This is a write up of my thoughts, experience and findings from the In Petto conference ‘Exploring Online Peer to Peer Support’ in Antwerp. I attended this, along with a volunteer peer advisor last November.
Structures and systems for providing online peer support.
At the conference we were focusing in more depth on peer support and how this could be given online. Before giving our own workshop, we heard from a range of other organisations, each with quite different ways of offering peer support online. Continue reading →
The concept of ‘types of support’ as a way of understanding the services thatTheSite.org offers.
I recently had to give a overview of TheSite.org to a group of business leaders. In order to help the delegates understand how young people use our online services I decided to focus on exploring the types of support we offer. I wanted to look at when each type of support might be needed and how they overlap and create a structure of understanding in which people can better place both our services and the needs of our users.
Peer support and expert support are the backbone of services on TheSite.org. The support we offer is either peer or expert support, or a combination of both.
Expert support is information from an expert in a field – for example a lawyer, benefits advisor or GP. Our askTheSite service puts people in touch with experts who answer their questions and our articles and videos are researched in discussion with experts. We also run regular expert live chats to enable users to talk to an expert in real time. In addition, all our services signpost, support and encourage young people to feel able to take the steps they need to talk to an expert outside of TheSite.org’s services. This way, the online support we offer complements the support a young person may be getting elsewhere.
Peer support is support from others of a similar age or with similar life experience. It can involve sharing experiences, reassurance, suggestions and understanding. Our TheSite.org community is a good example of peer to peer support, facilitated by trained volunteer moderators. We also have a peer advisor programme where we train volunteers to work within askTheSite. The peer advisor programme is a good example of hybrid support, where the answer provides a combination of peer and expert support. You can read a more in depth discussion of peer support and the peer advisor programme here.
Emotional and practical support are the forms support can take. Peer support can be emotional or practical, as can expert support. Most combine both elements.
Practical support is suggestions for practical options. For example, on our askTheSite service, or within our articles, our money expert might suggest that someone visits their jobcentre to claim job seekers allowance, or visits a local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Emotional support is often offering reassurance and understanding, helping a user to feel understood. Emotional support is offered through all our services and is vital for users to feel able to approach us, to open up and to feel confident to take their next steps.
Personalised support is a vital component of peer and expert support, be it emotional or practical.
Personalised support is helping people identify barriers and giving them solutions that will help them in their situation. Often young people face personal or practical barriers to getting whatever type of support they need. It isn’t as simple as signposting someone to the housing or benefits office and expecting them to be able to get on with it. The interactive nature of our discussion boards and live chat in particular ensure that we can offer support that is really personal to the nature of the barriers an individual is facing. In addition, we run a lot of training with volunteer and expert advisors to ensure that this approach is taken on askTheSite as well. We are developing a service called Step Finder which will enable us to explore personal support further.
Confidential, time bound, and emergency support are all different types of support which users might need at different times, depending on their situation. These are ways of describing in more detail the needs of the users. Both peer and expert, personal and emotional support can also be confidential, emergency or time bound.
Confidential support is support a user is able to access without giving any details about themselves. We offer this through the askTheSite service and also through the online nature of the discussion boards and chats. A user can even build a relationship with us through the discussion boards but then ask an anonymous question or take part in a live chat without giving away either their real or their TheSite.org identity.
Emergency support is support a young person needs there and then. When a young person needs emergency support we would often give them details of emergency services, the Samaritans and info on local A and E and support them to make that contact.
Time bound support might not mean emergency support, but it is support for an issue that someone needs to take steps to resolve within a particular period of time. Our askTheSite service will provide an answer within three days. On our discussion boards a user will often receive replies almost immediately. Moderators ensure that no one goes without a reply for longer than approx 24 hours. We also run live chat in real time four times a week.
The online nature of YouthNet’s services means that users can return for support wherever they are living and whatever their situation is.
Long term support is ongoing support. The discussion boards offer this, users can come back again and again to have conversations about the issues they are currently facing in a community they know well and one that they know is always there. In addition, users know the other services are available if they need them.
By viewing the services we offer through the structure of ‘types of support’, I hope it was easier for the delegates to understand both the holistic nature of the support we offer, the need for a variety of services which cater for different needs and the complexity of ensuring each user gets the support that is right for them. My next blog post explores peer support in more detail and looks at how peer and expert support can overlap and complement each other. It will also introduce a range of projects that use peer support and how their delivery is structured.