Objective: Our community partner, the Family Support Institute (FSI) of British Columbia, sought to have some of their programs evaluated. Across Canada, there are few organizations like FSI that offer peer-based support to caregivers and families of persons with diverse abilities. There is a need to better understand peer support and how it can be effectively delivered.
Our community partner had not previously evaluated their programs with an outside partner and were seeking to identify opportunities for improvement. At the same time, we were interested in learning more about the family support program and how it functions so that other organizations, professionals, families, and communities could learn from FSI’s experience as a well-established community-based organization supporting families of persons with diverse needs.
Actions: We developed a plan to identify specific components of FSI’s organization to evaluate and explored different approaches to answering FSI’s questions about their program. We also explored opportunities to leverage outcomes of this evaluation to inform the broader community about how an organization like FSI works to support families.
We engaged in discussions around what components of the organization should be evaluated and identified research questions to answer. The components of FSI’s organization that we evaluated included their Family Support Program (a peer support network for families), www.findsupportbc.ca and their training activities for staff, volunteers, and community members.
We created a survey and invited caregivers and family members involved with FSI’s Family Support Program to share their perspectives, invited members of the Family Support Program to participate in in-depth interviews to describe their experience in providing and receiving peer support, created feedback surveys for www.findsupportbc.ca and for training activities, analyzed survey data and initial interviews and shared our findings with FSI, documented our findings in research reports, submitted publications to peer reviewed journals, and in posters and presentations at conferences, and are now in the process of scheduling focus groups aimed at identifying needs of resource parents and staff coordinators within the Family Support Program.
Our project has taken place in the context of the pandemic, so adjustments are constantly being made to ensure we are gathering the data that is most relevant to FSI and the families they support. Regular communication with partners, flexibility, and making use of technology (e.g., Zoom) have been and will continue to be essential to the success of this project.
Outcomes: We analysed survey data and initial interviews and shared our findings with FSI. We also documented our findings in research reports, submitted publications to peer reviewed journals, and in posters and presentations at conferences. Our work has increased FSI’s capacity to evaluate their training events, increased visibility of their organization’s work, and our ongoing evaluation of the experience of members of their peer support network will continue to inform the delivery of the support they offer. An essential component of resilience is taking part in discussions about things that matter to you. Our project has created multiple opportunities for family members to share their perspectives about what they find helpful and to identify gaps in support.
We are still in the process of analysing some of our data and have plans to share the outcomes with FSI. We also intend to write articles to publish in peer-reviewed journals and present our findings at conferences in order to share this work with the research and professional community. We have scheduled focus groups with volunteers and staff coordinators to better understand their needs in the context of the Family Support Program. With increased capacity, FSI will continue to regularly evaluate their training activities through the surveys we developed together.