Peer Positive: Moving from doing for to doing with

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TORONTO, May 3, 2017 - More and more, organizations appear to embrace a culture shift to integrate people with lived experience into program planning. Yet, moving from “doing for” to “doing with” is hardly an off-the-shelf solution.

Peer Positive is a resource helping community groups partner with people with lived experience – a partnership that “strengthens the relationships, culture, and quality of living of children, youth, families and those supporting them,” says Swelen Andari, GTA Regional Implementation Coordinator.

At the heart of Peer Positive is an approach that increases peer involvement, creates spaces for service providers to reflect on power and equity, and improves feedback and response loops. Developed by Northwest Toronto Service Collaborative (NWT SC), a 40-member cross sector group in North York that included people with lived experience, Peer Positive was one of 18 original system interventions in the Systems Improvement through Service Collaboratives initiative supported by CAMH’s Provincial System Support Program (PSSP).

The NWT SC reimagined access to mental health and addictions supports, working with PSSP to hold stakeholder consultations, review potential existing models and create a Youth Advisory Council.

“It was important for the Service Collaborative members to work in partnership with youth and families," said Andari. "The Youth Advisory Council helped to lead and inspire change.”

Putting Peer Positive to the test

So far, three agencies – Hong Fook Mental Health Association, Leave Out Violence Ontario (LOVE), and York University’s Disability and Mental Health Services – have implemented Peer Positive within their organizations. Over 40 peers and service providers have been trained.

Hong Fook used Peer Positive to support peer feedback on their self-help program.

“It was well-received,” reflected Andari. “Employees were actually shifting the way they were thinking about things. And because there were multiple feedback sessions, where the roles were reversed, they saw the value of creating more open spaces – it’s not just a satisfaction survey.”

That learning was echoed by a service provider in one focus group.

“I think that for us, it’s more about substantive engagement with community, and knowing expertise is often held in communities, not institutions. Peer Positive allows a dynamic shift where those community and individuals within the communities are thought of as experts.”

With a new-found appreciation for the value of creating open spaces, Hong Fook created a peer-led drop in.

York University and LOVE experienced similar positive outcomes. Noted benefits include increased trust between Board members and youth, improved access to current peer programs and creation of new peer-led initiatives.

Scaling up

Now PSSP is supporting the expansion of Peer Positive in Toronto’s francophone community with the help of seven partner organizations, two planning entities and one pilot agency. The plan is to implement Peer Positive at the pilot agency and deliver Wellness Recovery Action Plan training to francophone peers in the GTA.

Andari, who is multi-lingual (she speaks English, French, Spanish and Arabic), will continue to support this work and bring lessons from the first round of the intervention.

“Participants shared how important it was to address power inequities throughout the entire process, as well as ensuring that leadership have bought-in and are supportive of putting Peer Positive in place,” she said.

In terms of lasting impact, organizations will need to integrate Peer Positives values into their policies and work towards equitably remunerating peers for their contributions.

For more information, visit the Peer Positive website. Organizations interested in taking steps to engage people with lived experience are invited to explore the Peer Positive Tool Book and other resources.


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