Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme

Engaging with under 18s

Claire Madden on Gen Z: Would they make good volunteers in hospice care?

Claire Madden is a social researcher, consultant and keynote speaker ( VolunteerHub asked her about young people and volunteering in end of life care. Here is what she said:

Generation Z (born 1995-2009) place value on purpose. They have grown up being told that they can change the world. But as I’ve spent many hours researching Gen Zs, many have said to me that they just don’t know how. They are the most materially endowed, formally educated, technologically savvy generation to ever grace the planet, and they’re told they were born to make a difference, yet they often lack the context or next steps on how to make this a reality.

Generation Z have been born into a technologically saturated world. They are logged on and linked up. It is estimated that a teenager today spends 2.7 hours connected to social media daily, with 56% checking social media at least five times per day, and 24% saying they are constantly connected. In my research, many Gen Zs have explained explaining to me the value they place on friendships and relationships, and how much of these interactions are increasingly occurring in the online space.

Yet what has been striking to me is how many Gen Zs acknowledge that they are ‘screen addicted’ and longingly look upon how older generations know how to switch off from technology, engage with the ‘real world’ and be present in the moment.

There are many layers to what is going on when a Gen Z is on their phone. There is socialisation, learning, entertainment, the making and maintaining of friendships. Much of this is positive. However one of the implications of Gen Z spending so much time online is that they have not grown up confident in the art of conversation. They have been able to effectively ‘hide’ behind a screen and in many cases have not developed well-formed resilience. They often have underdeveloped interpersonal communication skills in face to face contexts. They regularly comment on their short attention spans and inability to focus on one thing at a time. Research also has identified that there is a decline of empathy among younger generations due to the bombardment of content and desensitisation that occurs as a result.

The world Gen Z have been born into is no fault of their own – it is largely the result of the society previous generations have shaped for them. Healthy communities build on the strength of all generations, and are strengthened when these generations are working together.

How can we, as a community, provide a context and environment which will equip the emerging generations to be outstanding citizens? Perhaps if Gen Z were volunteers in areas like hospice care, not only would they have a context for purpose, but they would also no doubt grow in skills that have previously been underdeveloped, such as face to face communication, empathy and resilience as they develop meaningful connections with other people from a diversity of backgrounds, across different generations and who are facing great challenges in life.

Click here to see her post on VolunteerHub.

St Luke’s Volunteers in Partnership (VIP) Program

St Luke’s (Plymouth, UK) identified an opportunity to engage with local young people who were looking to improve their employment opportunities. Young people (under 18 years) were not typical of their volunteer cohort.

“Plymouth used to have lots of opportunities for employment with the presence of the Defence force industry, but when they left the local economy suffered”, said Gail Wilson Associate Director for Education and Development at St Luke’s.

“We learnt that young people were looking for work in the social sector, but they were being refused because of a lack of experience. They couldn’t get volunteer experience because they were told that they were too young, and volunteer services wouldn’t accept them. So they were stuck.”

St Luke’s decided to engage with the community as a part of their community engagement strategy ‘developing compassionate communities’. They did a lot of ‘myth-busting’ about the limitations of young people working as volunteers so as to have them fully accepted as volunteers within the hospice setting.

“To recruit we went to a lot of schools and colleges. We initially did the training in the schools, but we changed that, it was so distracting with all the noise and the bells!”

In total the project saw 120 volunteers contribute over 3,650 hours of user support in Health and Social care settings, which included things such as: painting nails, walking in the garden, reading, social inclusion, sitting with individuals as well as talking & listening, using iPad’s to keep in touch with family and friends – things that nurses and care staff would like to do but often don’t have the time to do.

They also took part other activities which included playing games, arts and crafts and assisting people at mealtimes, basically  ‘doing the little things that make a big difference’.

“Participants were limited to 2 hours per day, up to 16 hours per week.”

Coordinator Mel Londsdale said that although the volunteers initially wanted experience and references, their motivation soon moved beyond that because the young people’s experience exceeded their expectation.

“We have actually been surprised at how responsive our patients are to younger people,  we thought they might prefer an older person but actually that assumption didn’t prove true – and people are actually saying to us that their concerns have not come true, that they are as professional as any other volunteer would be.”

Watch their video to learn more: