The key steps involved in supporting communities to deliver peer support programs are provided below as a useful starting point for developing your Community Action Plan and informing your approach.
These steps provide an indicative guide; it is important to tailor your approach to your local community. Local Drug Action Teams may be responsible for delivering peer support programs, or working with their partners and community to support programs.
There is no one right way of organising peer support. Peer support can be very informal, arising simply from people meeting each other and chatting. Sometimes it may be a more organised process, involving volunteers. Sometimes it can involve paid workers in an organising role.
Peer support should be tailored to suit the individual needs of the young people who will be involved in the program.
What works for one community may not work for the next, so it is important to consult with young people, partners and your local community to design your program. This will help to ensure the program meets young people’s needs and that it can be supported by the community. It will also enable you to identify other local needs (including your target audience) and what already exists within the community that can be strengthened and built on.
Consider the following when designing your peer support program:
Will your peer support program be a highly structured, school-based program that trains students to deliver messages? Or will it be an informal community program that responds to the needs of a particular target audience who are dissatisfied with existing health messages from professionals, and are using their own natural communication channels?
Programs might involve trained and paid peer support workers (e.g. planned group sessions) or informal conversations between peers (e.g. opportunistic interactions).
What environment or setting will the program be delivered in, e.g. school, music festivals/events, community, workplace, other?
Details about how the program will be managed and what processes will be required to deliver your peer support program also need to be considered.
Ensure that your child safeguarding policy is up-to-date and clear. Consider using resources available through the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Develop an engagement strategy to attract appropriate peer leaders. Consider how you will spread the word in your community; you may promote the program through the local paper or radio station, school newsletters, partner organisations, or local community champions.
Include information that outlines the expectations of the program, including roles and responsibilities, supervision and training.
Peer leaders may include students, youth workers, sporting club captains, or other youth representatives and community members. They may be identified through schools and tertiary institutions, sporting clubs, arts clubs, youth groups, workplaces, volunteer associations and community agencies.
It is important to develop a clear selection process for assessing the suitability of peer leaders. This may include developing selection criteria and establishing an application process. Selection criteria may address the need for peer leaders to be committed to investing time and energy into the relationship, and to role model an appropriate relationship with alcohol and other drugs.
A screening process to confirm potential peer leaders’ suitability and a process for informing successful and unsuccessful applicants is also recommended.
Peer leaders require access to training and resources to enable them to perform their role. Comprehensive orientation and training for peer leaders will assist them in providing an effective peer relationship and prevent burnout. Training may cover:
Your group may provide this training or contract another organisation that has the appropriate skills and knowledge.
How you engage young people in the peer support program will depend on how the peer support program is being delivered.
If the program is planned as a group sessions led by a service for example, you may establish a formal process for the referral/application of young people to participate in the program, with young people referred to the program from a variety of sources, including teachers, counsellors, community workers, health professionals, parents and guardians.
If the program is a highly structured program in schools for example, your efforts may focus on engaging the school as a whole, rather than individual students. Similarly, if the program is being delivered at music festivals and other youth events in the community, your efforts may focus on liaising with event organisers who will in-turn engage and recruit young people to their events.
Peer support programs are particularly good at accessing socially isolated, hard-to-reach, or ‘hidden’ population groups. Your partners may be in a good position to help you identify young people that would benefit from a peer support program.
Regardless of how your peer support program is designed, it is important to implement a matching process which focuses on the needs of the young person and considers the relevant characteristics, skills and interest of the young person and peer leader.
Be mindful that giving and receiving peer support with someone you have things in common with can help you to build trust. Peers can share a number of characteristics such as:
You will need to supervise and monitor the contact and progress of the peer relationship and provide ongoing training and support for both the young person and the peer leader.
Support the set-up of an official agreement between the young person and peer leader on the terms and conditions of the relationship. For example, identify key elements of the relationship such as duration of the peer support program, likely method(s) of contact, likely frequency of contact, maximum length of contact, and key activities and goals.
A formal closure policy is recommended to be clear about how participants exit the program and guidelines regarding future contact between the peer leader and young person.
DrugInfo Clearinghouse 2006, Prevention Research Quarterly: Current evidence evaluated – Peer education, Australian Drug Foundation, West Melbourne.
Youth Mentoring Hub, “Australian Youth Mentoring Benchmarks”, 2012. [Online]. Available: youthmentoringhub.org.au/documents-youth-mentoring-programs/ [Accessed March 2018].
State Government Victoria 2012, Peer Support: A guide to how people with a disability and carers can help each other to make the most of their disability supports, Department of Human Services, Melbourne.