Women volunteers in an Australian breastfeeding association experiencing changing expectations for their roles

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2009
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This study of the experiences of women volunteers in an Australian breastfeeding association was undertaken in a socio-political context where there has been a decrease in state provision of welfare services in favour of private volunteer agencies. Public health budgets have been stretched and a decline in public funded welfare services has led to a need for more volunteers. According to Australian statistics changing lifestyles impact on who volunteers and where they volunteer, particularly in major cities of a multicultural Australian society. The Australian Association for Breastfeeding (AAB), a pseudonym used in this thesis for confidentiality, has a history over some decades of providing services to breastfeeding women using volunteers and has been affected by these kinds of shifts in the socio-political sphere. This research was undertaken to explore the concerns and types of support experienced by women in their ongoing work as volunteer breastfeeding educators. There has been little research on volunteerism in women's self-help breastfeeding associations and no studies of women's experiences as volunteer breastfeeding educators in Australia. The study aimed to investigate their commitment and concerns at a time of changing expectations in their volunteer roles of providing free, community-based education for mothers' breastfeeding needs in Australia, so that these volunteer roles could be sustained in the future. Key issues impacting on the experiences of being a volunteer breastfeeding educator in the AAB were expressed in the thesis as an original explanatory conceptual framework of constructs from socio-political conceptual factors and aspects from volunteer education self-help practice. This framework was used to interpret the volunteers' perspectives of their experiences in an exploratory/qualitative research design. As a volunteer with the AAB myself, I was an insider researcher and conducted face-to-face interviews along the eastern seaboard of Australia with 15 women volunteer breastfeeding educators who responded to circulated notices in the AAB. The findings from seven of the 15 were analysed in-depth as a generational cohort for their perspectives based on their experiences in: (i) volunteer work; (ii) volunteer education; and (iii) sense of identity that offered a window into how strategic changes occur in the AAB in response to changing times. Thus, this research shows that the experiences of these seven volunteer breastfeeding educators working in a not-for-profit self-help association analysed in depth gave them a normative commitment to help mothers who contact them. Their commitment was expressed as agentic and communal values or motives to provide a relevant service and achieve their tasks in the roles they have as volunteers. They took on a variety of leadership roles in the AAB and experienced stress and frustrations in balancing volunteering and work/family life. It was found that their volunteer work for a cause they believed in was not a mere pastime and influenced their sense of identity as informed, collegial, co-operative and accomplished members of Australian society. Their views shed light on how the AAB might be proactive in becoming a multicultural Association. Findings from their perspectives on changing expectations for their volunteer roles in a self-help association led to recommendations for guiding learning and growth in not-for-profit organisations that manage volunteers.
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