Become a volunteer
Since its establishment in 1986, the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate (OPA) has promoted the rights, interests and dignity of people with disability (specifically intellectual impairment, mental disorder, brain injury, physical disability or dementia) living in Victoria.
The Public Advocate, OPA staff and OPA volunteers provide services for people with disability through advocacy, guardianship, advice, education, information, research and support.
OPA's 900 volunteers are from a variety of backgrounds, age groups, and communities. They work across three programs: Community Visitor Program, Independent Third Persons Program and the Community Guardianship Program. They fulfil their responsibilities with professionalism, compassion, and with the best interests of people with disability in mind at all times.
Volunteering for OPA could be right for you if you:
- are seeking a challenging and rewarding voluntary role
- want to make a difference to a person with disability
- want to stand up for the rights of people with disability
- are comfortable talking to people with disability or mental illness
- can commit to a few hours each week for at least two years as a volunteer (all OPA volunteer roles are long-term)
- have good communication skills.
How does OPA support volunteers?
OPA supports volunteers by providing:
- comprehensive induction and ongoing training
- support and advice
- manuals, guides, fact sheets and other educational resources relevant to your role
- an online ‘hub’ that supports your work
- a regular online volunteer newsletter
- insurance while undertaking OPA duties
- access to counselling through OPA’s employee assistance program.
OPA is a professional volunteer service and has clear requirements.
Potential volunteers must be at least 18 years old and be prepared to:
- participate in an interview if shortlisted
- undergo a National Police Check (paid for by OPA)
- complete a Working with Children Check (if required for the role)
- commit to a minimum of two years’ service (with the exception of the OVAL Project which is a 12-month volunteering role)
- be flexible and available to undertake duties as required
- complete all necessary training and attend regular ongoing training and education
- sign and agree to OPA’s Volunteer Code of Conduct and confidentiality agreement
- keep contact details current
- provide own transport and travel within their region.
Volunteers are placed in their local region so that the service provided to people with disability is local and responsive.
If you are studying or seeking paid employment and are considering volunteering, it is important to be aware that being an OPA volunteer requires flexibility and a commitment of two years. Therefore OPA's volunteer roles are not suitable for short-term placements or as part of a course.
Community Visitors visit Victorian accommodation facilities for people with disability or mental illness in their local area. They monitor and report on the adequacy of the services provided and, where possible, communicate with residents or patients to ensure they are being treated with dignity and respect.
Community Visitors are Victorian Governor in Council appointees, are appointed for a three-year term, and have significant powers of entry and inspection.
They visit unannounced and write a brief report at the conclusion of the visit detailing who they have spoken to, what documents they have looked at, any issues of concern, as well as good practice they have observed.
The responsibilities of Community Visitor volunteers include:
- spending 8-10 hours per month visiting facilities
- enquiring into the quality of services and care provided to residents or patients
- observing and, where possible communicating with residents or patients and staff, to identify problems
- ensuring that the treatment and service given to residents or patients maintains their dignity and respect
- assessing the opportunities available to residents or patients to participate in recreational and educational activities
- assessing whether living environments put patients or residents at risk
- following up on complaints and concerns raised by residents or patients
- liaising with staff and management to resolve identified issues
- referring broader or more serious issues to OPA.
Community Visitor streams
There are three streams in the Community Visitor program: disability services, mental health and supported residential services.
Community Visitors visit group homes in the general community that house four to six residents who usually have some form of cognitive impairment such as an intellectual disability.
Community Visitors visit inpatient facilities such as psychiatric units in public hospitals. These may include: adult mental health units, child and adolescent mental health units, mother and baby units, eating disorder units, aged mental health units, community care units, and prevention and recovery centres.
Supported Residential Services (SRS)
Community Visitors visit premises where accommodation and personal support are privately provided or offered to residents for a fee. This does not include aged care facilities, retirement villages, or disability accommodation services that are funded by the Commonwealth government. The number of people in SRS can range from five to 60. The people living in a SRS may include people with a mental illness, intellectual disability, acquired brain injury or drug and alcohol problems.
Independent Third Persons (ITPs) attend police interviews for adults and young people with disability to ensure that they are not disadvantaged during the interview process. The person being interviewed may be a victim, witness or alleged offender.
Police interviews often require people to comprehend complex issues and information quickly, understand their legal rights, and be able to communicate with people in positions of authority.
ITPs are trained to support and assist the person with disability through the interview process. This support may involve:
- facilitating communication between the person and police
- providing assistance to contact a lawyer, relative or friend if requested
- helping the person understand their rights and any legal advice given
- informing police if they observe that the person does not fully understand their rights or circumstances at any stage of the process
- ensuring the person understands the questions asked by police, which may involve requesting the police to rephrase a question
- requesting a break during an interview if the person is becoming distressed or is unable to concentrate.
ITPs are independent of the police process and cannot instruct a person with disability on how to deal with the issue they are facing or provide legal advice.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) appoint guardians for people with disability. Wherever possible VCAT will appoint a relative or friend as guardian, but in certain cases, VCAT may appoint the Public Advocate.
The Public Advocate can then delegate this power of guardianship to a guardian employed by OPA or to a volunteer participating in the OPA Community Guardian program.
The key responsibilities of Community Guardians are to:
- promote the best interests of the person with disability
- ensure that decisions are the least restrictive to the person’s freedom
- take into account the wishes of the person and, where possible, put them into effect.