The federal government’s scheme for volunteer visits to aged care residents has undergone a recent brand name change and an expansion with extra funding. Debbie Sage, Wills and Estates Senior Associate and Accredited Aged Care Professional at Attwood Marshall Lawyers, is a passionate supporter of this vital service and explores the changes here.
A rebrand to reflect a commitment to fostering a sense of community, inclusiveness and participation
Too many elderly people experience isolation in their aged care facility or at home, with no social visits besides their carers, who are primarily there for health and safety reasons.
However, the benefits for the elderly of seeing a friendly face, having a warm conversation, and forming genuine connections cannot be underestimated.
So, it’s great news that the federal government has set aside an additional $34.4 million to expand the Community Visitors Scheme and have renamed it the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVV).
The changes kicked in on 1 July 2023, and were a key recommendation out of 2021’s Royal Commission Aged Care Quality and Safety final report.
The report identified the importance of the government-funded program and its aim to enhance the well-being of elderly people who live in aged care homes or receive home care packages.
At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we are extremely passionate about the ACVV scheme because it provides friendship and companionship for older people who are at a heightened risk of social isolation.
We’ve seen firsthand the effect that loneliness and seclusion has on older Australians. When an individual asks us to come visit again because they don’t have many friends or family members to spend quality time with, we are more than happy to take the time and check up on them, utilizing the benefits of this volunteer scheme and forming relationships in the process.
Overview of the scheme
Set up in 1992, the Community Visitors Scheme helps organisations recruit volunteers for one-on-one visits to older people who are socially isolated in government-subsidised residential aged care. Since 2013, it has also provided group visits to homes and expanded to recipients of home care packages.
Now called the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme, it is a significant contribution to the local community.
As part of the rebrand, the government has published new guidelines setting out the aims of the program, eligibility requirements and the roles and responsibilities of the health department, social services, aged care providers, coordinators, and volunteers.
The social visits are designed to complement the role of aged care workers, offering non-clinical services with a big focus on friendship and companionship. They help to build a sense of community while also bridging the gap between generations.
Older people can refer themselves to the program or be referred by providers, family or friends.
Responsibilities of providers and coordinators
There are certain roles and responsibilities that aged care providers need to be aware of under the scheme. For example, providers are in charge of checking that a volunteer has undergone screening checks and had the required vaccinations before they are allowed to visit.
Providers should treat ACVVS volunteers akin to a friend or family member visiting to provide companionship. They should not be considered part of the aged care provider volunteer workforce that must complete training and have their personal details registered in a database.
Importantly, if an ACVVS volunteer is unfairly denied access to a facility, the provider will be in breach of their legislative responsibilities under Aged Care Principles 1997 and User Rights Principles 2014.
The bulk of the day-to-day management of the scheme sits with community organisations. They are called auspices and are the ones who develop and maintain the internal policies and procedures that help run the program.
The government publishes a full list of auspices on the scheme website, so volunteers will know who to contact in their local area.
These auspices are given federal funding through grants and oversee the recruitment and training of volunteer visitors. They include the Australian Red Cross Society, Feros Care, Northern Rivers Community Gateway, St John Ambulance Australia Queensland, Volunteering Gold Coast, and St Vincent’s Care Services.
How to become a volunteer visitor
Interested in becoming an ACCVS visitor or know of someone that could be interested?
The new guidelines set out a list of ideal characteristics. Volunteers should, for example, be able to genuinely empathise with and understand the elderly. They should have strong communication skills, including by being attentive listeners, be committed to building lasting relationships and contributing to the program itself – all while being adaptable and flexible in the time they can give.
To join the program, prospective volunteers need to contact an auspice in their area, who will assess their suitability and carry out a national criminal history record check (unless the individual has already been screened on the National Disability Insurance Scheme). A reference check may also be needed.
Auspices are also likely to provide prospective volunteers with a questionnaire about their interests and background, so that they can match each volunteer with the right aged care resident in need of companionship.
The latest guidelines list several restrictions of the role that volunteers must be aware of. These include not accessing a resident’s personal or care records, not providing nursing care, not replacing activities or therapy staff, and not interfering in the day-to-day running of the aged care service.
The visits, which should be informal and relaxed, should take place for at least one hour every two weeks, and the volunteer will normally need to report back to their scheme coordinator.
Suggested activities include:
- Talking and sharing stories over a cup of coffee or tea;
- Reading a book out loud;
- Playing a board game or a card game;
- Listening to music;
- Watching a TV show together;
- Going for a walk or drive;
- Attending a community event; or
- Visiting a gallery or other places of interest.
The Australian Red Cross also provides a similar service through their own Community Visitors Scheme, which team members of Attwood Marshall Lawyers have used several times for clients. The buddy program has been running for over 30 years and pairs over-70s with volunteers across the country.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – helping people at every stage of life
Our lawyers are proud advocates for the safety and wellbeing of the elderly community. We are keen supporters of volunteer visitor programs which help to improve the mental health and self-esteem of residents who are in need of good company. Many aged care residents experience isolation due to mobility problems, language or cultural barriers, or a lack of friends or family nearby.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers is proud to boast one of the largest and most experienced Elder Law, Aged Care, and Wills and Estates departments in Australia.
We represent clients who live in aged care facilities or who are preparing for their transition into aged care. We can provide estate planning expertise and retirement planning advice, as well as assist executors and administrators with the administration process after someone passes away.
If you know anyone who needs legal advice about estate planning, retirement choices or transitioning to aged care, we are here to help. Please contact our Aged Care and Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email firstname.lastname@example.org or free call 1800 621 071.