What is a Forest Helper?
Forest Helpers are adults with learning disabilities, who along with a qualified leader, work in nature and help with community projects.
The goal for the Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture, Nature Agency is to provide the Forest Helpers with a safe environment and to give them projects that help their mental and physical health whilst improving local nature or opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Whilst working on individual projects, the Forest Helpers are encouraged by the supervisor to take on responsibility for task, as well as in coming up with their own opinions on how the projects should develop.
The volunteers wear uniforms with “Forest Helper” written on the back, which creates a feeling of “belonging” and team spirit amongst other Forest Helpers. It also identifies them to other forest visitors, especially when they are helping at community events.
The Forest Helpers get involved with many different tasks, depending on their abilities and needs. For example, they might help at the visitor centre or help with the nature trails. All Forest Helpers work both in- and outdoors creating a volunteer environment with avariety of tasks and stimulation
Liability and Payment
In Denmark, the municipalities are responsible for the adults with learning disabilities, if their own families or others are unable to. The municipalities are required by national law to provide a safe environment of the individual to develop.
Previously adults with learning disabilities were placed in municipal institutions. Now by participating in a Forest Helper Program, individuals are drawn away from institutions and into nature.
Municipalities participate voluntarily in a project, but by doing so, they retain responsibility for the activities related to the project. This includes transportation to the place of work, work teams, health and safety and the supervision..
The Nature Agency does not pay for the work performed, as it supplies and facilitates the work to be carried out, the site and facilities. If the supervisor is employed by the Nature Agency, the municipal has to pay the salary.
The municipality involved in the Forest Helpers Program can choose between three different approaches to how the project will be organised:
- a private company supervising the project at the municipality’s expense and risk.
- a project as part of the municipality.
- a project as part of the Nature Agency, with supervision of the project at the municipality’s expense and risk.
Previous studies suggest the following:
- The work of the Forest Helpers need to support and develop their abilities and mental health
- Effort must be taken by the supervisor to find suitable tasks, reflecting the Forest Helpers mental and physical abilities.
- Forest Helpers develop personally greater outside in the forest than when they were retained in an institution.
- Forest Helpers show great pleasure in returning to the forest and interacting with other forest visitors.
- The families of participants in the programme, state that the personal development is very positive. They recognise that their family member suddenly feels to be involved with and to have a positive impact on society.
- Both the supervisor as well as the Forest Helpers have after only a 2-3 month duration in the Program experienced personal victories and improvements in both their mental and physical health.
- The supervisor of the project must have a thorough knowledge of the Forest Helpers participants abilities and health history and experience of working with individuals and groups from this background. The supervisor can therefore normally not be transferred directly from the forest staff, or from the park department.
- Forest Helpers must have their own space for privacy.
Since 2004, The Danish Ministry of the Environment and Agriculture, Nature Agency, together with adults with learning disabilities (and their families), municipalities and companies developed a new way of using nature in social services - The Forest Helpers Program.
The Forest Helpers Program contributes towards implementing the recommendations from the United Nations Forum on Forests and the United Nations Conferences on Sustainable Development.