Children: adorable, starry-eyed, little bundles of…liability. Just kidding. While we know that volunteering empowers youth, helps them feel more connected to their communities and is strongly correlated to a higher high-school graduation rate, as the volunteer coordinator there are still a number of concerns (and some cautionary steps) you’ll want to properly address before lowering that age restriction on your volunteer registration form. Let’s dive in.
First things first. Above all else, the safety and well-being of the youth involved must be a top priority for organizations that choose to work with volunteers who are under the age of 18. Create waivers for parental release, communicate clearly with school officials if the volunteer experience is scheduled as a class trip, and identify if there are any students in attendance with special medical needs or dietary restrictions. Youth volunteers under the age of 6 must be chaperoned by an adult.
Word. Staying in touch with youth volunteers can be tricky. Elementary and middle-school aged children may have email, but that doesn’t mean they check it. They do, however, regularly check Facebook. Fully 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites (Pew Research Center). It’s a good idea to ask these volunteers to share their Facebook names (which can sometimes differ from their real names), alongside parents’ contact information and perhaps even school IDs if the hours are being applied towards graduation.
Done-zo! Not quite. The last and final piece of this process is the job itself: youth volunteers can’t always be expected to perform the same duties as adults. The obvious conflicts aside (serving alcohol or heavy lifting), some positions are just too dull for youth volunteers. Try to get them involved using their hands and creative minds – children love art tents, interacting with nature and building things. You can even have children volunteer to assist other children with crafts at your event. Keep in mind the kind of positions that will interest youth volunteers, because that’s the quickest way to instill in them positive connotations with volunteer work and community involvement at a young age.