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Barnardo’s are finding multiple ways to provide support to their front-line staff and youth colleagues in light of the current COVID-19 situation. This recipe is looking at how they are facilitating peer support amongst young people within the Plymouth Design Lab, part of their Care Journeys programme, which has been running since December 2019. To learn more how Barnardo’s are supporting their front line staff, see this recipe.

Barnardos use the term ‘youth colleagues’ to refer to the children and young people they work closely with to co-design the support they offer. Through their Care Journeys programme, which aims at transforming outcomes for care experienced young people, Barnardo’s have implemented a range of solutions to be able to support their youth colleagues. In the Care Journeys programme, this means care experienced young people are responsible for looking after their peers in youth-run and/or co-production projects.

Support for youth colleagues is typically delivered face-to-face. However, due to COVID-19, Barnardo’s had to change the way they deliver support to both staff and youth colleagues.

In order to draw a line between home and work, Barnardo’s have suggested that online groups supporting young people, are to be muted between certain hours. With high levels of emotional labour, debriefing sessions for youth colleagues have also been introduced with an increased focus on play.

The preparation of a cooking workshop (pre-lockdown)

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since March 2020.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe Barnardo's’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a youth colleague, I need to be supported by my organisation especially as the COVID-19 emergency can lead to feelings of isolation and stress.
  • As a member of staff, I need to explore ways of supporting our young people who offer peer-to-peer-support, I need to ensure they are able to fulfil their role whilst looking after their well-being.

Software and tools used

Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger (also known as ‘Messenger’) is a free mobile app used for instant messaging. Also accessible through the web browser, you can also share photos, videos, audio recordings and create group chats. In the context of Plymouth Care Journeys, Barnardo’s are using Messenger to create a digital space where youth colleagues can connect and provide support to their peers. They also use it to connect young people to Barnardo’s staff through video calls.




Facebook Messenger is free with any Facebook Account.

Chats can be started without the need of using phone numbers.

The mobile app is available across multiple mobile operating systems - e.g. Apple, Android.

Most young people and workers are already familiar with how to use it so there is less of a learning curve.

Recipe steps

1. Planning a session

  • The team of youth colleagues and staff meet for 1-1.5 hours on a Tuesday morning to plan the session to be held for the rest of the young people.
  • In these morning stand-ups, they check-in to see how each other is feeling and also decide what the session should be, considering if any resources are also needed.
  • The team then has some time to prepare the session and meet together again in the afternoon to go through the session plan.

2. Testing the session

  • Test the activities that you have planned with a smaller group before running the session for a wider group.
  • Barnardo’s tested the activities and sessions that their youth colleagues had planned within their working team before running the session online for others.

3. Holding the session

  • Have the youth colleagues who are running the session take the lead.
  • Go through the ground rules and any other information needed for the session.
  • Ensure that at least one member of staff is present as a back up support to the youth colleagues leading the session. Staff are encouraged to take a hands-off approach, allowing the youth colleagues to learn by doing.
  • Staff members may step in to remind the group about any ground rules if needed. This may be needed if there is any tension or disruption in the session. However, most problem solving will happen after the session.

4. Debriefing post-session

  • Hold a debrief with youth colleagues who have run the session.
  • Barnardo’s have a debriefing with their youth colleagues after each session where they may cover things such as what went well, what could have been improved and to see how their youth colleagues felt about the session.
  • These debriefing sessions may be done straight after the session or even the next day depending on how the team feels. Barnardo’s suggests not leaving a debriefing too long after the session took place.


Sometimes, taking a hands off approach works best. For Barnardo's care experienced young people , the aim is for the sessions to run independently, with Barnardo’s staff taking a step back and simply acting as supportive figures. They are working towards a model of interdependence so that young people feel comfortable to simply be themselves with the potential of forming friendship groups and knowing who to go to for support.

Give people extra time with everything as it takes more time when connecting online.

Be mindful that young people may be dealing with personal issues as well as fulfilling their role as a peer-to-peer support in the team.

Barnardo’s staff will always have their video cameras on during any video calls. This is because it provides extra layers of connection and also removes the formality of the call. Barnado’s believes it also sets a good precedent for participants - that if their staff can come online with video, participants may follow suit. It also helps promote transparency and is more humanising, especially with activities such as dancing where participants can see the staff being silly and playful.

Barnardo’s have found that play is important for both their workers and youth colleagues. By doing this, it helps them release stress. It also helps to build and maintain a sense of connection within the team. Think about incorporating play within different teams and client groups, considering any activities that help build healthy relationships within the teams.

Limit overwhelming youth colleagues with lots of video calls and meetings. They may also be doing a lot of this in their own time, to keep in touch with friends and family.

Make sure youth colleagues don’t feel pressure to be online all the time, set up group agreements to clarify expectations and ensure young people know who they can reach out to if there is an issue or concern.


Keep workers involved

Barnardo’s suggests that you have more than one person running an activity and keep staff members involved in all sessions and activities. This is so that if the situation changes and the initial team of young people cannot run the session, the staff member can pick it up. Sharing the responsibility also helps relieve pressure on any one person to lead the session.

In another group, there were two youth colleagues running a session. Due to lockdown, one youth colleague had to step back and the other was furloughed. This meant that a Barnardo’s staff member had to step in and pick up the group activity.

Body Language

It can be more difficult to read body language or interpret social cues over any video conferencing platforms. Try to make these digital spaces open and inviting for youth colleagues to feel comfortable to use. Some young people may not feel like switching their cameras on during calls, so please respect everyone’s privacy and decisions to do what they need to do to feel comfortable.

Gauging Feelings

It may be harder to gauge how youth colleagues are truly feeling as the removed physical contact can result in lower quality interactions.

This may be countered in one way by checking in and out before and after meetings to make sure you gauge the emotional responses of youth colleagues.

Make time for 1-1 calls with your team or your manager so that issues can be properly discussed on the phone and worked through together

The lack of physical interactions may cause an invisible barrier, where youth colleagues may not share as much information with you as they would if you were face to face.

Assisted Digital Users

Some young people may not have all the technology and/ or skills to be able to use some online digital platforms. They may also not have access to all of the digital technologies.

This is particularly true for young people who are not used to, or have never had to do things remotely before. Having how-to guidance readily available can be helpful to resolve common problems.

Be patient in allowing young people to learn at their own pace, in their own way.

Early adopters, and young people who are comfortable with supporting others remotely from home, can offer informal support for example by talking to another young person through the steps of setting up a zoom meeting, or sharing their screen so others can see how they do that.

Remote things are slower, be patient

The speed of supporting young people remotely is different to face-to-face. This sometimes results in some things taking longer than before, but other things will be noticeably faster and more efficient.

Be patient with young people and yourself - the new working setups are different and young people may be dealing with higher levels of stress and potentially, vicarious stress from others in their family or environment.

Supporting young people emotionally can help them help others better. Barnardo’s believes that ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup!’

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

Carin Laird

Irit Pollak

Sohila Sawhney


Many thanks to Barnardo's for contributing this recipe.


This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and Barnardo's and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on May 21st, 2020. Last updated August 3rd, 2021