By Louise Ratcliffe, Information Officer
Peer support is increasingly recognised as a useful tool within disability and health services. It is defined as a system of giving and receiving information and advice based on shared experiences and mutual agreement1
The difference between defined Peer Support Services as a formal voluntary or paid role, and just having a good friend to chat to is that the Peer Support person has had training in order to maintain professional boundaries while still being able to offer empathy and validation to the person they are supporting. It is meant to support the person without “helping” or trying to fix their issues. 2
Parent to Parent have two specific areas of Peer Support:
Support Parents – these are parents or caregivers of children with disabilities and/or health impairments who have undergone our Support Parent Training Course3 and chosen to volunteer as a Support Parent. Support Parents offer support to other parents or caregivers through a one-off phone call of support. They offer a listening ear and can share experiences, as they understand the challenges and joy of caring for a child with a disability.
Feedback from parents who have received the phone call from a Support Parent have reported that they felt a lot more positive and had a sense of relief after talking to a Support Parent who has been through a similar experience. The parents feel much more part of a community and often report that they found the conversation very helpful in ways specific to their child and their situation, rather than the general overview they get from other health services.
Our Support Parents are a vital and unique part of the Parent to Parent family, which enable us to support and empower parents along their journey in ways that are often lacking when you receive a new diagnosis for your child.
Sibling Leaders – these are siblings of children with disabilities and/or health impairments who have attended our SibCamps on several occasions, and then been approached by our Regional Co-ordinators or facilitators to become SibLeaders themselves.
The SibSupport programme4 is a totally unique service offered only by Parent to Parent in New Zealand. We have found that it is extremely well-received by children, teenagers and parents. It gives children a chance to do something that is not focused on their disabled sibling, but is also understanding of their unique relationship, and the challenges and joys that come with it.
Children who have attended SibCamps and workshops have often expressed how great it is to be around other children their age who “get it”. Who understand what it’s like to have a sibling with a disability, and very often empathise with each other in a way that their peers at school or around their community do not. We have seen quiet, shy and timid children blossom at a SibCamp when faced with personal challenges while surrounded by a caring and supportive peer group.
Our SibLeaders are particularly important in this sort of Peer Support, being role models and leaders for the children on camp or at a workshop. They have understanding and empathy as well as encouraging their charges to step out of their comfort zone and achieve things they might not have managed otherwise.
Children who are supported and educated about their disabled sibling though this sort of peer support tend to have a more positive relationship with their sibling, and increased levels of family cohesion5
In conclusion, our volunteers at Parent to Parent are immensely important to us, and we could not offer the caring, empathetic and connected services we do without them. They make Parent to Parent a family rather than just another service provider and we would like to extend our sincere thanks for all the work that they do.
If you’d like to speak to a Support Parent, or if you’d like your child to attend Sib Camp, please contact your local Regional Coordinator.