The types of peer support available
There are a number of ways to help establish peer support advice, guidance and networks.
Caring Families Aotearoa has a contract with Oranga Tamariki to provide peer support, advice, guidance and advocacy services for all approved and provisional caregivers.
Caring Families Aotearoa hosts a number of events to facilitate peer support, including:
- a national conference – biennial
- multiple regional hui – where caregivers can meet professionals and caregivers, while attending a learning session on a range of topics
- coffee group discussion sessions, covering different topics
- family fun days.
There are particular experiences that come with caring for tamariki who are not your own, which are best understood by, and shared with, others in a caregiving role. Staff are encouraged to take a partnership approach to supporting caregivers to share experiences and advice. One way they can do this is through peer support groups.
How you can help establish peer support groups
Caregivers who develop and maintain connections with each other are less likely to feel isolated in their role. Having a peer support network of caregivers who understand the reality and daily challenges of the role first-hand can minimise stress and improve confidence.
Caregivers can support each other to recognise the day-to-day progress and achievements of the caregiving role. Having someone who understands the role and can provide a listening ear can be all it takes to help a caregiver to feel supported and understood.
Prepare to Care training provides an early opportunity for caregivers to meet each other and share their own experiences in a supportive forum. Some caregivers will naturally form bonds with each other and continue to stay in contact. Consider asking caregivers if they would like the opportunity to exchange contact details and how this can be facilitated.
Following the caregiver approval process, it’s recommended that you ‘buddy’ the caregiver up with another experienced caregiver, preferably in their area. This provides the opportunity for the caregiver to ask any further questions about the practicalities of the role, what to expect when a child is placed in their care as well as advice and support on what strategies have worked for them.
Coffee groups are an informal and effective way of bringing caregivers together within their community and are child friendly. These can be arranged within the caregiver’s home or on-site. As a caregiver social worker, you may facilitate these to begin with until the group feel confident to make their own arrangements.
Arranging events throughout the year is an opportunity for caregivers to meet, such as Children’s Day and Caregiver Awareness Week. Activities, such as volunteer tree planting, provide the opportunity for informal gatherings of caregivers and staff. They also provide the opportunity for children in care to meet each other.
As a lot of our caregivers work during the day, it’s important to consider how those caregivers can be included, as weekday hours may not suit. Ask the caregiver what works best for them and what in particular are they looking for in a supportive environment. Some caregivers simply want to chat with other caregivers, while others may prefer something more structured such as a training forum.
Each caregiver will have different needs so it is important to understand what this looks like to ensure they participate in a group that is beneficial to them. Caregivers are more likely to be engaged in the process if they feel that the support being offered is meeting their needs.
Remember to talk to caregivers about the availability of caregiver support organisations in their area, how their membership can be supported and the role these organisations can play in connecting caregivers with each other.
Practical tips for establishing a peer support group
Your first step is to identify when, who, where, and how often a group could meet. For example, this may be as part of a refresher/consolidating learning session following group training.
Logistically, you may need to consider the following:
- location of meetings — depending on the comfort and access of each group, meetings can be held in any space which the group agrees is appropriate (this could range from caregiver homes, cafés, local marae, and public spaces such as parks)
- frequency of meetings — frequency of peer support meetings is to be determined by the group, but we do recommend at least one meeting a month to ensure a strong support network is formed over time
- roles — there are some roles that help meetings run more smoothly but organisation and leadership doesn’t have to sit with one person and can move from meeting to meeting.
How to help create a safe space for the peer support group
Establishing a group agreement for peer support groups, can help create a safe space. A group agreement could include:
- peer support is strengths-focused
- peer support is respectful of other carers and children
- peer supporters are empathetic
- peer supporters are solution focused and non-judgemental
- peer support is learning together
- peer support is voluntary and informal
- peer support groups are respectful of other cultures
- peer support groups recognise the sensitivity and privacy of what is being shared.
The importance of keeping personal information private
It’s important to remember that under the Privacy Act, we are legally bound to make sure that information about a child or young person in care remains confidential and can only be shared with family, caregivers and professionals working alongside us. If a public space is used for peer support group sessions, advise caregivers about the importance of always considering the privacy of the child in their care and provide guidance around how to support one another without sharing confidential information.
Peer support event guidelines — for larger groups
Theme and purpose
Try to balance informal networking and formal development opportunities for the caregiver e.g. information specific to the caregiver and learning new things. For family friendly events, ensure the speakers are brief and to the point to allow time for informal connection and communication.
Finding a suitable time is important e.g. Saturday afternoon between 4-6pm often works well for busy working families. 2 - 3 hours is a good length of time.
Be guided by your region and your caregivers. A range of locations can work well, including running the event on site or using a community based location.
Pizza Parties are easy, cost effective and well suited to families and staff. Other options can be considered e.g. picnics and sausage sizzles.
Frequency should be determined at the CGRS Manager’s discretion following consideration of existing events, workloads and site operations. Three events per year are recommended.
You can consider organising these events to coincide with other Oranga Tamariki national events such as Children’s Day and Caregiver Awareness Week.
Invitation list and RSVPs
Invitations and RSVPs should be coordinated by the SWRA on site, including a follow up phone call or text reminder (if required). A range of invitation and RSVP channels will be beneficial. All family members are encouraged to attend. The Communications and Engagements Team can help design invite templates.
For the event, it’s recommended that child friendly spaces are located separately from spaces for adults, to enable more in-depth conversations to be had.
Staff will be required for set-up and greeting families as they arrive. During the event, resource assistance is required to mind children while caregivers are in another room.