Volunteering and Re-integrating adults
I made a leap of faith from the private sector to the third sector just over 9 months ago. I wanted my 40 hours a week to actually have an impact in real terms….not profit….but people. So I came to work for wHoo Cares, a small organisation with big dreams. With a team of only 3 staff and 30 volunteers, our aim is to tackle social isolation and support vulnerable adults in a rural area of Medway. Previously I worked for a facilities management company that employed over 300 staff and although I managed staff I had a wonderful HR department that I could turn to for support. We butted heads a few times but at the end of the day they had the knowledge and experience to make the right decisions and it was their call. The buck stopped with them….
Now I find myself a bit lost without them and here’s why.
I want to give ex-offenders the chance to give back to their communities and tackle the social isolation they feel because of a crime they have committed in the past. I know as a sector we embrace diversity and we understand the value of recognising our individual differences. We know the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity. Diversity is the exploration of these differences in a safe, positive and nurturing environment. It’s about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual. I have taken these words from the definition of diversity and I am sure you will agree they are empowering and welcoming words. Ex-offender however is not a characteristic, it’s a definition of someone with a criminal record or history.
This term flies in the face of best messaging practice. It a legal definition and used widely but any word that begins with ‘ex’ already suggests something unwanted, excised, something we choose to be away from. ‘Offender’ feels both personal and vague. Put together ‘ex-offender’ leaves one feeling as though its over and done with but ‘let’s leave that tag hanging there on the back of their heads’ so that no one can forget or perhaps move on from that crime. It reduces that persons humanity by defining them as though they were only that one negative element. This is not true, there are many layers to an individual and in my experience people that that are reintegrating into society can bring real commitment and a passion to make a difference. Often they have a deep rooted need to feel worthwhile and accepted and make for truly dedicated volunteers.
So my first step on this journey is to replace that term of ‘ex-offender’ to something else. Re-entering adults or re-integrating adults; Justice-served individuals; Men/women rejoining communities. That sounds so much better doesn’t it? What term would you use? Will you do the same?
My journey, the journey of wHoo Cares and the journey of re-integrating adults in our organisation has just began. Working with re-integrating adults meets our organisation aims and objectives of tackling social isolation but honestly, without the support of a HR team or a big pot of money for professional advice, we are struggling.
We already work with a few re-integrating adults, some with unspent convictions but, as we don’t have the experience, we have had to put limitations on what roles they can become involved with and this is limiting their ability to actually work within their community. They know its because of that ‘tag behind their heads’, they also understand the limitations but it doesn’t stop their or our frustrations at not being able to do more.
The main problem is the impact of risk. Having eliminated the elements surrounding the crime that are no longer part of the persons life, having obtained a DBS certificate to establish they are not on the barred list and after actually getting to know these people (yes, lets not forget the general human interaction of getting to know someone on a personal level) our risk assessment is that there is a very low risk to our service users. However should it go wrong the impact could be huge, so those limitations…. at the moment…. seem appropriate, but we want to do more and this is where our leap of faith is somewhat like a game of hop scotch. Up and down and side to side, collecting little stones of information on the way in a chalky frame that is not solid. Having spoken to other organisations we are not alone and its seems as if we are all waiting for that first person to jump, show us its going to be ok and then we can all follow. I want to to make that leap, it’s something I feel passionate about so initially I am joining the drive to tackle barriers and engage more re-integrating adults into volunteering.
Maybe together, sharing advice and experiences and supporting each other we can actually make that difference that we all want to.
I will share our journey and hope you will join me and share yours.
Author: Michelle Trumper, wHoo Cares
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