award target secondary school students. The Gaisce Award targets young people between the ages of 15-25 in Ireland.
The National Volunteering Strategy (2021-2025) states that it will ‘further promote, develop and nurture the role of volunteering across all youth age categories, from 12 to 25 years of age, and wider society,’ but does not target specific groups within youth participation.