The role of digital innovations in the delivery of peer support
We believe that the answer lies in leveraging the power and ubiquitous nature of digital technologies and within the Health Lab, one of our core aims is to accelerate the use of safe and effective digital innovations in the health and care context.
Beyond Boundaries was launched earlier this year as Body and Soul’s new national peer and professional support service for young people living with HIV delivered through Skype and over the phone.
We invited Bianca Karpf, Body and Soul’s Public Health Partnerships and Programmes Manager, to share some reflections in her role as the programme delivery lead.
This has been an extremely exciting new venture for Body & Soul, as a charity working with children, young people and families living with or affected by HIV in London as it has enabled us to remove the barriers to accessing our services that some young vulnerable people face. The programme has allowed us to expand our services to young people across the country and built on and strengthened our use of digital technology to support people living with HIV.
So far we have engaged 221 young people across 58 boroughs/counties across the country. Something we were initially surprised at was the number of young people using the service from inner-city areas where there are existing support networks. This just goes to show that barriers to accessing physical support are not only geographical but social and psychological.
We have been meeting with staff in HIV clinics across the country who have showed real enthusiasm and support for the programme and so we hope that this will bring in a fresh wave of referrals from a wider cohort of young people. This in itself will bring fresh challenges in terms of training up more Peer Coaches to accommodate the increase but we are extremely excited to be able to broaden our reach.
Beyond Boundaries is partly delivered through our team of incredible Peer Coaches. Inherent to the programme is the support and training we provide to these Peer Coaches to enable them to deliver impactful peer support and deal with emotional challenges associated with such a role. This includes regular training sessions designed to help them develop their skills as a coach and we have been implementing feedback from Peer Coaches on an ongoing basis in order to continuously develop our training.
Here is the story of one of our Peer Coaches, Hakeem, which brings to life the impact of Beyond Boundaries from a peer mentor perspective.
Hakeem is a 17 year old Teen Spirit member who has been attending Body & Soul regularly for a few years and who was recently recruited as a Peer Coach for ‘Beyond Boundaries’. Hakeem has a cohort of teenaged mentees whom he supports on a range of issues surrounding medication, relationships, education and status disclosure. He has attended monthly training sessions – one on developing self-awareness as a peer coach, and active listening and questioning skills. He has also engaged with training on advocacy for young people and addressing challenging conversations surrounding other chronic illnesses and counselling needs.
Prior to being allocated a cohort of mentees, Hakeem shadowed some of our more experienced coaches and developed an understanding of the importance of thinking time during calls and the value of open questions. Young people are not always in the space to connect on a weekly basis and although Hakeem has found this challenging at times, he has shown resilience regardless and shown considerable commitment to the role and developing his skills in a relatively short space of time.
Hakeem has been exceptionally proactive in reflecting upon his HIV journey whilst at Body & Soul and has used these reflections to engage with groups training discussions and coaching role plays. Becoming a Peer Coach has further helped Hakeem learn about himself, develop a deeper understanding of the impact of living with HIV and empowered him to use this knowledge to help others. Most significantly, when Hakeem started attending Teen Spirit, he hoped to pursue further studies in Sociology and the Media.
However, since becoming a mentor, he has now decided to embark on a career he might not have considered in Youth Mentoring where he has developed a passion for listening to others and providing a safe space for them to explore their vulnerabilities.
Through Hakeem’s journey from a member to a mentor, he has gained the confidence to grow both personally and academically, inspiring him to aspire beyond his status or in his words see ‘….that there is light at the end of the tunnel in a haven that I have not been able to find elsewhere’.
So how can young people living with HIV in one part of the country use their lived experience to support others with HIV in another part of the country? We believe Body and Soul's Beyond Boundaries programme is one digital innovation that looks to answer this question and we are excited to see its long term impact.