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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. 

PAIL Network offers a variety of peer support programs to bereaved families: Community Circles of support groups, loss specific and online support, and one-to-one peer support. Volunteers with a lived experience of loss facilitate these support programs.

  • Community Circles of support group facilitators support groups in their communities that have experienced pregnancy or infant loss.
  • Loss specific online support facilitators use a confidential online platform to provide group support that is organized by types of losses
  • One-to-one peer support facilitators provide peer support over the phone.

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

Community Circles of support group facilitation

PAIL Network offers numerous mixed loss 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 lives. Many facilitators have, themselves, received support from PAIL Network 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 once each month. Parents can attend for as long — and as often — as they need.

The volunteer commitment for a peer group facilitator is largely dependent on how many group facilitators each community has. PAIL Network recruits for a minimum of 4 facilitators for each group. While it is our goal for two facilitators to be present at each group, it is our hope that group facilitators will find self care in not having to be present each month.

Community Circles of Support typically meet twice a month for 1.5-2 hours. 

*As you are aware, there continues to be widespread concern about COVID-19 and there are specific instructions to follow in an effort to stay healthy. All peer support groups have been moved to a confidential online platform. Families, please complete a Request for Support form in order to access a group. We are here for you. If you have any questions, please contact us via email at pailnetwork@sunnybrook.ca ​

>> Click here to see the full list of Community Circles of support groups

Loss Specific Online Support

PAIL Network offers loss specific online group support using a confidential online platform . Each group is offered monthly to start, with a long term goal of being offered on a weekly basis. Each group is offered twice a month and is  organized based on a type of loss. Each group is hosted and moderated by a trained peer support volunteer who has also experienced that type of loss.

The volunteer commitment for hosting and moderating an online group may be monthly depending on how many online volunteers share your type of loss.

>> Click here to see the full list of loss specific online support groups

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 by email.

The volunteer commitment for a one-to-one peer support volunteer can vary for each family they support. Each person who requests one-to-one support by phone is offered up to 4, 45 minute phone calls with one volunteer every one or two weeks. Some people use all 4 phone calls, and some may only need a few calls. Following these four sessions, families can contact PAIL Network if they wish to continue receiving support.

All one-to-one peer support relationships are short term, but regardless of the time spent together, this type of support can be extremely helpful for parents, and very rewarding for volunteers.

Subsequent pregnancy online support

PAIL Network welcomes all families in Ontario who are pregnant after a loss to join our subsequent pregnancy support group.  We understand this can be a difficult and stressful time for families, and that a pregnant persons participation in a Circles of Support group may be triggering for a family.  This group is offered on a confidential online platform twice a month and is facilitated by two trained peer support volunteers.

The volunteer commitment for someone interested in supporting families in this group is 10 weeks. Each series is hosted by the same two peer support volunteers for the full 5 groups over a period of 10 weeks.

Becoming a peer support volunteer

We recognize that it takes a special kind of person to move through their grief in a way that allows for them to open their heart to those who are newly bereaved and in need of support. PAIL Network takes great pride in offering support to our peer support volunteers.

The first step to becoming a peer support volunteer is completing the volunteer application form. Once received, you will be offered a volunteer interview where we will further discuss your interest in volunteering and the role of the peer support volunteer. All peer support volunteers complete the required training and orientation before embarking on their role as peer support facilitator. PAIL Network also offers a volunteer mentorship opportunity with an experienced peer support volunteer.

Your role as a peer support volunteer

Our peer support volunteers play a vital role in offering support to bereaved families throughout Ontario. Talking to someone who has also been affected by the loss of their pregnancy, or death of their baby, and who is available by phone or to meet in a group is invaluable. PAIL Network is very proud to be able to offer this free service and we are grateful to the many volunteers around the province who share their hearts with bereaved families, like their own. While we are careful to only offer peer support roles to individuals who are around two years post their bereavement date, there is no specific skills or educational requirement to offer peer support.

Here is what you can expect from 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.

You will provide support to bereaved parents, healthcare 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 healthcare 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