Australia Facing Volunteer ‘Paradox’
29 October 2015 at 9:50 am
Australia is facing a volunteer crisis with the elderly volunteers that provide care and support to vulnerable people in rural communities facing burnout, according to an international expert.
Director of the Trent Center for Ageing and Society in Canada, Professor Mark Skinner, said a “paradox” was emerging for Australia's ageing rural communities.
Professor Skinner is in Australia as a guest speaker at the national conference of the Australian Association of Gerontology, speaking in Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and the Northern Territory about the challenges facing Australia and Canada.
“We have a situation in rural Australia and in Canada, where the reliance on volunteering is often promoted as a way of addressing gaps in rural public services as well as the lack of rural health and social care professionals,” Professor Skinner said.
“This paradox of relying on an increasingly older pool of volunteers to support ageing rural populations is a serious problem, and one that I am trying to solve.”
Professor Skinner is working in conjunction with researchers from Australia, Canada and Ireland to develop policies and practices on the age-friendliness of rural communities.
“On the one hand, what small towns lack in formal services, they make up for in the supportive nature of the rural community,” he said.
“Volunteering and volunteer-based initiatives have the potential to integrate older people within their communities and are often the key to the sustainability of ageing rural communities.”
Professor Skinner warned there was a very real danger facing older people living in rural Australia if governments continues to justify a heavy reliance on volunteering without taking into account the challenges of doing so.
“We have to resolve the paradox that while many rural communities do not have the capacity for volunteerism, the reality is that a reliance on volunteers continues to influence health policy, research and practice, creating a double jeopardy for vulnerable older people living in vulnerable rural places,” he said.