What is it?
Volunteers can play important roles in community-wide efforts to improve outcomes for children and families. In A Better Start, local partnerships are developing approaches to actively involve volunteers in service design, co-production and service delivery.
The Big Lottery Fund commissioned Parents 1st, the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) and Oxford University to carry out an evidence review to explore if and how volunteering, peer support and ‘community champions’ projects can support child development outcomes.
The review identified that volunteer projects operating in the early childhood sector can:
- Significantly contribute to child development outcomes in ways that are distinct from, but complementary to professional support
- Engage and build relationships of trust and equality with parents – especially those who do not engage with other services – and help to create the conditions that can lead to systems change.
The review is accompanied by an implementation toolkit to support the design, development and implementation of volunteering programmes that improve outcomes in pregnancy and early childhood. The toolkit, which draws upon implementation science, can also be applied to other areas of volunteering practice.
Key principles of effective volunteering projects
- Strengths-based: with an emphasis on empowering parents to gain the information, confidence and skills they need to find solutions and become the best parents they can be
- Relationship-based: developing trust between everyone involved
- Reciprocal: ensuring that everyone affected by the project feels their voice is heard and that they contribute to and benefit from being a part of the project
- Evidence-based but adaptive: rooted in evidence of what works, based on a theory of change and constantly reflecting, and prepared to innovate and adapt to local contexts
- Collaborative: aware of the distinctive roles of professional and volunteer support and working cooperatively with local professionals
- Clear about parameters: the aims and the boundaries of the volunteer projects are clearly articulated and understood by everyone involved including commissioners.
How local areas can use the Volunteer Evidence Review
The implementation toolkit, supports local areas to use the findings from the evidence review in practice to develop and deliver volunteer projects.