Peer Mentor Support Project
A story by Fairway Fife
We facilitated peer support activities for young people with learning disabilities. Each week young people have participated in activities they have chosen, supported by our peer mentor volunteers, enabling their parents/carers to enjoy respite, knowing the young people are safe and happy.
What Peer Mentor Support Project did
Our volunteer Mentors have befriended and supported the young adults (Mentees) as they participate in various social activities together. Typical activities include trips to the cinema, bowling, shopping, theatre, go-karting and going to football matches. Transport to and from venues is by public transport unless special arrangements are required due to the location of activities, generally activities are in and around the local area to promote a sense of belonging and involvement in their local community.
Mentors sort through a number of process, referrals from social work, schools, colleges, families or though our newly developed easy read self referral forms.
We created opportunities for people with disabilities to form a social pairing or grouping with people their own age. Together they participate in social outings which directly reduce their isolation by getting them out the house on a regular basis to mix with people and participate in fun activities.
The concept of peer support has shown itself to be an effective service model, capable of reaching higher social outcomes than generic support services. Using this system we have managed to deliver a more valuable social experience that cannot be replicated by parents and carers. Our programme has helped build stronger relationships, as young people with learning disabilities mix with peers who share life experiences and common interests. We have helped many young people with complex needs and difficulties to integrate into the community where they build confidence, life skills, become more independent and most significantly know they have a place in society.
Through the same initiative we recently started to address the physical health issues of young people with learning disabilities by introducing a healthy living approach to our service. We have now integrated new activities such as dance, aerobics and healthy eating workshops in to our programme.
What Fairway Fife has learned
We have found that although we want to provide a flexible service, it has also benefited young people and their families having a long term schedule of skeleton planned activities which we can produce well in advance so as to give families as much notice as possible in order for them to plan activities and interests themselves.
The extra funding has helped us to reach families that may need extra support due to circumstance, whether that be remote locations, chaotic lifestyles, family breakdown or ill health. We have been able to put in measures, such as transport or greater staff/client ratios as required.
Partnership working has been very important to enable us to diversify our activities to suit our clients better, by networking we have discovered new activities that have greater accessibility and are better equipped to allow for fuller engagement.
We will have engaged regularly with families and disabled youngsters and understood their interests and hobbies.
We planned regular sessions to look at the activities we carried out and got feedback on how much the mentors and mentees have enjoyed them, we have had good open relationships with Parents and Carers who have given us feedback on various activities/events, as well as put suggestions forward. By using easy read information and visuals we have also explored activities that they may want to try in the future.
A new mentee was referred to the Charity by his parents as they were concerned about his lack of friendships and isolation since leaving school, during our initial contact and informal chat we looked over some visuals of some of the activities we have done. The new member was able to indicate the things he liked. For his first activity we arranged a visit to the cinema to see a particular film that he wanted to see. He eagerly came along and the Mentors were able to quickly start building friendships chatting about their common interests. This enabled him to feel a lot more relaxed about joining the group and now attends regularly, doing the things he likes as well as trying new things.
Parents will be mentally and physically more able to cope with their daily caring role.
Parents fed back to us about activities events their young people would like to do and also being able to request days and times that may also be beneficial to them to allow them to carry out a particular interest.
A new client was referred by social work. The family were struggling with a chaotic lifestyle and the needs of other siblings in the family, resulting in near family breakdown. The young lady became involved in Fairway Fife and started attending events/activities, we also supported transport as they were quite remote., this also enabled mum to feel more comfortable in the knowledge the her daughter was safe. N's confidence began to improve as she made new friends whom she began to trust and rely on for their support and friendship, the relationship between her and her mum started to improve dramatically as she now recognised her own talents and ability to help her her mum with her siblings rather than seeing them as competition. Fairway Fife has been life changing not just for her but for us as a family’ '‘I no longer feel guilty if I do something on my own, as I know that my daughter has her own leisure to participate in. This is life changing for me’.
Carers will have been able to pursue and their hobbies and interests.
Parents and carers who are dropping off their son/daughter are now going on to do other things, even if it's just to get the shopping in!
One parent was struggling to juggle going to work and caring for her daughter. With her daughters involvement in Fairway not only did she manage to continue her work but also found some time to pursue her own interests. "I work part time and when things were really bad I thought I might have to give up work. This is no longer an issue as I am free to go swimming, shopping and out with friends etc. on evenings and weekends’ "We are less stressed and can actually pursue activities as individuals as well as a family. My daughter life has been enriched and she is much happier and engaged"
Parents/carers will have built up trusting relationships with staff, with good communication links.
Staff have built up good working relationships and also encouraged a support network between parents. There is a direct open communication between staff, parents, volunteers and clients. This is essential to the smooth and safe operation of the Charities work, all staff have mobile phones and are contactable at all times, as well as email addresses to contact any member of the board or admin staff. "I am regularly kept in touch with developments"
We actively encourage individuals to be responsible for their own transport, where it is deemed that it may be a slight risk(in that maybe they will be finishing an activity late) then we will ask parents where possible to collect their son/daughter. If this is not possible then staff will always ensure the mentee gets home safely. Parents have now formed good relationships and a support network between themselves where they will share the responsibility and collect and pick up/drop off the young people for each other. ‘I am regularly kept in touch with developments' 'over the year that my daughter has accessed the service, her confidence has grown enormously and she is very comfortable travelling independency to familiar places’
Families and youngsters with disabilities will feel more comfortable accessing mainstream and community events/places.
As most of our events and activities are community based the mentees are regularly in the community, by simply attending these events safe in the knowledge that they are with 'their friends' and also a responsible member of staff in the background, they are increasing their confidence and recognising their place in society. This exposure also encourages the general community to become more accepting and less judgemental about those with learning disabilities.
When the Mentees and Mentors are out and about in the community we always encourage independence, whether this be the Mentee asking for their own ticket at the cinema or ordering their own food in a restaurant. As with a lot of Young Adults with Learning Disabilities speech can sometimes be difficult. By allowing the young adult time to get their message across and encouraging them to use any communication aids they have we are setting a good example to the general community to be patient and diverse in their communication skills or methods. A good example would be when the group were ordering drinks at a local coffee shop, one of the young adults who uses Signalong was signing to the Mentor that he wanted Tea, the Mentor asked him to sign it to the assistant which he then did, the assistant hearing the conversation then understood what was going on and asked what the sign was for Tea, which she duly signed to the boy and then asked what the sign was for thank you, which she again went on to use to thank the boy. We tend to use the coffee shop regular and all the staff are now trying to communicate using signalong, which gives an extremely powerful message in a community setting. (All of our Mentors receive Signanlong training) "Over the year that my daughter has accessed the service, her confidence has grown enormously and she is very comfortable travelling independently to familiar places’
Additional project outcome
Young Adults will have increased independence and knowledge of healthy living.
One of our new referrals was very inactive and tended to choose unhealthy options for meals etc. We embarked on a Healthy cooking course which introduced simple healthy meals and snacks and also a basic food hygiene course. The attendees learned how to make soups, jacket potatoes, smoothies etc. in a safe and hygienic way. This then enabled parents to feel less stressed or worried if their son daughter wanted to make themselves something simple to eat, allowing parents/carers to just have a 'watchful eye' rather than having to do it for them.