Good Practice: Peer Advocacy Group

Peer Advocacy Group

Organisation     Theotokos Foundation
Country Greece
Short description

All students of Theotokos Foundation are encouraged to express their opinion about services and training. Arguments and proposals coming from them, are forwarded in writing to the staff members who are responsible for each subject. The development of skills which have to do with Advocacy and Peer Advocacy are one of our main goals and highly encouraged. 

In particular, they are invited to speak up for themselves, to make their own decisions about the services and training provided, to learn how to get information, to know their rights and responsibilities and to problem solve.

Co-productive activities Theotokos Foundation consists of 7 Departments and in each Department there are 4- 8 different groups of students. All students from the age of 14 to 35 years participate in the process of Peer Advocacy. Staff members involved in Peer Advocacy are: all group educators, Departments’ Coordinators (seven in total), Advocacy Supervisors and the Quality Officer.

In the beginning of each academic year, elections are held in each group of Theotokos. The president of each group then comes together with the other group presidents of his/ her department in order to elect the president and vice president of the department.
Finally, the 7 departments’ presidents construct the main Students’ Council.
In each department, presidents gather together to discuss their issues approximately once per 3 weeks, supported by the Department’s Coordinator.
The Students’ Council comes together once per month, and is supported by Mrs Meravoglou Paraskevi, Speech and Language Therapist and Mrs Korogiannaki Aphrodite, Developmental Psychologist, who both are currently the Supervisors of Peer Advocacy in Theotokos.

All ideas, suggestions and complaints are written down by the students themselves on official paper or electronic forms and then are forwarded or delivered by hand to staff members that are responsible for resolving each issue. Each request is recorded accordingly into the appropriate Quality System’s procedure and is expected to be answered.

Last year, the students were very much concerned with improving the quality of peer relationships. Specifically, they were talking about respect and conflict reduction. Through discussions and brain storming, they finally decided to work all together on a project on Bullying.  Since last February, they have been working on this project which is almost ready to be presented to the whole Foundation within the next 3 weeks.

Each year the Supervisors hold at least one meeting with all the Department Coordinators and discuss questions, issues and problems that arise throughout the year.

There is also at least an annual meeting between the Supervisors and the Quality Officer in order to revise the process taking into account the feedback from all persons involved.

At the end of each year, the Students’ Council participates in Theotokos’ interdisciplinary meeting. There they present the year’s outcomes and issues, followed by an open discussion.

In the Students Council’s closing session, members give feedback about all aspects of the process. They assess the whole procedure, express their feelings and suggest modifications in order to improve the service of Peer Advocacy.
Underlying theories All students have the right to be elected. Through discussion within the groups, emphasis is put on the importance of Peer Advocacy and the qualities an ideal representative should have. Students are encouraged and given the means to express and discuss all their ideas, problems and doubts about all aspects of their training programs and social life in Theotokos. Some things have actually changed thanks to the Peer-Advocacy procedures. Therefore, they are motivated to bring forward even more issues that concern them.

Direct impact  Thanks to the Peer Advocacy work many of the departments now have computers, DVD players and internet connection.

Major issues, which had to do both with our Foundation’s rules, such as smoking policies, mobile phone use policy, have been repeatedly discussed in the Students’ Council. Although they are not definitively “solved”, students have at least gained a better insight of reasons for following rules, have searched ways to ask for “exception of rules” by developing strong arguments. Moreover, they are encouraged to be more specific when complaining about food provision or building repairs and excursions.

Individuals that have actively participated in self advocacy groups have improved their social and communication skills. They were encouraged to develop their critical thinking. They learned that being a representative is not only an honour, but rather a very responsible role that urges them to listen carefully to their peers and transfer their needs to responsible ears. During group discussions, even shy individuals gained self-esteem and found the courage to talk publicly. For instance, last year the Students’ Council members were very confident and eager to participate in a day conference on Peer Advocacy (National Provider Forum II, Athens, 29-30 October 2015).

Also, several students have practically applied their knowledge and improved self-advocacy skills, in their everyday living and “job seeking” activities.

This year’s Bullying Project is a collective work involving the majority of students. The final outcome demanded a lot of team work, organisation skills and commitment.
Conclusions and results
The staff works in a large organisation with 320 students. Sometimes it is difficult to find time and space to work properly and deeply on Peer Advocacy. At least until it manages to become an integrated part of everybody’s way of working with our students.

Financial issues often come up as a barrier against improving things.

Young adults with developmental difficulties have the motivation and enthusiasm to discuss and work on their ideas. However, their difficulty to express their thoughts fully, or to remember what was talked about last time, slowed down the whole process.

Regardless of those encountered challenges, the programme improved over time. Now all manageable issues are discussed and processed during the departments’ meetings. It is often difficult to find “solutions” for problems that satisfy everyone involved. It is more effective to train young people how to TALK with respect and strong arguments, and to be satisfied when their voice is being heard. Students with disability whenever they are given the opportunity to elaborate on an issue, they conduct very fruitful and constructive conversation.

Duration and Milestones Peer Advocacy has been running since 2009.
Contact/More information Speech and Language Therapist - Mrs Meravoglou Paraskevi:
Developmental Psychologist - Mrs Korogiannaki Aphrodite: