Structuring Your Project
Being clear about the shape and size of your project from the start is important. We have looked at some of the key strategic questions you need to ask already. Whether you are setting up one-to-one, group, online support or a mixture of types of support, you will need structure for your project. Sorting out the processes, policies and paperwork for a peer support, or indeed any project, is not as exciting as visioning and free thinking about the possibilities for peer support. However, if you ensure that your project plan is robust, you can be more creative and responsive as you have the structures in place. Having a robust project is different from being rigid – generally, good practice lends itself to being able to be flexible. To help you, we have included template forms, policies and procedures that you can download and adapt for your own use. No doubt if you are developing your project within an organisation you will – or should have – most of the procedures already set up and in place.
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Policies and Procedures
Having the right policies and procedures in place ensures that your project is safe, and that you are legally covered. You should ensure that anyone involved in your peer support project is aware of the policies that relate to the project, and where they can find them. A good place to outline what policies people involved in your project need to be aware of is in a project handbook.
The following are the minimum we feel are important for you to develop and the reasons why:
Lone Working Policy and Procedure
Wherever Peer Supporters are working alone, you need a Lone Working Policy and Procedure. Personal safety is a joint responsibility. You have a responsibility for assessing the potential risk for your Peer Supporters and for avoiding or controlling these risks. Your Peer Supporters also have a responsibility for taking care of themselves and the people that they are supporting.
Scenarios for lone working include the following:
- One-to-one peer support in the community or people’s homes
- One-to-one peer support on site but out of hours where core staff may not be present
- Group facilitation off site
- Group facilitation on site and out of hours
Your policy will outline your responsibility as an organisation and what you do to mitigate risk and ensure your volunteers are safe.
Your procedure will include instructions and any forms and actions that need to be completed before, during and after a lone working scenario.
The foundation of the peer support relationship is based on trust. One of the biggest features of one-to-one or group support is that people feel safe, and reassured that they can share information safely. A key feature for HIV peer support is that the Peer Supporter and other people in a group scenario may be the only people apart from clinical staff who know about a person’s HIV status. The fear of rejection and discrimination can mean that you are one of the first people to be trusted with a person’s story. This makes your approach to confidentiality key to the success of your project.
Everyone involved in your project needs to understand that confidentiality is between the individual and the organisation. It is also vital that people engaging in peer support are aware of what confidentiality means, and in what situations Peer Supporters might need to share information outside the one-to-one or group relationship.
Key points to remember regarding confidentiality:
- Everyone involved in your project must be clear that information is treated with care, and their confidentiality is taken seriously
The circumstances in which information might be shared outside the organisation would include:
- Where there is reason to believe that someone being supported may cause harm to themselves or others
- Where information is shared that indicates a serious crime has been committed
- Where information is shared that indicates a safeguarding issue
- Where information is shared that suggests there may be a terrorist threat
It is good practice to be clear about the process by which information is recorded, where it is kept and the people who might have access. This helps everyone accessing your service feel safe and reassured.
You need to cover Confidentiality during training, and reinforce it during supervision with Peer Supporters. People being supported should also be clear on your approach to confidentiality during any discussions you have with them. You should ensure that any confidentiality agreements and other paperwork relating to this area is signed and kept safely. If problems do arise, it is important that you demonstrate that you have followed a clear procedure and that you can show that everyone involved in your project has been made aware of your policies and procedures.
DBS Policy and Procedure
There is often a great deal of uncertainty about what DBS checks are, and who needs them. DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Checks replace the CRB check. Previously, anyone working with Children or Vulnerable Adults would have to have a CRB check. In 2012, under the Protection of Freedom Act, things changed. The DBS check was introduced and now people are assessed as needing a check depending on the kind of activities they are engaged in during the course of their work or volunteering. These are called ‘regulated activities’ and defines activities that, if any adult requires them, leads to that adult being considered vulnerable at a particular time.
You can find out if you can apply to DBS check a role using the tool here.
You need to be aware that carrying out DBS checks for workers and volunteers who do not require them is a criminal offence. Eligibility for DBS checks is set out in the following legislation:
To be eligible for a standard level DBS certificate, the position must be included in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975.
To be eligible for an enhanced level DBS certificate, the position must be included in both the ROA Exceptions Order and in the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) regulations.
Enhanced checks with children’s and/or adults’ barred list check(s)
To be eligible to request a check of the barred lists, the position must be eligible for an enhanced level DBS certificate and be specifically listed in the Police Act 1997 (Criminal Records) regulations as being eligible to check the appropriate barred list(s).
What is disclosed by the different types of DBS check is outlined below:
|Information||Basic Check||Standard Check||Standard Check||Enhanced + Barring Check|
(reprimands & warnings included)
(if police deem relevant)
(if police deem relevant)
|Inclusion of Childrens’ Barring List||Yes
|Inclusion of Adults’ Barring List||Yes
As Peer Supporters may be working one-to-one, services may consider that a DBS check is desirable, despite the fact that they are not carrying out a regulated activity as defined above. In this case a risk assessment of the role should be undertaken. Carrying out a risk assessment will demonstrate the potential for harm should the role be abused. Therefore, as part of good safeguarding practice, a DBS check should be carried out. An example of a risk assessment for Peer Supporter roles can be found here.
If you are setting up your project as part of an organisation that already carries out DBS checks for employee and/or volunteer roles, you will be able to use your current processes for this purpose. If your organisation does not currently carry out DBS checks or you are setting up from scratch, you will need to contact an umbrella organisation to have checks carried out on your behalf. There will be a charge involved.
You can find more information about DBS checks on GOV.UK here.
However you decide to proceed with DBS checks, you should either have a DBS policy and procedure, or cover this topic in your Adult Safeguarding Policy and Procedure.
Positively UK use the following service for DBS checks: DDC Due Diligence Checking.
Safeguarding Policy and Procedure
Peer Support projects generally need a safeguarding policy. Safeguarding is about prevention as well as reacting to issues and circumstances that may arise. It means ensuring that policy and procedure runs through the organisation to ensure the protection of vulnerable children and/or adults wherever possible. If A Peer Supporter suspects abuse, or has abuse reported to them, you need clear guidelines and procedures for action and support. Everyone involved in your project needs to be aware of your policy regarding safeguarding and their responsibilities in relation to it. You should cover safeguarding in your training and induction and ensure that Peer Supporters know what to do in the event that they need to raise a concern.
Volunteer Policy and Handbook
If your Peer Supporters are employees, they will be covered by your organisation’s Human Resources (HR) policies and procedures. A volunteer policy, although not a statutory requirement, is good practice and sets out a statement of your commitment to your volunteers and your expectations of them. Whilst volunteers will be expected to adhere to organisation policy such as Health and Safety, Safeguarding, Lone Working and Equal Opportunities, they are not employees and your HR policies do not relate to the time they give to the organisation.
For this reason, a volunteer policy serves to set out your approach in relation to areas such as:
- Reimbursement of expenses — you should also have an Expenses Policy that you can refer volunteers to if you are operating as part of a larger organisation. The Volunteer Policy should include a short statement of intent regarding the reimbursement of expenses and what volunteers can expect.
- Recruitment — a Volunteer Recruitment Policy will have more detail, but an outline of the stages of recruitment ensures that Peer Supporters and other volunteers in the organisation see an equality of treatment for all volunteers.
- Training and development — this should set out your intention for your volunteers and what value you place on the ongoing training and development of people giving their time to your organisation.
- Supervision — you may want to develop a separate policy for this, or give more information in your handbook but your attitude towards and expectations for supervision should be made clear here.
- Dealing with issues and problems — you must be careful that volunteers are not considered in the same way as employees. They must not be bound by the same disciplinary procedures as staff members. You should be clear about how you will deal with volunteer issues and problems and show consistency.
- How to make a complaint — your grievance procedure for staff will not apply to volunteers. However, you should be clear about how a volunteer can make a complaint, and will happen if they do.
- Giving and receiving feedback — being clear about when you give feedback, and being open about receiving feedback and what you do with feedback will reassure Peer Supporters that they have a mechanism for sharing their thoughts and ideas.
(this list is not exhaustive)
Your volunteer policy will ensure that there is a delineation between volunteer and employee. It ensures that volunteers are not expected to adhere to the same policies as employees in relation to areas such as sickness absence, maternity/paternity, disciplinary, capability, annual leave, remuneration. Whilst this may seem obvious, there is case law where the line between employee and volunteer has been blurred and volunteers have been able to prove that they were effectively employed but were being treated less fairly than actual employees.
Whilst a clear policy will set out your position and approach to support and management of volunteers, a handbook for your Peer Supporters is an opportunity to offer a more tailored ‘manual’. Your handbook will echo your volunteer policy and include information particular to the Peer Supporter role. If you work as part of an organisation that recruits volunteers for a range of roles, a generic document (volunteer policy) and specific information (Peer Support handbook) will be particularly useful. If you work only with Peer Supporters, you may be able to produce a document that combines the policy and handbook. Your handbook should also direct Peer Supporters to the particular organisation policies that affect them.
Equal Opportunities Policy
Having a clear Equal Opportunities Policy demonstrates your group or organisation’s commitment to equal opportunities and non-discriminatory procedures and practices. It also reinforces your commitment to valuing diversity and difference. Your policy should be up to date, regularly reviewed and made available to everyone involved in your project.
Whilst volunteers are not protected by anti-discrimination employment law, there are two very important reasons you should have a policy that covers your approach to equality and diversity even if everyone involved is a volunteer:
- As an organisation or group delivering peer support to people living with HIV you will be committed to demonstrating that you embrace anti-discriminatory practice
- Your Peer Supporters are delivering your service and are acting on your behalf if they unlawfully discriminate against linked to your organisation/group. You could therefore be held responsible for their actions.
There are also some examples of useful websites for you to consider when developing your policy and approach to equal opportunities here:
Health and Safety Policy and Procedure
Health and Safety is most commonly associated with bureaucracy and seen as a barrier to activity. It is often overlooked as the term would not seem to commonly apply to activity such as peer support. However, taking practical steps and thinking in advance about your project and the welfare of anyone who is part of it can save problems later on. For a peer support project, there could be various health and safety considerations. If you are setting up the project within an organisation, you should check that your policy covers the activities you are involved in. If you are setting up from scratch and using/hiring venues, you need to make sure that they have policies covering all aspects of health and safety as part of your risk assessment.
The main piece of legislation relating to health and safety in the workplace is The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Although your project may be mainly, or solely run by volunteers and operate from another premises, you still have a general legal responsibility to take care to avoid injury to people. Legally, your group has a duty of care to your Peer Supporters and other people accessing your services. This means you should do everything you can to protect people from harm. Part of your procedures should include a risk assessment form that you complete when starting new activities and an incident form. This way you can demonstrate what you do to mitigate risk in your project, and how you respond when accidents occur.
These websites might also be helpful: