We do not want to be Pollyannas! Although we know the benefits of working with children as volunteers, we recognize that there are always concerns among administrators and staff members to whom this may be a new concept. It is best to address these worries, try to find solutions wherever possible and weigh the pros and cons of the seemingly unsolvable ones. But at least clear the air. Make it comfortable for doubters to state their feelings. Let them know that others have had similar anxieties in establishing the groundwork for children volunteering in their agencies.
Be alert to expressed and unexpressed reservations and attempt to deal with these as early as possible. Stereotypes and fears about children in general may be just as problematic as resistance to volunteers of any age. With administrators and staff, you might compile a list of "possible problems when we involve children" and then examine each closely. Distinguish between initial, and therefore temporary, difficulties and possible ongoing concerns. Ask the staff to propose ways of handling each problem and assure them that you seriously listen to wnat they say. It is amazing how resistance fades just by giving people the chance to air their fears and by demonstrating that you understand and intend to deal with possible problem areas.
Separating Facts from Fears
In our 1991 survey of directors of volunteers, we asked those who were not recruiting under 14 year olds, why they weren't. Their responses included the following:
- This is an inappropriate setting for children.
- We cannot expose our confidential records and information.
- We don't have transportation for youth volunteers.
- The nature of this work is very delicate.
- Kids need more supervision than adults. We just don't have the manpower.
- It takes too much time and effort to recruit kids.
These are common concerns that often block forward thinking. Your goal is to separate facts from fears. For example, the issue of transportation may very well be a legitimate problem and you need to apply managerial problem-solving techniques to it (see page 28). But to address fears, you face the more difficult challenge of changing attitudes: helping people to broaden their perspectives.
- In a setting that may seem "inappropriate" because children are not part of normal service provision, point out supportive tasks that might be done. For example, in an adult correctional center, preteens could help out in the reception area when visitors come in with small children who need to be cared for or entertained during the visit.
- If you are concerned about confidential material, or "delicate business," let kids participate in indirect activities such as general maintenance, delivery, sorting supplies, etc.
- Acknowledge the time required to prepare and supervise youngsters, but describe your ideas for alleviating some of this burden on staff. (See the section on Supervision later in this chapter.)
After all these issues have been examined, it may also be a good idea to schedule training sessions to help employees become more comfortable in working with children as volunteers.
One important suggestion is to start small. It is good management practice to pilot test any new idea and this one is not exception. Once administrators and staff understand that only a few children will be recruited at the beginning, they will be more open to giving the project a chance. You might also set a date to evaluate initial progress and get everyone's feedback.
Do not forget that adult volunteers presently on board will also be affected by the new presence of children. Enlist these veteran's aid in generating ideas for tasks that could be done by youngsters and for many of the nitty-gritty implementation details. Give them a role in welcoming and supporting the boys and girls as co-workers.