The Peer Support Capacity Building Project was a two year project commissioned in 2014 to assist Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) agencies to build peer support activity for both service users and families impacted by drug and alcohol misuse.

SHARC collaborated with agencies across the 16, metropolitan and regional, catchments to prioritise peer support platforms and successfully establish peer activity as an adjunct to their existing services. At the completion of this project, SHARC has supported 14 Catchments to establish 17 peer activities: 8 Service User Peer Support Groups and 9 Family Peer Support Groups.

This project not only established and developed agency-held peer support groups but also developed a framework along with a rich trove of resources for the delivery of these activities. Our framework included training,  networking and supervision opportunities for peer leaders and the provision of high level support to agencies to develop staff expertise particular to establishing and sustaining peer support.

The by-products of these activities included the creation of an AOD peer support community; the development of a peer workforce; the linking of new and developed groups to share their experiences and skills, and a general mapping of sector interest in, and delivery of, these activities.

The Peer Support Capacity Building Project was independently evaluated by Turning Point and outcomes were overwhelmingly positive. As a result of the projects success the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have provided SHARC with bridging funding to support the continuation of our activities until June 2017. This means we are able to provide ongoing support to already established groups and continue as a sector resource for peer support.

We also want to acknowledge the passion and commitment of the service-users and family members who volunteered to train as peer leaders for the Peer Support Groups established throughout this project. These valuable volunteers were supported by their agencies and staff liaisons who devoted much time and effort into establishing and sustaining peer activity; they are, as follows:

Access Health and Community (Formerly Inner East Community Health)

Australian Community Support Organisation Ltd. (ACSO) Grampians & Great South Coast

Australian Community Support Organisation Ltd. (ACSO) Eastern Region ACSO Connect

Ballarat Community Health

Banyule Community Health Service

Barwon Health

EACH Social and Community Health

Northern District Community Health Services

Peninsula Health

SECADA Taskforce

UnitingCare ReGen

Western Region Alcohol and Drug Centre Inc. (WRAD)

Windana Drug and Alcohol Recovery

 

WHY PEER SUPPORT?

 

Peer support involves individuals with personal experience of alcohol and other drug use providing mutual support and information to a person who is having, or who has had, difficulties associated with their alcohol and other drug use. Peer support is an explicitly values driven activity. The two values that are unique to peer support are reciprocity and experiential knowledge; these values are consistent with recovery-based government policy directions.

Peer support groups or activities are usually established by current or past alcohol and drug users, and may operate out of, and be supported by, community organisations, alcohol and drug agencies or community health centres. Peer support groups can complement and extend the support provided in clinical AOD settings; they do not duplicate existing services. These groups, facilitated by trained volunteer peer leaders, provide group members with mutual support and connection, and keep participants engaged in the treatment process.

Research confirms the benefits of Peer Support as a tool in AOD treatment, either alongside formal treatment or as a stand-alone activity.

 

TESTIMONIALS

 

FAMILY PEER SUPPORT GROUPS

‘This group has had a major impact on my feelings, thoughts (and) knowledge. I feel so comfortable knowing others’ lives are the same as mine’. Anon, ACSO Warragul.

‘This group is very supportive and informative. It has given me great tips and strength to move forward with my life apart from my addicted loved one. The resources used are excellent, easy to understand and put into practice. It is the best thing that has happened to me for a long time’. Anon, SECADA Cranbourne.

SERVICE USER PEER SUPPORT GROUPS

‘Peer Support was a good opening introduction to recovery outside of treatment and assisted me to integrate into the community. At peer support I received connection, understanding and support which enabled me to develop the confidence to reintegrate into society and pursue my goals’. Anon, Windana StKilda.

‘The main thing you will lose with addiction is self-worth and I think one of things you do get back from the group in spades is self-worth’. Anon.

 

THE EVALUATION

 

The Peer Support Capacity Building Project partnered with Turning Point to examine the benefits for people participating in peer support groups and their satisfaction with the process.

In consultation with SHARC, Turning Point developed an evaluation survey to investigate service users’ and carers’ experiences with the peer support groups across a number of domains. Turning Point staff conducted two semi-structured focus groups involving peer leaders and agency liaison staff to provide a more complete understanding of the effectiveness of peer-support groups.

The evaluation found that ‘…engaging in peer-support groups was associated with a range of salutary effects. Participants reported peer-support groups boosted their inner strength and courage, as well as their sense of control and ability to make changes in their lives.’

The SHARC model, including knowledge, resources, and training was appreciated by agencies participating in the project. ‘…you can do your own research and find your own research papers but it’s not the same as having a peak body that sits with that knowledge and that research and holds it then tap into it in a practical way’. SHARC was acknowledged by staff liaison personnel as ‘…. an essential component of establishing and running a successful peer support group’.

The vast majority of participants (93%) felt attending the group was beneficial, agreeing that the groups made them feel ‘less isolated/alone, became more aware of resources/services available, became more hopeful’ and that the groups gave them ‘a sense of purpose’. Facilitators were perceived favourably, with the majority (87% or more) agreeing that they listen and respond appropriately to group participants, manage groups well and most respondents (93%) reported being comfortable knowing the facilitators have had similar experiences to them. (Manning, Savic & Thorn 2016).

 

OTHER

 

Presentations at the VAADA 2017 Conference regarding the Peer Support Capacity Building Project.

Acknowledging the place of peer support in AOD treatment
Beth Locke & Ian McKerrell – Access Health and Community
Crystal Clancy – Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC)

An evaluation of Self Help Addiction Resource Centre’s (SHARC’s) peer support capacity building project
Pinar Thorn, Dr Michael Savic and Dr Victoria Manning – Turning Point
Crystal Clancy – Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC)