We are in the process of drafting our position statement on the Peer Workforce and we would love to hear your comments. Please send any feedback to info@being.org.au or call us on 02 9332 0200.

Our statement includes a bit of background on our decisions, as well as priorities on what we feel is important to change based on the various consultations we’ve had with the peer workforce.

The mental health peer workforce is a growing discipline in the Australian mental health sector. With increasing support for the development and expansion of the peer workforce, numbers of peer workers employed across the mental health sector is rising. However, more still needs to be done to support this workforce as it continues to grow.

Being believes that peer workers are an essential component of the mental health workforce that aim to support people experiencing mental illness through peer support and advocacy. By utilising their own personal lived experience of mental illness and recovery, they are able to work from a place of understanding and mutuality to support another in reaching their own personal recovery goals, lead a meaningful and purposeful life, and regain a sense of empowerment and hope for the future. Peer workers are also an active voice for lived experience perspectives and are involved in systemic advocacy and systems change at local, state and national levels. Further, peer workers have the capacity to support services to move towards recovery-oriented practices, encourage emphasis on the consumer experience and ensure that services are working with consumers toward their personal recovery goals.

In addition, we are seeing more positions in leadership that are designated lived experience positons in organisations across the country. This includes Fay Jackson in the position of Deputy Commissioner for NSW with the NSW Mental Health Commission, and Janet Meagher, the former Commissioner with the National Mental Health Commission. At Being, we also have designated peer positions within our policy team, our Operations Manager and our CEO.

Being supports the development of the peer workforce and recognizes the value of this workforce in supporting people experiencing mental health concerns. The work of peer workers and advocates across the state and at a national level in advocating for support, development and investment into the peer workforce has been integral to the success in establishing this workforce as a discipline. We are at a critical point in time where we must look to better support the peer workforce to ensure its continued development and growth. Being is committed to working with the peer workforce within New South Wales and advocating for the necessary change to support and sustain this workforce into the future.

Background to Being’s position:

  • Peer workers are integral to the support and empowerment of people with a lived experience of mental illness.
  • Implementation of a peer workforce has led to an increased focus on recovery oriented, trauma informed and person centered practices in services working with people with a lived experience of mental illness.
  • The presence and voice of peer workers in the mental health system has led necessary culture changes within services and at a systemic level.
  • Living Well: A Strategic Plan for Mental Health in NSW1 was accepted by government in 2014 and there are a range of actions relating to the peer workforce requiring a commitment to implement.

Issues raised by Peer Workers with lived experience of mental illness:

  • Supervision for peer workers is inconsistent across services. More formal methods of supervision need to be implemented.
  • Many peer workers work in isolation from other peer workers. Networking is incredibly important and those that are working in isolation need to be linked in with local networks to support them in their position. Often this is a concern in relation to debriefing.
  • Many peer workers are working towards or have completed the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work, however there are still a large number that haven’t. Opportunities to access the Recognition of Prior Learning Pathway may increase these numbers.
  • It can be hard for aspiring peer workers to enter the workforce. Previous entry requirements for the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work have prevented those not employed by a service from completing this certificate, which is now an essential criterion to undertake a peer work role. Now that the entry requirements have changed, this should increase work prospects for aspiring peer workers.
  • There is still ambiguity about career pathways for peer workers. As the peer workforce grows and becomes as more established discipline, these pathways need to be mapped out and made available to sustain the peer workforce.
  • The culture within mental health services can be isolating or stigmatising to work in.
  • The Peer Workforce is a discipline that currently does not have a governing body at a state or national level. There has been recent conversation about the need for a governing body in further establishing peer work as a formalized profession.
  • Currently, there are no evaluations or capabilities for effectiveness mandated for peer workforce practice. In order to demonstrate the effectiveness of the peer workforce and sustain a minimum standard for peer work practice, Being will be looking into the development of a set of capabilities for the peer workforce in NSW.
  • Roles and responsibilities of peer workers differ from service to service, and sector to sector.

Priority areas for change:

  • Increase support for upskilling of the workforce.
  • Formalised and consistent systems of supervision for peer workers.
  • Reducing stigma and discrimination by educating the mental health system about the importance and value of peer work.
  • Improved working conditions including connecting peer workers that work in isolation.
  • Career pathways for peer workers mapped and transparent.
  • Continuing advocacy for a peak peer work organisation for NSW and Australia.
  • Partnerships between service sectors to support peer workers in all parts of the mental health system including but not limited to public health, non-government organisations, community managed organisations and private services.

Recommendations:

  • An updated Statewide Peer Workforce framework is necessary to support the development and growth of the peer workforce in NSW. Commitment to implement the framework as per the actions of Living Well (Action 8.2.1).
  • Peer workers should have opportunity to complete the Certificate IV in Mental Health Peer Work to support them in their roles (Living Well Action 8.2.2). This includes supporting aspiring peer workers in attaining this qualification needed to enter the peer workforce.
  • Implement actions of Living Well.
  • A review of supervision practices is needed to gain a picture as to how supervision is being implemented across the state. Further, a more formalised and consistent approach to peer work supervision needs to be incorporated across all services.
  • Training and support to be provided to services and service managers on how to work with peer workers in essential in supporting the peer workforce.
  • Being to continue to work closely with the NSW Consumer Workers Committee and other key stakeholders across the state to ensure that, together, we can best advocate for the needs of a growing workforce.
  • Mapping of career pathways for peer workers.
  • Linking peer workers within all parts of the mental health system together to develop networks.
  • A governing body to be appointed at a state or national Level as per the Peer Work Leadership Statement of Intent document (International Leadership for Mental Health Leadership, 20171) to support the formalisation of the peer work profession which has been signed by Being.
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