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LAST MODIFIED ON: 12/08/2020 - 11:58
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There is no national strategy specifically for youth volunteering in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Strategy for Youth Work, Priorities for Youth, states that effective youth work can help overcome barriers to learning by providing further opportunities for young people to gain qualifications, volunteer as junior leaders and develop a range of skills and attributes that can help them improve their life outcomes as individuals and as contributors to their community and the wider economy. The focus for the age range 19-25 is on issue-based programmes or volunteering and leadership opportunities.
The Northern Ireland Executive’s Department for Social Development (now the Department for Communities) established an all-age volunteering strategy, entitled Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future in 2012. This includes actions for the period between 2012-16 in support of the objective of ‘Enhancing Accessibility and Diversity’ to ‘enable children and young people to become involved in volunteering and help them develop skills and gain experience through their voluntary activity’. The Northern Ireland government website continues to refer to this volunteering strategy as current. (At the time of writing, June 2020.)
Volunteer Now, Northern Ireland’s leading organisation for promoting volunteering, sets out objectives for its volunteering strategy for 2017 to 2020. This includes achieving a 10% increase in the number of new volunteers recruited. In particular a 5% increase in the number of young people, older people and people with a registered disability.
Other official documents containing guidelines on youth volunteering
Compliance with charity legislation
Most of the organisations providing volunteering opportunities for young people are charities. Charities must comply with duties placed on them by legislation. The key pieces of legislation are the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 and the amendments made to it by the Charities Act (Northern Ireland) 2013. These pieces of legislation set out how all charities in Northern Ireland are registered and regulated. In particular, they must provide value for money and have a charitable purpose which must be for the public benefit. See the section on ‘Financial accountability’ in the article on ‘Funding Youth Policy’ for further details.
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland has published a Good Governance Code (revised in 2016), which sets out the principles and key elements of good governance for the boards of voluntary and community organisations. As charities, organisations providing volunteering opportunities for young people are expected to adopt the principles of good governance in order to demonstrate a willingness and ability to act in the best interests of the organisation, ensuring the operation of effective, open and ethical processes which adhere to the law and stand up to scrutiny.
The Code sets out the five key principles that form its basis, together with the most important supporting characteristics. They are that an effective board will provide good governance and leadership by:
- understanding its role and responsibilities
- working well both as individuals and as a team
- ensuring delivery of organisational purpose
- exercising appropriate control
- behaving with integrity and by being open and accountable.
Any organisation providing opportunities for youth volunteering must include safeguarding and safer recruitment in their governance and operational arrangements. This includes checking the suitability of those working with children and vulnerable adults. AccessNI, a branch of the Department of Justice, carries out the vetting checks in Northern Ireland. It offers three types of disclosure: basic, standard and enhanced. The enhanced disclosure is required for those working in direct contact with children.
The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order 2007, as amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, defines ‘regulated activity’ with children and adults as work which a barred person must not undertake. It is a criminal offence for a barred person to seek or undertake work from which they are barred, and it is an offence for organisations to knowingly employ a staff member or involve a volunteer in regulated activity if they are barred.
Guidance on vetting arrangements for those working with children and young people has been published by Volunteer Now: Disclosure and Barring in Northern Ireland:- Working with Children and Young People.
Health and safety
Organisations / employers using volunteers have a duty of care towards them. Assessing and managing risk is a key part of this duty.
In Northern Ireland, people in (or seeking) paid employment are legally protected from discrimination. The legal protection does not extend to volunteers.
However, organisations are expected to benchmark their current practice against equality standards. Volunteer Now has worked with the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland to establish these; details are available in Promoting Equality and Diversity in Volunteering. The standards complement the framework used in 'Investing in Volunteers', the UK Quality Standard for volunteers.
The Northern Ireland Executive’s vision for all-age volunteering, set out in the all-age Volunteering Strategy in 2012 (still referred to as current in June 2020), is of a society where:
- everyone values the vital contribution that volunteers make to community well-being
- everyone has the opportunity to have a meaningful, enjoyable volunteering experience.
The vision is underpinned by the following values:
- Fairness and Equity: volunteering enhances social inclusion and good relations. It should be open to everyone.
- The importance of free will/choice: volunteering is a matter of free choice and there should be no compulsion to take part.
- Mutual Benefit: volunteering is a shared experience. It is rewarding and of benefit to the volunteer in building skills, confidence and extending social networks. Volunteering is of benefit to society in contributing to the building of social capital and progressive social change.
The strategy is organised around five objectives and their priority actions (listed below). The objectives take into account the impact volunteering has across a range of policy areas (community cohesion, sport, education, criminal justice, health, and urban and rural development) and of concerns that participation in volunteering is not increasing.
The stated objectives and priorities are:
- Recognising the value and promoting the benefits of volunteering
- building public recognition for volunteering
- recruiting more volunteers
- measuring the impact of volunteer involvement on volunteers, individuals, organisations and society
- seeking to protect volunteering from the unintended negative consequences of legislation and government policy
- Enhancing accessibility and diversity
- ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to volunteer and that volunteering is representative of the diversity of [the Northern Ireland] community
- Improving the experience of volunteering
- improving volunteer management practice
- increasing the number and quality of volunteering opportunities
- encouraging and support the development of skills by volunteers
- extending volunteering in the public sector
- Supporting and strengthening the volunteering infrastructure
- providing effective infrastructure support to volunteering
- Delivering the strategy
- creating a comprehensive investment programme to deliver the strategy
- delivering the strategy in an effective, accountable way reflecting its cross cutting nature
- identifying a volunteering champion.
The strategy does not make any explicit references to youth volunteering. However, it is clear that it encompasses youth volunteering and youth organisations, since the Youth Council for Northern Ireland and YouthNet (merged with ‘Get Connected’ in 2016 to become The Mix) are included in the membership of the volunteering strategy steering group.
The Department for Communities is responsible for implementing the volunteering strategy. It aims to align activities across government, the voluntary sector and other stakeholders to re-energise and increase levels of volunteering. The strategy, which is accompanied by an action plan, aims to create the conditions under which volunteering activity within Northern Ireland can develop and flourish.
Join In, Get Involved: Build a Better Future: the Volunteering Strategy for Northern Ireland is the first volunteering strategy developed in Northern Ireland. The then Department for Social Development established a steering group with representation from the public, voluntary and community, faith-based, business, sports and arts sectors to develop it.