Peer support (PS) for migrant populations: modelling a peer support pathway in CADA

What are we talking about?

Missions of CADAs in France

Following the implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Law which came into force on 1 January 2019, a new ministerial order of 19 June 2019, published in the JORF on 23 June 2019, defined the 5 missions of CADAs (Reception Centres for Asylum Seekers):

     ✅reception, accommodation and domiciliation of asylum seekers;

     ✅support in administrative and legal procedures;

     ✅health and social support ;

     ✅the development of partnerships with local authorities and associations;

     ✅Support after leaving the Asylum Seekers Reception Centre, particularly towards the exit from housing.

CADAs are temporary collective or individual accommodations, welcoming asylum seekers during the examination of their asylum applications.

As far as the migrant public is concerned, the projection of this practice of Peer Support (PS) in the migratory field in France, requires taking into account the interculturality of this public. The challenge of this experimentation was, on the one hand, to develop the skills of professional teams qualified in social support and, on the other hand, to develop the skills of the public received by promoting experiential knowledge in the service of their peers.

Based on our experience of the migrant population and of each member of the team, a dynamic and innovative method was quickly put in place to facilitate the integration of the very first asylum seekers accommodated from the start.

CADA peer helpers

Our CADAs have operated on the simple philosophy that we all have internal resources, skills and know-how to share, regardless of our status (employees, volunteers, peer helpers). Peer helpers are asylum seekers who are residents or former residents of the CADA, easily identifiable thanks to a badge, who provide their help and experience to their peers and the professional team. These peer helpers play a role in identifying the needs of their peers to help them « recover ».   They are therefore a real asset for the process of supporting people towards autonomy within the CADA.  Indeed, this peer helper activity

 allows them to usefully occupy their days and thus feel involved, concerned and valued while waiting for their interview at OFPRA and the response to their asylum application. This will soon prove to be very useful to all those involved.


Example of application

Experimentation of peer support in CADA

Presentation of the peer helper profile

Mr O., a young Chadian man aged 24, arrived at the CADA after numerous transfers from « squats to squats », reception and orientation centres (CAO), first in Greece and then in France. His arrival at the CADA in Biscarrosse was clearly just another move in his migratory journey, since leaving his country several months earlier. His admission was marked by difficult exchanges with the management because Mr O. no longer wished to live in a shared flat with other people. He did not accept the fact that he had to commit himself to a residence contract and operating rules.  Indeed, CADAs are part of the ESMS governed by the law of 2 January 2002, which recalls the role and obligations of each of the actors in social action and recognises the rights of users. The user is protected, must obtain assistance appropriate to his or her needs and must also be able to exercise his or her citizenship through the exercise of fundamental rights.

Mr O. explained that he had come to France to be free: what was offered to him at the CADA was restrictive and limited the freedom he had sought so much that he had left his family and his country.

After listening to his fears, we agreed together that there was no obligation to stay at the CADA and that he could leave naturally when he wanted to. Then, we tried to get him to express what he liked most, his passions, his dreams, his desires, his skills… The more he spoke, the more we could see a range of possibilities and a human richness at hand. Mr O had a « treasure trove » of skills and know-how that he was not aware of. The team’s role was as follows:

     ✅To make him aware of this,

     ✅To make it work for him first,

     ✅Then to put it to good use for all the people who work together in our CADA: the residents, the volunteers, the team and the partners of the structure.

It was at this precise moment that Mr. O.’s peer-helper journey began, the first step of which was the identification of his experiential knowledge, which had been pre-identified by the team.

From the very first meeting, we suggested to Mr O. that he get involved in the CADA in order to feel less alone and better manage the wait for the asylum process. He was immediately delighted with this proposal, and we told him that no long-term commitment was expected, that there was no obligation to achieve results, the main thing being to « enjoy it » and that it would make sense for him in his integration process in France.

He himself proposed to lead a press review workshop every Monday, around a convivial moment. The objective was to read the local, national and international press and to exchange on the analysis and reading of the news of the week.

  • This is how his first « mission » started, because for him this was what it was all about. He took the preparation of this weekly time very seriously, where everyone commented on and provided geopolitical insights into the situation in this or that country, an intercultural approach to this or that theme…

Then Mr O. spontaneously and « naturally » (no injunction from CADA employees or volunteers) began to help welcome the new arrivals, explaining that he too had gone through the difficult stage of entering a shelter, that he was initially reluctant to do so, and that he did not trust anyone, because the street had taught him that.

  • His systematic presence at the arrival of the new beneficiaries clearly improved the reception phase for the people, because with his words he made a world that was sometimes complex and abstract for a large number of migrants arriving in diffuse accommodation (isolated rental housing) intelligible and accessible. In addition, people could make a transfer to their own situation by having something to compare it to.

Mr O. gradually felt very useful for his peers: the more time passed, and his investment increased, the more he developed confidence and a desire to project himself in France and in Biscarrosse. He then undertook to invest himself outside our structure at the CADA in order to better integrate socially. He then chose to become an educational assistant for 6-11 year olds in a local football school, then a volunteer in various food aid and cultural associations.

To support Mr O. in his projects, the CADA management team formalised during a meeting what he wanted to share with his peers and the team of employees. Indeed, the management encouraged the employees to think together:

  • What form this new collaboration with Mr. O. could take in his support
  • And to the structured framework that would define this collaborative peer-helper-employee engagement.

Support for the establishment of a real peer helper status

Systematically accompanying the institution of a real peer helper status required the formalisation of tools and procedures. Indeed, setting up a clear framework for the peer helper, the residents and the team became an organisational necessity if we wanted to capitalise on this practice in the medium and long term.  Let us briefly recall the journey of the peer helpers in pictures

Figure 3: Professionalization path of the peer helper


A prior training and awareness-raising component on IP

  1. Training of the management on the recovery approach and peer support
  2. Raising awareness of the team, which has been committed to this concept since the opening of the CADA.
  3. Raising awareness among volunteers

Identifying the knowledge and skills of each person in order to optimise them sustainably through synergy.

After the awareness-raising training, the second step consisted of an assessment of the knowledge and skills of our beneficiaries in order to target those who could qualify for access to the peer helper status. We set up a series of precise evaluations in order to identify significant experiential knowledge worthy of being integrated into the functioning of our organisation:


Figure 4: Assessment of the peer helper’s skills


The process is as follows:

     ✅Observation and testing phase of the peer helper on several « functions » (FLE peer helper, Integration in the city peer helper, administrative procedures peer helper) over a trial period of 18 months.

     ✅Peer support evaluation questionnaire: peer support survey + employee survey by a

     ✅Qualitative evaluations of the feedback from peer support beneficiaries

     ✅Operational phase with the integration of innovative adjustments useful for the functioning of our establishments according to the various feedbacks.

These assessments and this process have made it possible to trigger an immediate identification during the reception interviews by the social workers and the admission interviews with the management.  Then, throughout the support process, this identification is continued in order to continue identifying peer helpers: some asylum seekers become peer helpers several months after their admission and intervene in various fields.

The whole process of identification, capitalisation and optimisation can be summarised in the following tools:

     ✅Registration on the exchange box of the knowledge and skills of the person received,

     ✅Commitment contract or peer helper agreement (feedback from the quantitative survey conducted by our trainee),

     ✅Establishment of a procedure to ensure the confidentiality of information gathered by the peer helper in his or her role with professionals and his or her responsibility (long-term commitment to respect this confidentiality)

Aïssatou, Pair aidant referent, next to the skill exchange box, built in the intergenerational DIY workshop

  • Badge awarding ceremony for better identification of peer helpers: valuing peer helpers + being identified as something other than an asylum seeker + the badge is a means of communication for one’s responsibility in the functioning of the CADA.

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