State & Local Programs

The Peer Coordinator Model: Four Years Old and Going Strong

Attendees at the National CASA Conference

The member programs of the CASA/GAL network are dedicated to the mission of serving every child and youth involved in a dependency proceeding, and they pursue creative change and innovation in service of this goal. The peer coordinator model was conceived in this collective entrepreneurial spirit to increase support for greater numbers of advocates, while continuing to maintain the National Standard ratio of one supervisor to 30 advocates. The peer coordinator model capitalizes on our greatest asset, experienced advocates, training them to become the direct support for the volunteer advocates carrying cases.

In September 2010 the first class of peer coordinators was trained at CASA of Maricopa County, AZ. According to our most recent local program annual survey, 92 programs were using the peer coordinator model in 2013. As of December 31, 2013 a total of 428 peer coordinators nationwide were actively supporting volunteer advocates. They are supporting, coaching, guiding and mentoring advocates across the county. 2015 is shaping up to be a “break out” year for the use of the peer coordinator model in the network.

Over the last year several programs using the peer coordinator model have initiated internal reviews, evaluations, and surveys of their successes and challenges with the model. Their results, summarized here, are extremely promising for the future of this model.

Quality of Advocacy

One major concern of programs using the peer coordinator model is whether the quality of advocacy is maintained once the model is in place.

A recent survey from CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, Colorado Springs, CO asked the following question of judges: Newer CASA advocates are supported by volunteer peer coordinators instead of paid staff. Are you able to tell which CASA advocates are supported by paid staff and which are supported by peer coordinators? What is noticeable? The judge responded, “Truthfully, I have not noticed the difference.”

According to CASA of the Pikes Peak Region staff, “We do a Judges survey here in the third quarter of every year. While we did not ask specific questions this time about the PC model, we got very positive responses from the bench this year. The positive or satisfactory responses have not declined at all from previous years, even though we are using the new model. Going forward, we may add some specific questions about PCs.”[1]

Similar data was gathered by CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties, Inc. (NJ) through annual stakeholder surveys in years before and after introducing the peer coordinator model. The results showed 86% stakeholder satisfaction before peer coordinators and 89% satisfaction after the introduction of peer coordinators.

Advocate Satisfaction

Lane County OR, Maricopa, and Atlantic and Cape May Counties as well as CASA of the Pikes Peak Region report advocate satisfaction has increased due to the peer coordinator model, leading to greater retention and increased service to children. Specifically, advocates have reported:

“My PC has given me guidance on everything from handling delicate situations to formatting the reports and everything in between. I'm able to bounce ideas and concerns off of him and he's able to share experiences and knowledge that help me do my job. He also provides encouragement and support.” - CASA of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. 

“Peer Coordinators are accessible: Advocates feel more comfortable contacting their Peer Coordinator with questions than they would if they had to “bother” their Program Supervisor. The Peer Coordinator Model adds another point of contact to the organization for Advocates, which may result in higher retention.” - CASA of Lane County.  

Peer Coordinator Satisfaction

Satisfied peer coordinators stay with the program for longer than average advocates. Many programs report advocates declining a new case but accepting the position of peer coordinator. Some programs have gone through their “retired” advocate lists and brought several back into the program as peer coordinators.

An Atlantic and Cape May Counties peer coordinator reports, “From my perspective it’s been a long time and I have worked in 3 counties and this has been one of the best experiences I have had with CASA.”

A CASA of Maricopa County peer coordinator believes, “We have been successful when our Advocates advance to Peer Coordinators and the children we are monitoring are safe; I would say success would be a closed case for the CASA volunteer with good results and a satisfied volunteer, eager to take on another case.”

Room for Continuous Quality Improvement

Programs using the peer coordinator model continue to adjust their implementation; several programs shared insights into specific actions that would continue to improve their level of service.

According to staff at CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, “We want to take our coaching skills to the next level. We have three very experienced executive coaches from the Center for Creative Leadership that have agreed to work pro bono with our case supervisors and peer coordinators to help them hone their coaching skills together, and learn ways to coach through some of the advocate issues they have been facing such as not doing what is required of them, and not communicating well.”

CASA of Lane County wrote: “The organization may want to think of itself as a team. Each participant — board member, Peer Coordinator, donor, Advocate, Executive Director, et cetera — has a distinct and vital role. When a Peer Coordinator or Program Supervisor do the work of an Advocate, they have less time for their own work and the Advocate feels unnecessary. Through carefully and clearly defining roles and communicating consistent expectations, each team member understands their role in accomplishing the important goal of helping the children. Accountability then is a redirection toward the goal.

All should be held accountable to the expectations. Holding people accountable does not need to be confrontational — it can be a problem solving session finding what the barriers are to compliance and discovering how to remove or work around those barriers. Evaluations for Peer Coordinators and Advocates need to be better integrated into the organization’s routines. Recognizing that formal performance evaluations of those who donate their time may feel uncomfortable, evaluative comments could be included in regularly scheduled meetings, be designed to help reinforce what they are doing well, and help direct future actions.” (Peer Coordinator Review, CASA of Lane County, Renee Buchanan) [2]  

CONCLUSION

The peer coordinator model has shown promise since its inception and evaluations such as those cited here are now confirming the benefits. Programs using peer coordinators are maintaining their quality of advocacy and increasing advocate and coordinator satisfaction. The Peer Coordinator model can be a key capacity-building initiative for programs that seek to activate more volunteers to serve more children and youth, bringing safety and permanency to all children and youth in care.

Read more about the Peer Coordinator Model. (program login required)

Please feel free to contact Sally Erny, Chief Program Officer, for more information about the peer coordinator model.


[1] Editor's Note: The full text of the Colorado Springs Evaluation of the Peer Coordinator Model is available. (371K PDF)

Return to the text

[2] Editor's Note: The full text of the Peer Coordinator Review from CASA of Lane County is available. (667K PDF)

Return to the text

 

The US Department of Justice has supported CASA advocacy since 1985 through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
This Web site is funded in part through a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, US Department of Justice. Neither the US Department of Justice nor any of its components operate, control, are responsible for, or necessarily endorse, this Web site (including, without limitation, its content, technical infrastructure, and policies, and any services or tools provided).