Research claims that hugs are good for the development of kids and their self-confidence. However, I recently learned that when you volunteer with children in the UK, hugging the little kids is off limits, even for comfort, or just simply random excitement.
Before I came to Edinburgh, I knew I wanted to join a volunteer organization to learn about social issues affecting this area. During the fresher’s fair on the first week of uni, I signed up for an organization called Children’s Holiday Venture, where volunteers take children from surrounding disadvantaged communities on evening trips, day trips, and weekend trips. As I have volunteered with children in both Maryland and in Taiwan before, I wanted to see how volunteering with children is different across different cultures, especially concerning how different cultures are concerned with the safety of vulnerable groups. Working with children and vulnerable populations often involve some sort of check on the volunteers to make sure that they are protected against potential harm.
In Scotland, volunteering or working with children involves an application to be a member of the Protecting Vulnerable Group scheme (PVG). During the first society meeting, the committee members explained that to apply for the PVG, you must have 2 forms of photo ID, 2 references, and an application form. I was surprised at how much stuff they ask you, and there was even a question on what your mother’s maiden name is. Surprisingly, this application could take as long as 2 month to go through. (I’m still waiting!) In the US, all we need is a background check and is often super fast to get the results. However, a stark contrast to the UK and US is that in Taiwan, no sort of background check or reference is needed to work with children. Volunteering is not very popular in Taiwan, mainly because children are not encouraged to volunteer in their schooling years. Therefore, I am unsure whether it is the mentality of Asians that there are not enough volunteers, so anyone who has the heart and time to volunteer can join, or that no offenses against the vulnerable groups has occurred before, so a scheme is not needed.
They also explained the long list of what we are legally allowed to do with children and what we are not. There were a lot of rules that I found a little outrageous, especially after volunteering in other cultures, such as the one I already said above, you cannot hug a child, even if they are happy or sad. Considering that most of the children participating are from disadvantaged families, they are sometimes neglected from parental care, and need extra attention. From my point of view and interactions with children in the US and Taiwan, I would think that they need more attention and affection. Furthermore, the rules say you cannot be “friends” with them outside of the volunteer times, you cannot add them on social media, you have to have at least two volunteers with one child, and the list of “don’ts” go on and on.
In Taiwan, I worked with a group of children with autism, and we were not allowed to post pictures of them. Another group of middle schoolers I taught English to all added the volunteers on Facebook, and even tried to message us. The Ministry of Interior promotes the safety of children in Taiwan; however, there still needs to be campaigns to raise awareness of their safety. The huge contrast among different cultures is interesting to analyze.
I understand that many of the Scottish rules are for liability issues, but I would like to investigate more on how their culture has affected these rules. I would also want to investigate more on how this complicated scheme came about and changed overtime.