Peer support and what peers value in their lives

By Eileen McAtee

Findings from our  Toka Tū Project will be coming out over the next few months including  findings from focus groups held around the country with people who use peer support services. We wanted to find out what outcomes people want in their lives and investigate how the peer support service they use support those outcomes.  As a teaser I have interviewed Sarah O’Connor, one of the project members about her involvement in the project.

Tōka Tu co-investigators
Co-investigators from peer support services around the country

Can you explain the Tōka Tu evaluation project briefly?

Tōka Tu is about understanding what resources and support peer support providers need to evaluate their effectiveness and so evidence their value.  It’s a three-year project and focuses on three parts:

  1. What does good peer support look like? How would an organisation know how effective it is?

  2. What resources and support do peer services need  to use outcome measures?   

  3. What outcomes do peers value and what contribution do peer support services make to these achieving these outcomes?

This hasn’t been done  in New Zealand before . We know anecdotally that peer support is important to people but  evidence about  the value of peer support is limited. In order to get the evidence we need to understand what resources peer services need to evaluate their effectiveness.

There is a push for more  peer services, from both the consumer community in New Zealand and at government level in Rising to the Challenge:  The Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan. An evidence base will add weight to the call for more peer services. Participating in this project has shown me how valued peer support is.  In a lot of incidences people have gone as far as saying  that it saved their lives.

What Peer Support services are involved?

There are 9 Non Government Organisations representing 11 services involved from across New Zealand. They all provide peer support but do so in a range of ways including a warmline, a  respite service, one-to-one peer support and group work. The organisations provide staff who then become co-investigators in the project.

We are developing resources through Toka Tū that services will be able to  use in an ongoing ways to evaluate themselves . This includes trialing a rubric that evaluates the quality of the service according to criteria that the co investigators have developed.

The other part of the project involves implementing outcome measures in organisations. Can you explain what is an outcome measure  is?

In simple terms it is a way  a person can look at measuring change in an aspect of their life. By  answering questions in an outcome measure people establish a baseline and then by repeating the measure at another time they can see if change has occurred.  It gives people an opportunity to see where they are at in their life, and what areas they might like to work on.  By collecting this kind of data from a number of people using a service it is possible to see what changes are occurring and what changes the service may be supporting.

Services have chosen their own measure to trial.  It is important that the outcome measure  is a good fit for the service,  it can be difficult to find a tool that fits with a peer service. The different  measures that the peer services have chosen measure different things, including quality of life, well-being, recovery and  satisfaction with the  peer relationship.

There is a lot more  involved in  introducing an outcome measures into a service than I initially realised, particularly for smaller organisations.  Large organisations tend to have I.T support , and resources to support implementation of  an outcome measure but smaller organisations do not necessarily have that.

Learnings about selecting  an outcome tool

Interesting insights so far?

Just about everyone has said how important peer support is to them. A lot of people have said in the focus groups that they didn’t find out about peer support for a long time, wished they had known about it sooner  and that it needs to be promoted. I would definitely agree with this!

I noticed in the focus groups that the peers are connected to each other in multiple ways, through different peer networks and so there is a real depth  and honesty in their relationships.

  In a lot of incidences people have gone as far as saying  [peer support]  saved their lives.

What have you enjoyed most about this project ?

It has been very enjoyable  visiting the different organisations and  facilitating  the focus groups. The peer services are so welcoming and they are very  positive environments to be in. The  peers are so positive, they want to be there and really value the peer support services.

Mutual support was evident  during the focus groups , peers  celebrated each others achievements, and demonstrated the reciprocity that is one of the core values of peer support.

For future updates about Toka Tū sign up to the  mailing list.


1 thought on “Peer support and what peers value in their lives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s