Incorporate good peer support practice principles

Incorporate good peer support practice principles

Incorporate good peer support practice principles

Peer support activities can be successful, provided they are based on principles of effective practice.

However some peer support initiatives may lead to an increase in AOD use27,28, particularly if there are opportunities for unstructured socialising among program participants.29,30

The peer support principles below outline principles for AOD peer support activities that are effective, evidence-based, safe, and is meaningful to the young people, helping them develop, learn and aspire.

Peer support principles and best practice

Work where young people are at

Be creative in how you engage young people. Use clear criteria to choose peer supporters and consider the best ways to reach these young people. Offering what children and young people want - and not what professionals may expect - can be more effective.

Be creative and inventive – after all, not everyone’s a talker – they may prefer to dance or play football.

Differentiate activities according to the age and abilities of the children and young people you are working with – one size does not fit all.

Involve the right people

Think carefully about recruitment of peer supporters. Ensure your program is accessible and delivers what young people want.

Make sure your program is led by peers who are nominated by peers. Where a team of peer supporters is being selected, aim for broad representation of all social groups. Peer supporters should role-model the desired behaviour (e.g. not use alcohol and other drugs).

Don’t work in isolation – look to build a team – be supported by your own peers and other relevant stakeholders, including young people themselves.

Ensure your LDAT partners are on board and supportive.

Focus on relationships

Build trust to create space for change. Peer supporters need to be encouraged to develop the skill set to build trusting relationships. This is key to enabling change.

Be aware that some young people may struggle to build trust because of difficulties in their past – and this could impact on the peer supporter/young person relationship.

Encourage young people’s ownership

Collaborate and co-design with young people. For the program to effectively engage young people there needs to be true co-design. A 'tick the box' consultation exercise does not work.

Young people need to feel they have a sense of agency and ownership of the program.

Be safe and have clear boundaries

Ensure peer supporters are adequately trained and supervised. Ensure, through their training and subsequent regular supervision, that your peer supporters feel safe and supported.

Provide quality, supervised and structured activities. Limit unstructured socialising among program participants.

Note that supervision is vital to ensuring effective safeguarding.

Peer safety

Learn: Safety checklist for Program Coordinators and peer supporters

Safety checklist

What works and doesn’t work

Peer support activities can help to shape young people’s behaviours, knowledge and attitudes to alcohol and other drugs and whether and how they use them.

What works

Peer support activities are most likely to be successful when approaches are based on the principles of effective practice:

  • empowers young people to support each other
  • provides a range of different ways, and gives people a choice about how they participate
  • provides authentic leadership opportunities for peer leaders
  • delivered by peer leaders who are resourced adequately to deliver the activity
  • delivered as part of a broader, comprehensive community approach to preventing alcohol and other drug-related harms
  • provides a safe and supportive environment and positive peer relationship
  • focuses on developing interpersonal skills
  • supports positive cultural change
  • provides factual and accurate information that is meaningful to the young person’s social network
  • responds to local needs and is culturally appropriate.

What doesn't work

Alcohol and other drug peer support activities have been shown to be ineffective and increase interest in drug use when they are based on:

  • scare tactics or ‘fear arousal’
  • a delivery style that is ‘one-way’ and lacks interaction
  • one-off, isolated activities.
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