I felt as though I was the most untrustworthy person on the planet.
– Shelter Scotland volunteer
This Volunteers’ Week, with the theme of ‘Volunteering for All’, I want to shine a light on the importance of having an inclusive approach to volunteers with convictions. At Shelter Scotland we are acutely aware of the significant barrier that criminal convictions can be for prospective volunteers, often as a result of self-doubt, misconceptions and stigma.
It goes without saying that we are committed to safeguarding the people who use our services, and the assessment of conviction history as part of our volunteer selection process is vital. To promote diversity in our volunteer team, however, it is also important to ensure that these convictions do not present an unnecessary barrier to prospective volunteers. We provide all volunteers with reassurance from the earliest opportunity that convictions will not necessarily prevent them from volunteering, and we adopt a very person-centred approach when assessing any potential risks that their convictions might present.
We are also formulating a response to the current Scottish Government consultation on the system for criminal disclosures which highlights the challenging experiences of some of our volunteers who have convictions.
Two of our volunteers, who wish to remain anonymous, have provided moving accounts detailing the impact of their convictions on their mental health, and the role of volunteering in helping them to overcome these issues.
‘As a result of extreme trauma, I acted totally out of character which resulted in making a poor decision which lead to me be convicted of theft. After this conviction I attended counselling where I was enabled enough to believe that I could change career and begin to help others who have faced similar adversity’s in life. I started to attend college, learning the theory behind working in the care sector, although I felt as though I was the most untrustworthy person on the planet.
After I had completed three years at college and I had the qualifications for many jobs in the sector I still felt unworthy and unable to apply for jobs. I joined the therapy group last year to gain support to increase my confidence for gaining employment. Having a conviction which I still felt ashamed of, had allowed me to build a negative perspective of myself which had a detrimental effect on my confidence and I thought how could I possibly ask anyone to employ me “A Thief”.
Attending therapy every week allowed me to start the process of healing while recognising the personal barriers that I had given myself stopping me from moving forward and gaining employment in the care sector. By the end of this six-week course I had gained the confidence to believe in the skills that I had gained through my work in college, and started to hand out my CV, amazingly had a call to confirm my first job interview on the final week of the course.
Unfortunately, this just lead me to get knocked right back to where I was before. Upon arriving for my interview I was nervous especially about telling them about my conviction as this information isn’t held on my CV, but I wanted to be as open and honest about it as possible so when I was asked to tell the interviewer about myself I told her about my conviction. Her reaction that followed confirmed to me every single doubt that I had ever had. She told me that the company that she represented “just wouldn’t employ someone like me”.
Feeling like my situation was hopeless and that I was destined to be held accountable for the rest of my life I returned to the therapy group for further guidance and to repair my dented confidence. Turning my negative experience into a lesson I could identify further barriers I had and this enabled me to learn and move on from this experience. I started to look inward and how I was presenting always over disclosing information was a defence mechanism.
Having identified this gave me the confidence to keep pushing on with further development and so I decided that to help with this I should volunteer to get myself back into the way of working again. Shelter Scotland gave me the opportunity to volunteer with them, allowing me to build a professional relationship and begin to work with people that understood the issues I had been facing and they helped me to slowly start to build the confidence once more to put myself out there into the world of work.
I have now started my volunteering and loving it, I have the confidence to go into a new situation knowing that I have the full support from my volunteer coordinator. I also now have someone who is willing to provide me with a professional reference, a vital component to obtaining new employment. Volunteering has truly enabled me to take the next step to putting my new skills and qualifications into practice and without it I would most definitely not be attending university or have the mindset to even be looking at the prospect of working.’
‘A few years ago I was lucky enough to be told about the Men’s Shed. At the time I was unemployed and ar a mental low from social isolation. A large part of the downward spiral came from a long history of mental health issues, being part of a family who were, and had been for many years, struggling with alcohol addiction. To top it all I unfortunately had a Criminal conviction.
I first came to the group as a peer supporter but after some time I realised I wanted to give back as much as possible though I was concerned about my past and capabilities. I had a discussion with Janice about it and we looked at what volunteering would involve, including commitment and training. It was explained to me a risk assessment would be carried out and the reasons. A disclosure was carried out and it was agreed I would be able to volunteer.
I realised that this was the one place where I would never be judged, I made a mistake which is in my past and now and have been given the opportunity not only to support others but to gain a sense of belonging. It is a new journey for me and one I hope to gain experience and skills I can take forward into my future.’