Peer support volunteer opportunities

What is peer support?

Peer support refers to support from a person who has acquired knowledge based their own experience, and draws from that experience when interacting with others in a supportive setting.

Connecting with another person who has lived through a similar life-changing event can be a vital link for someone struggling with their own situation. A supportive peer can model hope, encourage healing and help others integrate their new life circumstances. Peer support is based on key principles of respect, connection, mutual agreement and empathy.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Network and our team of dedicated volunteers play a vital part in providing support to anyone in Ontario who has been affected by pregnancy and/or infant loss.

What we do:

  • Provide bereavement support services to anyone who has experienced miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, medical termination, stillbirth and neonatal death up to the first twelve months of life.
  • Provide educational programs for professionals, public education to the general public, and support pregnancy & infant loss research initiatives.
  • Work in partnership with health-care professionals to improve the quality of care and services offered to bereaved families.

PAIL Network offers two types of peer support programs to bereaved families: peer-led support groups and one-to-one peer support. Volunteers with a lived experience of loss facilitate both of these support programs.

Peer-support group facilitators support groups in their communities that have experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
One-to-one peer support facilitators provide peer support over the phone or online.

Learn more about both of these support programs, and the roles our volunteers play, below.

Peer-led support group facilitation

PAIL Network offers peer-led support groups across Ontario. Many bereaved parents find that sharing their experiences with others is helpful to their grieving processes. They may realize that they are not alone and that their feelings are normal. Attendees report feeling less isolated and more supported during the healing process. Many participants form long-term friendships.

Facilitators of these support groups are trained volunteers who have direct experience with pregnancy or infant loss through their personal or professional lives. Many facilitators were once participants and chose to volunteer in order to give back to the space that helped them.

Groups are open to all parents at any stage of their grief journey, whether their loss was one week ago, or many years past. Most groups meet twice a month. Parents can attend for as long — and as often — as they need.

One-to-one peer support

In certain circumstances, bereaved parents are either unable or choose not to attend support groups. They may be unable to attend because of external factors, such as their location, work schedules or family responsibilities. In other instances, parents may not be ready or interested in sharing in a group setting.

A trained volunteer facilitator connects one-on-one with the bereaved parent requesting support. Where possible, matches are made between people who have similar loss experiences, backgrounds, and/or cultural identities. The facilitator will usually set up a phone meeting with an individual, but connections can also be made in person, through email, text or other forms of communication.

One-to-one peer support relationships can be short term, or can turn into long-term connections. Regardless of the time spent together, this type of support can be extremely helpful for parents, and very rewarding for volunteers.

Becoming a peer support volunteer

By embarking on peer-support facilitator training, participants who are bereaved move into the role of a supporter.

Your role as a peer support volunteer

  • To be there alongside the bereaved, showing that you care, want to offer support, have time to listen, and do not mind hearing their story many times over.
  • To be a good listener. By listening, you are helping the bereaved integrate their new reality and make sense of their loss.
  • Be empathetic to their experiences, helping them to identify their difficult, complicated and perhaps disturbing feelings. These may range from anger, guilt, fear, anxiety and helplessness. All of these feelings are natural, and are feelings you as a supporter may have experienced yourself.
  • To offer reassurance that what they are experiencing is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. You can be a positive presence in the bereaved’s life, and can show that over time they too may find ways to integrate the loss in their lives in positive ways.
  • To offer continuous, ongoing support. Grief is a process that is different for everyone, and has many ups and downs. Your support may be needed over many months.
  • To keep their confidence and offer reliable support. Bereaved people may need to feel “held,” and it is important that they know that you are able to contain a confidential, reliable, consistent environment for them to share in.
  • To know when you are out of your depth. Recognize when grief is becoming unresolved or pre-existing issues exist, and seek the advice of others to make appropriate referrals.
  • Understand that you have needs, too. Develop your own support networks and mechanisms that you can rely on when you have a difficult time or need to talk about feelings that may arise working in the role of a support person.

Responsibilities

You will provide support to bereaved parents, health-care providers and others by offering one-on-one support and/or facilitation of group support meetings.

Peer support complements primary care services, and does not replace the role of professional health-care providers. Knowing your limits and boundaries can help you prepare for a sustainable, long-term peer support relationship.

As a support volunteer, you are responsible for the following:

  • Maintaining the confidentiality of the bereaved parent
  • Sharing only as much of your own experience as necessary
  • Examining your personal limitations and boundaries
  • Having in place a suitable system of supervision/support for yourself
  • Having a good working knowledge of other local provincial resources for bereaved parents

For more information, please contact us at PAILvolunteer@sunnybrook.ca