Charting the progress of our strategy
This is based on the presentation given by Fay Jackson (see previous article) and Kim Jones at TheMHS. When our “Why Not a Peer Worker?” strategy was first implemented, Flourish Australia only had 22 Peer Workers across the entire organisation. Today, we have 160 Peer Workers and senior Peer Workers, and they make up a fifth of our total employee pool.
This expansion has allowed us to support nearly 5,000 people across our 66 sites throughout NSW and South East Queensland. We are still actively supporting the growth of our peer workforce, and will continue to provide the tools to support people with a lived experience at all levels.
Since launching “Why Not a Peer Worker?”, we’ve used this ethos to help create a working environment free of stigma or discrimination. We have learned a lot in that time. Firstly, peer work is one of the most pure expressions of using a lived experience of mental health issues to benefit other people. The two key requirements of being a Peer Worker are (1) having a personal history of mental health issues, as well as (2) having a desire to use that lived experience to support others. Beyond these core requirements, our entire peer workforce is also expected to practice the three vital behaviours: engaging in reflective practices, having recovery conversations, and using strengths-based language.
Our Peer Workers walk alongside the people who access our services, encouraging them to use their own decision-making and self-advocacy to get to where they want to be in life. One of the ways our peer workforce has added significant value to Flourish Australia’s service delivery by using their lived experiences is to inspire hope, as simply demonstrating that recovery can be achieved is priceless.
In fact, you might even say that our Peer Workers benefit from their professional roles just as much as the people they support! Taking on such a position has been shown to help our Peer Workers to further develop their identity, to gain confidence in their interpersonal skills, in feeling a sense of value from supporting other people, and they’ll also develop (and share) a lot of transferable skills that will help with future employment situations. However, we need to emphasise that peer work wasn’t created to serve the needs of Peer Workers! Though we certainly encourage all of our staff to be proud of their lived experience and the effort they’ve put into their recovery journeys. After all, dealing with somebody who has had a lived experience of mental health issues can immediately break down many barriers.
A key part of being a Peer Worker is to purposefully use their lived experience to mentor and support the people who access our services. We cannot underestimate how valuable they are in uplifting the people who access these services, but they also play a part when it comes to service design, service delivery, and keeping us focused on the reason our organisation exists.
Peer Workers are expected to fulfil all the duties that our mental health workers fulfil, but they have the added bonus of being able to use their lived experience purposefully to embue hope and to support the people who access our service. Peer Workers are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times, and this means they need to keep certain boundaries in place. Professionally speaking, there is a clear line between a Peer Worker and a friend, and that line cannot be crossed. The ethos of Flourish Australia states that Peer Workers are to support people to “build themselves,” and this means that it’s best for the person to ultimately find their own friends, and not to develop a dependence on a Peer Worker. For more information on boundaries in peer work, check out our “Where are the boundaries?” article on page 31 of Panorama 61. You can also find it on the Panorama Online website.
To continue our mission of running an organisation that’s person-led and values its peer workforce, Flourish Australia will keep asking the same question: how can we best put this mission into practise? How do we keep peer work at the centre of how we operate? One good example of how we’re a peer-run organisation is evident in our recruitment processes: whenever we hire anybody, at least one person with a lived experience is required to be on the interview panel.