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Interview with Mentor

Newly qualified social worker Jo Millar talks about the benefits that she gained from volunteering as a mentor in Children's Services.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Children’s Services?

I had started an access course at college and was interested in Social Work, one of the mum’s at school told me that Children’s Services were looking for volunteers. I applied because I loved the idea of doing direct work with young people and children. I was volunteering for about 3 years before I completed my degree and supported several young people during that period.

What does a Volunteer Mentor do?

You are matched up with a young person, who is supported in some way by Children’s Services and you meet up with them on a regular basis. I would usually try and meet my mentee once a week for a few hours.

My main objective was to just spend time with them, give them the space and opportunity to feel listened to and heard and to do some nice things with them too. Sometimes you are providing them with little things that often we take for granted, even something little like going in a car or going for a hot chocolate in a coffee shop. 

What did you like about being a mentor?

I really enjoyed the process of building a positive relationship with the young people and providing them with a safe space of their own to talk about their worries and feelings. I had volunteered in different roles in my local community before, however being a volunteer mentor was by far the most rewarding thing I’d done.

You’re somebody that’s taking an interest in their lives, that just wants to focus on them with no agenda and they may never have had that before, that’s special. I just think you give items to charity shops and you don’t necessarily see the effect of that but when you are a VM, you can actually see the positive impact that ‘donating’ your time has on the young people’s lives, you can see them becoming more confident or feeling happier or calmer. 

Did the experience support your journey into social work?

Being a volunteer mentor gave me insight into the kind of social worker I wanted to be. The role enabled me to listen to young people’s stories about their experiences of social care and gain an understanding of their perspective. 

I remember having a walk on a beach one day with a young person and they said to me that they know that nobody loves them. You don’t forgot those things and your role is to let them have that time to provide the opportunity to air that. So yes, I really I feel that I have been able to take their experiences through to my own social worker role.

How did you manage to juggle family life with studying & volunteering?

It was actually really easy to fit in with my family and studying, I could make it work because the majority of the time I would go after university or after the children’s teatime. It’s very adaptable and flexible because you are just trying to find a few hours a week that both you and your mentee can meet. 

What advice would you give to anyone thinking about volunteering?

I would say, do it, it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever experience and if you are considering a change of career, then it’s an extra bonus that it can offer a real insight into children’s perspectives in social care.

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