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A goal of most, if not all, support programs is to sustain the program (keep it running) and make it a permanent service in the institution or community where it operates. Sustaining a program includes planning for the future, always looking to adapt to meet the needs of those you serve, being willing to change, and if desired, expand the program. All of this requires a committed team of program leaders, peer supporters, key people who have some stake or interest in the program, and program champions.
To sustain your peer support program, the following may be needed:
At some point your program may need financial support. Funding can be secured by attracting funding organizations, applying for grants, charging for services, or requesting donations (both from satisfied participants and others).
Organizational Capacity (maintaining leaders, staff, volunteers and program champions)
Organization capacity involves having enough people to run the program. One way to maintain or increase the number of supporters in your program is to recruit previous program participants to become peer supporters. Having program champions ( leaders who can support a program in the larger organization or community ) may also be helpful. Champions may be physicians, staff, social workers; or in community-based organizations, experienced peers who have been supporters but have “graduated” to be trainers or coordinators.
To ensure the program has the capacity to successfully serve participants, it is very important to retain a motivated program team. This may include leaders, staff, and volunteers. There are a variety of methods that your program can use if you find it difficult to meet the needs of peer supporters (and to keep an adequate number trained and available). New or creative tactics may be needed to keep them engaged in the program. A sufficient number of new peer supporters to manage unexpected dropouts and allow for expanded services may be needed. Below are some examples:
- Create a positive space, such as an awards dinner to help your supporters feel valued and appreciated.
- Have your program leaders provide personal feedback to peer supporters as an incentive to continue in their role.
- Form a strong personal relationship with program personnel, which may increase their desire to stay with the program.
- Greet program participants in a welcoming and friendly way, without judging their ability to improve their situation (may help engage them in being a supporter in the future).
- Keep track of your program participants after they have used peer services and offer them opportunities to be engaged in the program (for example, reaching out for more participants, helping with fund raising, assisting with program logistics, training to be a peer supporter).
A program must have the ability to evolve, maintain, and expand in response to continuous updates and improvements. Many organizations or program leaders develop their program to better serve peer supporters and program participants. Such changes may be small (for example, adding a best practice to training on support services). Other changes can be much larger and can mean completely changing the program. Program leaders need to consider whether their current program is effective and how volunteers and participants are responding to it. For example, NAMI has advisory groups that include past participants, current supporters and program leaders to help identify and secure a group of experts in the field. To remain flexible, programs should take a proactive problem-solving approach, rather than a reactive one. Staff need to keep the needs of possible participants in mind when creating a program and as the program evolves.
“At the end of my talk our very own cardiologist pulled me aside, and said…it really opened her eyes to the importance that maybe not everyone wants to talk with another parent, but many do, and so the importance of educating the staff and having the hospital buy into this as another tool in their toolbox for treating not only the patient but treating the whole family, because when the parents are feeling heard and supported they're going to be better able to care for their child.”
— Quote from a program leader
Evaluation Methods (including consumer feedback/success stories, adherence to best practices)
An evaluation can help ‘make the case’ for continuing your program. For example, the information and feedback collected on the quality of peer support services (from both program participants and peer supporters) can prompt changes to improve services and help your program evolve and succeed. As the program develops, participants may find that some practices work well and others do not work quite as well. Their input can be invaluable and help guide further development and changes to the program.
An evaluation can determine whether the program has achieved what it hoped to do. If your program met its original purpose and goals, and adhered to best practices in training and development of support activities, you can use these achievements to support your argument to continue the program and also to support applications for funding.
Collecting and sharing success stories also strengthens support for your program. These personal accounts can get the organization or community behind the peer support program. Engaging key people or groups with an interest in the program in this personal way may be a very effective way to build a supportive culture.
Following the Program Guide and Recommended Guidelines and Standards
It is important to follow your program guide and also revisit guidelines or standards to see if any recommend changes as you sustain the peer support program. For example, ‘experts’ in relevant fields can be involved in an advisory board to consider how well your program is following recommended approaches. Further, a new program site that will offer an established program can look to other sites to model their approach (the idea of not reinventing the wheel), thus making it easier for new sites to start up and succeed.
Questions to consider in your work to sustain the program:
- Who are possible program champions?
- How efficient and effective is the program?
- What is the plan for maintaining the program?
- How feasible/acceptable is the sustainability plan?
- Are there recommendations for expansion? If so, what are the criteria?
Updated: March 2018