Webinar presenter Alana Negroni answered a number of your questions after her presentation, The Benefits of Developing a Peer Support Program. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: Do you have a sample policy and can they contact you? What’s the best way to get a copy of those sample policies handy?
Alana Negroni: On the very first slide our contact information is on there, please feel free to call us. we have several sample policies here in the office that we can go ahead and send you.
Audience Question: When it comes to confidential material, what laws are in place to protect peer supporters and the support team?
Alana Negroni: The reality is, honestly, it’s kind of up in the air. In these law enforcement agencies that really depend on the buy-in from the top. If the Sherriff or the Chief is willing to say listen I’m giving you guys confidentiality so that these conversations are not going to come into if we’re having to look at a critical incident, or an OIS, or police force encounters later on in the aftermath. …We’re not going to factor these confidential conversations as a part of that. As far as law and policy are concerned, there is not. I don’t think to be completely honest unless I’m mistaken, I don’t think there is any. That’s kind of a difficult part we talked about the peer support. That’s why it’s very important that we’ve got buy-in from the top.
Audience Question: What are some other legal issues that agencies should be keeping in mind as they are establishing a program?
Alana Negroni: Just kind of speaking to that whole confidentiality piece. Again on that 3-day training, one of the things that we talked about is confidentiality specifically. We have what we call a statement of clarification, again if it’s something that you guys would like to take a peek at, please feel free to contact us and we’ll send that one over. It really kind of addresses number one, the role of a peer support program but also the parameters. We’ll talk about the fact that I can’t keep the fact that you’re suicidal, I can’t keep that confidential. I can’t keep certain policy violations confidential. I can’t look at your reporting, you’re harming yourself. I can’t keep that confidential. We’re trying to do a really good job at outlining that from the creation of the program. Again the most important part is there has to be buy-in from the top. If there is no buy-in from the top, there is not going to be buy in all the way down. When you are looking at confidentiality issues for departments in creating that, it really is in that policy creation phase that you have to kind of look it. Okay, here’s a concern in the specific department, here’s what we have seen in the past. How can we address that issue with our policy because once a policy is set, well then we have a vacuum with that support.
Audience Question: If a breach does happen in our peer support program, how do we address this and how do we rebuild that trust?
Alana Negroni: Great question because that is not unheard of. We may put certain people on the peer support team and we made mistakes, we make errors. They made a mistake, they made an error, the victim of that person doesn’t completely overhaul who they are but it’s a mistake, it’s an error that I think that those things have to be addressed head-on. If let’s just say I go to a peer supporter and I start sharing my reaction to a critical incident and I find out that that information has been breached and has been shared, I think it becomes the responsibility of that peer support team to have a direct conversation with that individual and say listen we understand this happened, we’re going to face it head on, we are officially apologizing to you. We want to get your feedback as to how we can rectify this situation. I think being open, honest, vulnerable and communicating through all of that is going to be that piece that is going to be really important as far as the repair and moving forward. Listen, peer support they broke my confidentiality, they also came to me and tried to rectify that situation. Every single time that you do that is not going to go over well. It’s not going to work out with very simple say. I think if you are at least, open, honest and directly hit those situations head, you are vulnerable in that process, I think that that is going to be very healing. A lot of the times, we have a saying that people don’t remember the event, they remember their reaction to the event. That kind of fits into that category.
Audience Question: Could you clarify the difference between the peer support team and a critical incident response team?
Alana Negroni: A lot of the time, they are the one and the same. They are very different. A peer support team is a team of individuals that have obviously, in my perfect world, they have been trained, they have been identified by the department, they have been nominated, all that stuff has happened. Their role really is to just kind of be individuals in the department that are open for conversation. You have someone who is struggling with what they are going through, “Cool, I’m here to talk to you if you want to talk about that. I know how to direct you. I know how to carry you through that crisis situation.” That’s kind of the role of a peer support group, we’re separating them. A critical incident team is going to be individuals who have additional training as far as how to run a psychological debriefing, these really are individuals who are coming into critical incidents whether that be a huge one, line of duty death whether that be an officer-involved shooting, a baby not breathing call. Whatever the case maybe they’re people who are trained in the debriefing process to come in and help facilitate a conversation about the critical incident. In most agencies, the peer supporters are also the critical incident team. Some agencies have huge peer support programs and then they selected some of those peer supporters to be the critical incident team. I do think that the critical incident team needs to be comprised of peer supporter because again these are people who would go to when you are struggling with something. I don’t think that the peer supporters need necessarily to be CIT team members if that makes sense.
Audience Question: Some people have pinged me back and said they have looked for Brene Brown on Amazon already. Apparently, she has written like a hundred or something books. Are there certain books of hers that you are recommending? What’s your take on that?
Alana Negroni: I think one of her most recent ones is called Daring Greatly. that’s the one that I would definitely recommend. The Netflix special that she had is called “Called to Courage.’ Those are two that probably kind of pop off my mind immediately.
Audience Question: When an agency is looking to start a peer support program, besides the executive leadership’s support, what are some of the most critical things that need to be in place in order for it to be successful?
Alana Negroni: Honestly, for me, the only critical thing is trust. I think that that is going to be different for each department. If a department has an administration that they automatically trust, you’re not going to have a lot of difficulties getting them to trust and buy into the peer support program. You may not even need to do the whole visible selection process. Some of them are going to advocate for that but it may feel like our administration automatically, they do support us in a lot of different ways so I’m automatically going to trust this program. Maybe automatically is not the right word but more quickly is going to trust the program. If you have a department that has got an administration that they don’t trust in and it feels that they are coming from that era of shut up and do your job and we don’t need to talk about weakness and vulnerability stuff, well then you are going to have a lot of different things, different hurdles that you have to attack. It really comes down to how do we make this department, this particular department trust in a program of support? Sometimes it’s having guest speakers come in and, here’s another plug for Brene, and having somebody like her come in and talk about vulnerability and challenge those very machismo thoughts on vulnerability and courage and bravery and that kind of step one is sometimes having peers. Up until now our speakers come in and talk about here’s what I went through. In that PSA conference, they had one of the firefighters that had been in a very devastating situation. He lost everybody on his team. He came in and talked about how to utilize peer support and consequently mental health. If you have people who have credibility who are not necessarily from the agency who can come in and say here’s how I utilize it, here’s why it’s important. That I think can go a long way as far as trust. I do think it boils down to trust.
Audience Question: Does a peer support program replace the need for EAP or does it work in concert with it? How do these things work together?
Alana Negroni: I think that it works in concert with it. It should not replace the need for EAP because the resources are different. A mental health professional is going to have different resources as far as therapy is going to be concerned as far as that continued crisis management. Peer support program, you have a job, this is not your job but it is my job. The resources are going to be very different. There’s that kind of a third of the pie. 1/3 of people want mental health, 1/3 want a chaplain program, 1/3 want peer support. I don’t think it replaces but I think it just works in tandem.
Audience Question: What do you think about having a peer support program across from other departments? For example, a neighboring jurisdiction provides peer support for its neighbor and vice versa so that you have different peers you are going to but it almost kind of create that feeling of anonymity for lack of better saying it. Especially first I would suggest for smaller agencies this might an intriguing idea.
Alana Negroni: I think that’s great. I don’t know that there should be boundaries as far as they can reach out. I don’t know if this answers the question but you can’t reach out to our peer support team, you have to reach out to that department, I don’t think that that would be a good dynamic but I have seen successfully so many agencies that have come in and peer supported one and another. The reality behind let’s say there is a huge (1:11:32 audio issue) department, those peer supporters are not going to be any good to peer support their department right because they are kind of experiencing that line of duty death as well. To be able to tap into the resources of a neighboring agency and say hey we’re impacted, we’re affected, can we access your peer support team I think, is amazing. To have a coalition where hey I’m struggling with something, I don’t feel like I can be anonymous in my department, can I reach out to another team? I think that’s amazing. If you can get that coordinated, hands down, I think that’s wonderful.
Audience Question: A number of folks are asking about the size of their peer support program. For example, how many peer supporters should we have in our program? Is there a difference in how many we need to get the program started versus how many we need on an ongoing basis? Do we need at least 10 people to get started but that might grow over time? How does that work?
Alana Negroni: Great question. The reason why it is a great question is because there is no definite answer to it, right? I think with different agencies there are going to be different needs. For example, if you have a large sheriff’s department over a big county, you’ve got 5,000 employees in that department, 10 peer support is not going to cut it for 5,000 employees. You want to up that number to many as you can possibly get. I think a hundred is going to be more beneficial. You’ve got a smaller PD that’s got maybe a thousand employees, 10 would be good. I would say if I have to come in with unequivocally want to have at least, I’m going to say 10. 10 is kind of a good starting point, a good number. Yes over time, over trust, over visibility, over connection, you can increase that number. It really does kind of depend on the size of the department.
Audience Question: This raises a good point because one of our folks asks is there a ratio that we should actually be shooting for? In other words, instead of 10 employees, do we need a peer supporter for every 100 employees. Would that be a better metric?
Alana Negroni: It would be a nice way to look at it …to represent the populace you have within a department. The difficult thing there is, hopefully, these people who are nominated that they are saying “I want to be part of the team.” If you are not getting enough nominations in and you say, “Ok, we would like it to be one peer supporter for a hundred employees,” but you are not getting that many people who are being nominated but also one who says they want to be part of the program, that can be a little bit difficult. I think it starts off with how many nominations do we have. Let’s build from there. We had 9000 nominations we only have 10,000 employees. Wow, we need to boil that down a little bit. We have 5,000 employees; we only have 10 people that were nominated. Okay, we were going to make sure those 10 people are a good fit but we are going to train them all. Ten is not good for 5,000. It hopefully builds into that program. It would be good in theory if there would be a very good representation of the population but I just don’t think that that is very practical as far as looking at it that way.
Audience Question: Do peer supports have to be sworn or can they be non-sworn?
Alana Negroni: No, I think in most successful programs I’ve seen it across the board. You want to make sure that the entire department as a whole feels like, I’ve got some peers that are sworn, I’ve got some peers that aren’t. If you do only sworn, it may make everybody else feel like okay they are the only important ones. It makes sense to kind of have it across the board because these are peers, a deputy or an officer is not necessarily peer support a records clerk.
Audience Question: Who supports the peer supporters?
Alana Negroni: That is one of the reasons why it is so important to have that three-piece pie. If a peer supporter is struggling with something, they’ve got two other areas that they kind of reach out to, they have other peer support programs that they can reach out to. I know here, at The Counseling Team specifically we have some very large critical incidents that have occurred over the past couple of years. We really have to take our own advice when it comes to that. We had other clinicians come in, other peer supporters from other agencies, other chaplains come in and debrief. The clinician is debriefing the clinician, the peer supporter is debriefing the peer supporter, the chaplains are debriefing the chaplains or any combination of the above. You do want to make sure. If you are self-caring for other people, you also have to self-care of yourself. Again if you have all three of those pieces, you can kind of turn towards one another or ask another agency with a peer support program as well.
Audience Question: Do you have any, I’m expecting you might have resources there within The Counselling Team’s amazing assets that you have. Do you have any case studies or anything along those lines that show the impact of a peer support program? Again helping to kind of build that business case as you were talking about earlier. Do you have any resources like that that describes the case study and how it helps the agency to reduce turnover, cut costs those kinds of things?
Alana Negroni: Unfortunately, we don’t. That’s so disappointing because that has been I’m preaching about how to come out of the pocket. The difficult thing about obtaining those stats is the confidentiality aspect of that. We don’t have people that are saying I was thinking about filing a stress claim instead I went and talked to peer support. That is going to contribute to the stat. Because of that confidentiality factor, a lot of the times we don’t see that. We do have feedback from some of our departments that we work with and they can talk about the difference that they have seen in their department from the boots all the way up to the brass. We do have those, we do have statements, we do have those testimonials so to speak, as far as that stuff is concerned. But, we don’t have stats because of that confidentiality piece. It’s very difficult to get that stuff.
Audience Question: When you become a peer supporter for your agency, do you become a peer supporter “permanently” or is it a term like a two to three year time period then you go off that volunteer program? How does that work?
Alana Negroni: That’s something that the department can kind of play around with. Technically speaking the way that it works is once you are part of that peer support program, you’re kind of on it until you don’t want to be anymore or until the department says hey you haven’t been active, you haven’t attended any meetings in the last five years, you haven’t had any contact with the staff. We need to fill that space with somebody that is going to be very active. We are asking you to no longer be a part of that program. It’s not one of those assignments where you’re going to, I think sometimes when you have a sergeant in charge or a lieutenant in charge as the coordinator, those can be rotated, right? You’re going to be the sergeant over the peer program for a period of time. As far as just being the part of the peer support program, I usually don’t see timeline specifications. It’s just kind of like you’re on the team until you’re not, that type of thing whether that be because you are going through something you don’t want to be a part of the team since you’re tired, you’ve switched agencies. the department has requested to fill that spot with somebody else is just kind of depends.