Working with small communities

Working with small communities can cause issues around participants being reluctant to disclose information to anyone but the program facilitator, fearing their issues may not be treated confidentially. Consequently, the program facilitator may be the only person they turn to with their problems. This can lead to service users developing a dependency on the program facilitator which may imply management difficulties as it often exceeds the available resources needed to provide adequate levels of support.

In addition, particularly small communities can have the tendency to experience boundary related issues. Young people acting as a peer supporter may more easily take on informal peer support roles outside of the program due to the limited range of social networks at-risk young people have available to them.


The above has been the case for a peer support program where a young woman who was living in a small community took on the role as a senior peer supporter. The young woman was very involved with the program participants and due to the size of the community she was engaging with participants during and after program hours as well as with the participants’ parents. This clearly led to blurred boundaries and confidentiality issues as participants were concerned about their personal issues being disclosed to their parents or other members of the community.

Among the program managers this case brought up the issue as to how involved with participants the peer supporter should become. The difficulty encountered here was to manage and uphold professional relationships between the peer supporters and program participants, yet at the same time not depriving a young person who may be similarly in need to develop social contacts or networking opportunities.

Participants in peer programs are often socially isolated to such a degree, that they become at risk of mistaking the peer relationship for friendship. Peer programs need to focus on discussions regarding the difference between a friend and a formal peer relationship, for example by focusing on social skills early.


Ways to resolve similar issues include the introduction of more rigid screening procedures prior to determining the suitability of a young person as a peer supporter. This may involve assessing a young person on their own neediness of or dependence on the social contacts formed within the program.

Other strategies involve the provision of training and support systems which assist the peer supporters in early identifying any conversations or behaviour that may compromise the boundaries of the volunteers’ roles but at the same time helping them to maintain their peer helper role.

Read more about recruitment of volunteers/peer supporters.

Read more about supervision and support for volunteers/peer supporters.

Read more about managing boundaries.