All volunteers need to strive to establish a rapport with service users and provide support that optimises the potential for service users to meet their basic human needs. However, volunteers are responsible for ensuring that professional boundaries between themselves and service users are established and maintained. The intention is to achieve a shared understanding of acceptable and unacceptable practice, enabling clear and consistent standards to be applied.
All volunteers are individually responsible for applying and maintaining appropriate professional boundaries in their day-to-day work and for raising any associated issues or training needs with the Support Coordinator or Chair.
Working with Women and their Carers (referred to in this document as service users)
The professional context for working with services users by describing basic values and principles that govern professional practice are outlined as follows:
Boundaries define the limits of behaviour, which allow a volunteer and a service user to engage safely in a supportive caring relationship. These boundaries are based upon trust, respect and the appropriate use of power.
The relationship between volunteers and service users is a caring relationship that must focus solely upon meeting the needs of the service user. It is not established to build personal or social contacts for volunteers. Moving the focus of care away from meeting service users’ needs towards meeting the volunteers own needs is an unacceptable abuse of power.
On occasions volunteers may develop an attachment towards a particular service user. While this may be natural the volunteer should ensure that this does not lead to a breach of professional boundaries. Volunteers should be encouraged to discuss these kinds of difficulties with the Support Coordinator or Chair.
Volunteers must never overstep professional boundaries and confuse befriending with friendship. All volunteers must be aware of the difference between:
Befriending a service user – which is a professional relationship, made to meet service user’s needs, and
Becoming a service user’s friend – which is a relationship that focuses on the needs of both people. A professional relationship focuses solely on the needs of the service user.
Volunteers are engaged by HG Ireland to work with service users as part of a contract of commitment and it is potentially an abuse of power to represent the relationship as a friendship. However after support has ended it would be appropriate to engage in friendships with women if both parties agree to this.
Similarly, volunteers must be aware of the difference between being a counsellor and using counselling skills (such as active listening with a non-judgmental approach) that are appropriate for the delivery of care and support. Counselling is not an appropriate role for volunteers unless you have been tasked and trained specifically to counsel.
Where it is appropriate that a service user may be in need of additional counselling, not related to the services provided by HG Ireland, they should be given support on accessing other appropriate agencies.
Information and Exploring Options
Volunteers must ensure service users feel in control of what support they seek. HG Ireland volunteers should provide sufficient information and explore options with service users they are supporting to enable them to make an informed choice rather than encouraging particular actions. Where more directive information is offered, for example in a situation where there is a potential for physical harm or danger, this should be done in a non-judgemental manner.
Volunteers should be aware that they are not qualified to give advice. If advice is sought by the service user the volunteers should inform the service user of this, making every effort to assist them in accessing appropriate and/or qualified advice through the HG Ireland trustees and staff, the HG Ireland website, the health service or other appropriate organisations.
Volunteers must be careful not to influence service users with their own beliefs and personal values. Volunteers should also be aware of their potential to influence vulnerable and/or impressionable service users.
Although morality, religion and politics are common areas of conversation and service users may wish to discuss their views with volunteers, volunteers should never promote or impose their own views. Although it is our intention to support women through their pregnancies and hope to reduce the need for termination due to HG we are a pro choice organisation.
Volunteers should be seen as approachable, open to fair challenge and criticism, and available to engage in meaningful dialogue. They should not be seen as intimidating or inaccessible people. Service users must not be discouraged from accessing support or from making complaints.
Volunteers must respect service users’ rights to privacy, and be sensitive and responsive to any different personal and cultural needs for privacy that may arise.
Volunteers can use their own discretion when deciding whether to disclose their personal experiences to service users however it is vital that this is kept brief and the focus remains on the needs of the service user. Volunteers must not divulge any personal information about other HG Ireland Volunteers/Staff/Trustees.
If volunteers feel they need further support around their own issues of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy or hyperemesis gravidarum they should contact the Support Coordinator or Chair.
HG Ireland volunteers should approach touching (i.e. hugging, holding someone’s hand) with care and caution. Where touching does occur it must take place within the professional boundaries of the service. Some service users may misinterpret physical contact as affection outside the professional relationship. All volunteers should therefore be aware that physical contact risks being misunderstood and it may result in volunteers being vulnerable to allegations of inappropriate professional behaviour. In all service contexts where touching occurs it must only take place within the context of a professional relationship and with the service user’s agreement. Volunteers should be careful to assess the appropriateness of such interactions and ensure that they are meeting the service user’s needs and not their own.
Volunteers must not enter into any financial transactions with service users including buying, selling, exchanging or bartering goods or services. Volunteers must not lend their personal money or possessions to service users. Volunteers must not borrow money or possessions from service users. Volunteers should not handle money on behalf of service users. Volunteers should not agree to become trustees, beneficiaries or executors in relation to the wills of service users.
Relationships and contact with service users within work
Where volunteers know service users prior to entering the service, the volunteer must inform the Support Coordinator or Chair.
Relationships and contact with service users outside work
Volunteers must never allow service users to visit their homes.
Volunteers must not encourage service users to develop relationships with the volunteer’s relatives or friends.
Volunteers must not give service users their personal contact details, for example postal address.
Volunteers must not give service users the personal contact details of any colleague.
‘Gossip’ or hearsay should not feature as an aspect of HG Ireland culture and should be actively discouraged among volunteers, staff and service users.
Volunteers must never share personal details about other volunteers/staff with service users.
Volunteers must never discuss other volunteers/staff members with service users.
Volunteers must never discuss service users with other service users and other third parties.
Breaches of Boundaries Guidance/Complaints
Any breach of the boundaries guidance/complaints against staff or volunteers will be taken seriously and will be handled in line with HG Ireland’s Complaints Policy and Procedure.