Bianca has worked in various lived experience roles for over 16 years. She is currently a Senior Lived Experience Advisor at Mind Australia, a community mental health service in Victoria. In her six years at Mind Australia, she has seen its dedicated peer workforce grow, and peer work become more highly valued and recognised as a professional discipline.
In the last two years, 10 non‑lived experience mental health workers have moved into peer roles because they’ve seen how supported our peer workers are, and how valued they are by the organisation. People are being drawn to that, and to use their lived experience.
Mind Australia has developed systems and training to support staff in doing peer support work. As part of her capacity‑building role, Bianca has been involved in developing a new framework for peer workers that helps define their role.
Being aware of what the peer role is, and that the peer model is less about the tasks and more about how they approached the work or how they do their work. I think that’s what makes it a discipline.
Bianca said that by using their lived experience, peer workers can engage with consumers and achieve outcomes that may not otherwise have been possible. She explains how it can break down the power imbalance that can be felt between consumers and mental health practitioners and helps develop consumers’ trust.
Partially it comes down to that permanent state of disclosure of having ‘peer’ in the title. So just introducing yourself to somebody as a peer worker, automatically, you are seen as more equal. Peer workers also have the tools to build their knowledge of different power imbalances and the impact these can have as well as working towards minimising these imbalances.
It could be that the peer worker might have shared something about themselves, which then made the client trust them more or that they feel safe to share something.
Over the years, many staff at Mind Australia have moved from peer worker roles into team leader and management positions, which has had a positive impact on the workplace culture. Bianca says that having people with lived experience in both peer roles and management positions has been important in bringing lived experience perspectives to the organisation more broadly.
Now, in those team leader meetings and the service manager meetings, where they come together, there are people who have lived experience, but who also have the skills and the framework to use that in how they work and bringing that to the table and the decisions that are made at that higher level as well.
Bianca says that peer workers at Mind Australia draw on their lived experience knowledge and peer work values in all aspects of their work. This contributes to a positive culture within the team, a culture that recognises and values diversity and is open to learning about and sharing other experiences.
It’s more than just that one to one relationship and conversations with clients. It’s having those conversations all the time in our work that makes a huge difference.
Bianca has found her work very rewarding, including the opportunities to train and support peer workers and work with managers and teams to ensure the organisational and service culture values and centres lived experience.
Feeling like I’m making a difference, that’s why I do this work.
Source: RCVMHS, Interview with Bianca Childs, November 2020.