The status of peer helper is a recognition that allows to “boost” the social capital (their network of social relations that expands), the economic capital (remuneration provided for by the protocol) and the personal capital (the skills developed in the framework of AHR that they will be able to mobilise in the professional field) of peer helpers.
Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, we observe:
✅an expansion of their social capital (networking, networking),
✅a capitalisation of their legitimacy acquired during their activity as a peer helper,
✅a valorisation of their “experiential knowledge”, which has become a “useful and recognised competence” through the payment of their salary and the social position among employees (economic capital). This valorisation also becomes “a legitimate competence recognised” by the associative partners, the employment support services, the managers of integration projects…
The way of dealing with people who have experienced a similar life path is a real added value for the peer helpers. This generates a lot of recognition and pride in the peer helper recruited. Beyond a salaried job, the acquisition of a status and a privileged link with the users, vulnerable publics, favours a great synergy for the stakeholders. The peer helper is the primary beneficiary.
Moreover, the peer helper certificate that is generally given to them by the CADA is a real “official” recognition by the employees, the users, the volunteers and the management. It is the management that finalises this recognition of their “duplicable experience” by setting up a protocol considered as a “contract” for the peer helper. This certificate officially recognises the transferable experiential knowledge in the professional world. Indeed, it is difficult for migrants to have their skills recognised by an employer, because in France it is the diploma that is sought after above all and not the skills acquired through the life experience of individuals. This attestation was the basis for exchanges between recruiters and refugee candidates without diplomas or traditional CVs. The feedback from recruiters on the implementation of this peer helper attestation is very positive and some peer helpers have been hired afterwards.
As far as the beneficiaries of peer support are concerned, we can see that the stress they experience when confronted with another culture that they have to assimilate quickly can be quite difficult to cope with. Having a “peer” to welcome them makes the arrival of asylum seekers much easier. Indeed, a user who is taken care of by one of his “counterparts” who has become a peer helper feels more inclined to open up, to give his trust and to be able to build his reference points.
It often happens that, faced with the unknown, some people close in on themselves, expressing their fears through opposition, withdrawal or even aggressiveness. Having a privileged interlocutor helps to alleviate their apprehensions, answer their questions and facilitate the relationship with CADA professionals, partners and others.
Finally, when peer support is practised between supported people in the same structure, the roles can be reversed and a peer helper can become a peer supported for a different need.
The Association for Housing Assistance to the Homeless (ALSA) in Mulhouse
The Association pour le Logement des Sans-Abri ALSA (Association for the Housing of the Homeless) works with people living on the margins of society in the Mulhouse Alsace Agglomeration and the Pays du Sundgau. Most of these people are on minimum social benefits. ALSA has a very low admission threshold and a high tolerance threshold. The association has also included a non-abandonment clause in its statutes. The objective is therefore, through adapted social support, face to face and collective actions, to enable people to become permanently anchored in a time and place that will allow them to regain social belonging (also called recovery). In 2016, as part of the call for social innovation projects in the field of accommodation and access to housing” led by the Interministerial Delegation for Accommodation and Access to Housing, this structure recruited a peer helper who worked in pairs with an educational monitor to co-facilitate a community space with other professionals. The peer worker’s mission was defined as a professional added value complementary to that of the other employees. The peer helper was responsible for welcoming isolated people who were very marginal and vulnerable. His or her support consisted of helping these people with their administrative or social procedures and providing a collective and friendly space for these users.
The interest of this experimentation for the peer helpers is well known. The missions were identical, but it was the approach, the way of dealing with the persons accompanied who had experienced a similar life course that was a real added value for the residents. This generated a lot of recognition and pride in the peer helper recruited. Beyond a salaried job, the acquisition of a status and a privileged link with the users, vulnerable publics, the recruitment of the peer helper has allowed a nice synergy for the stakeholders. The peer helper was the first beneficiary.
Example of a peer helper certificate co-created with the peer helpers, promoting their employment integration through the recognition of experiential knowledge: