Spotlight: Tiny Lives Peer Supporters

In celebration of National Volunteer Week, Jacqui Adams our Project Development Officer has written an article highlighting the wonderful work our Peer Support Volunteers carry out.

Our Peer Support Project offers a vital community to parents while their baby is on the Neonatal Unit at the RVI and once they have been discharged home. Tiny Lives Peer Support volunteers are all parents with lived experience of having a baby on the Neonatal Unit. With the help of the Hospital Volunteers Service in the recruitment and training process, we can provide 1:1 and group support to families at the time they need it most by connecting them to other Mams and Dads who understand all the ups, downs and quirks of the Neonatal Unit from a parent’s perspective. They truly have walked in their shoes and use their lived experience to offer a listening ear, support, and encouragement at one of the most stressful times of a family’s life.

The project began in December 2017 with Dads, facilitated by Matt Cray, one on the Neonatal Nurses, and supported by Tiny Lives. By 2019 there was a core group of 6 dedicated Dads. In October 2019, the Dads Team volunteers completed their hospital volunteer training and started to hold weekly 1:1 drop in sessions for dads on the unit. In 2020 the Dads Team were joined by Mams peer support volunteers too.

Current Peer Support Initiatives:

The SCBU Dads Team (specifically for Neonatal Dads)
Mams Team (specifically for Neonatal Mams)
Stay and Play and Buggy Walks (for families once they’ve been discharged)

The days can be long on the Neonatal Unit and as a regional level 3 centre often parents are far from home, family, and friends. The Peer Support volunteers go onto the unit at least twice a week. They offer a friendly conversation and someone to relate to.

As a Dad, you may have a completely different emotional experience to a Mam when your child has to spend time on the Unit. The Dads’ Team helps to address this. Alongside our face-to-face support we also run two closed WhatsApp groups; ‘Dads’ Chat’ and ‘Mams’ Chat’ which provide extra support and enables parents to connect with peer support at a time that suits them, these groups provide an informal supportive network for parents to support each other and share hints and tips about having a neonatal baby. The Peer Support team have also hosted a family pizza night encouraging parents to take a well-earned break and grab a bite to eat as this is often something parents on a Neonatal Unit forget to do!

Dads often have to go back to work before their baby is discharged from hospital and may also have other children at home to care for while their partners spend time on the Neonatal Unit. We also hold a ‘Dads Get Together’, this group meets outside the hospital grounds but near to the RVI. Our Dads’ Team encourage Dads with babies currently on the unit and those now home to meet up for a chat over some food and a cuppa. It’s a safe space for Dads to talk about what’s happening and share some of the challenges.

Below are some lovely comments we’ve received surrounding our peer support team.
“I was hesitant to go at first, but James was fantastic and made it all feel like a normal conversation with a mate”
“I never expected it (worry/stress) to be a thing for me but given how much I have been struggling, I gave it a shot and have nothing but good things to say about the Dads team and Tiny Lives”
“Thank you for helping me feel strong enough and ready to get back out and help”

Our Peer Support Project is a great example of partnership work between Tiny Lives Trust, the Hospital Volunteer Service and the Neonatal staff team who promote the benefits of peer support to families on the unit. However, this service would not be possible or sustainable without the commitment, enthusiasm and time offered by our wonderful Peer Support volunteers.

Thank you for all your hard work and dedication!