Can your agency make it work with court mandated volunteers? Laura Rundell weighs the pros and cons
Many of us have struggled to effectively utilize volunteer applicants with court-mandated service in a way that is both beneficial and safe for our agency. Some of these volunteers may have brought much needed skills or labor to your volunteer program. Others led to more negative experiences that made us question if it is worth the risk to accept applicants with court mandated service. If you work for a social services agency, providing a “second chance” may also be part of your mission.
If you are evaluating your agency’s policy about court mandated volunteers, or are just looking to make your program as effective as possible, here are some points that might guide your team’s decision.
- Is your agency able to provide suitable supervision? If you serve youth, you have to weigh very different risk factors than if you organize community clean-ups, but in either case, volunteers (not just court mandated) must have some degree of supervision. Is your agency able to provide a level of supervision appropriate to the risk factor?
- What crimes will eliminate a court-mandated applicant from serving at your agency? Before you start accepting these applicants, it is helpful to decide what crimes will disqualify an applicant and be consistent about how you apply these rules.
- What process should all the applicants follow? Don’t assume that because a court referred them to your agency that they have done your homework for you. A court-mandated applicant may come to you because of a DUI, but could have other offenses in their past or in another state which may make them ineligible. If your agency runs clearances for volunteer applicants, it certainly makes sense to run them for court-mandated applicants as well. If your agency gets lots of applicants with mandated service, you may want to consider asking them to defray the cost of obtaining clearances, which can be considerable.
- What are your expectations of court-mandated applicants? As with any volunteer, you need to be up-front about your agency’s expectations (timelines, work quality, etc.) Make sure you communicate what is expected in order for you sign off that they satisfactorily completed their required hours.
- Who on your staff will provide the letter of service for the courts? Will it be the volunteer coordinator, or the staff with whom they work? In either case, you and your agency staff will have to work closely together to ensure that the applicant has truly fulfilled their requirements.
- Do you want volunteers to continue at your agency after they have fulfilled their mandated service? Many may simply wish to complete their hours and be done, but others may have talents and skills that your agency could continue to utilize after their required service is completed.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to this issue and certainly many factors to consider. I would love to continue this discussion as a profession.
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There IS a way to assess if court mandated volunteers will work for your program, http://twentyhats.com/?p=1883Using court mandated volunteers – Twenty Hats
Laura Rundell, CVA received her BA in Political Science from Earlham College. She spent five years working in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives before leaving to pursue her Masters degree from Northeastern University. She completed her certification in volunteer administration in 2013. Lauraran the volunteer program at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, PA which received a citation from the Mayor in honor of the volunteers’ contributions to the community.
In 2013, Laura relocated to Connecticut where she works as Volunteer Coordinator for LifeBridge Community Services in Bridgeport, CT.