Peer-support for young people living with chronic illness

Many young people with a chronic illness have long school absences, miss out on social activities or just don’t feel comfortable talking about their illness to friends for fear of ‘being different’.

The aim of the Chronic Illness Peer Support (ChIPS) program is to connect young people, regardless of their condition, to share and receive validation about their illness experience, increase their confidence and self-esteem and decrease social isolation. Over and above that, it is about being an adolescent and having fun with new friends.

The program recently expanded its reach to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and held an inaugural weekend workshop with eight young people attending the two-day intensive group. These sessions are the entry point into the ChIPS program where ChIPS peer leaders and volunteers lead the group in discussion and activities based on how illness impacts the lives of young people and how participants can support each other.

Over the two days, there was laughter—and at times—tears, as these young people, many for the first time, talked openly about their feelings, fears and experiences. It’s a time to share, listen and reflect and at the end of the weekend strong friendships were being forged.  

Rachel, 14, was excited to attend the group after her mother came across the ChIPS brochure in the hospital.

Rachel said “I think something like ChIPS is important because a lot of young people that have an illness don’t get an opportunity to talk to each other. So when you find other kids that also have some type of illness it makes you feel like you’re not the only one out there.”

Rachel’s mum, Kylie, said that ChIPS was the answer to something she had been seeking for years. “I was constantly looking for a group or something for Rachel to join and this is just perfect because she didn’t fit the box of the other support programs as her diagnosis is still unclear so there was nowhere for her to fit into. And there are lots of other kids that also don’t fit the box“.

Kylie explained that having her daughter connect with others just as teenagers rather than a diagnosis or label was really important.

“Since she’s been to the group there’s been a change in her demeanour and confidence. She’s excited about becoming seeing those kids again and participating in future events.”

After young people complete the introductory group, they are then eligible to attend the regular ChIPS social activities and the annual camp. Down the track there are leadership opportunities as participants are trained to become peer leaders and to have their voice as part of the ChIPS Peer Reference Group.

Rachel’s message to any young person with a chronic illness is “If you are scared to come to ChIPS, don’t be – everybody is nice and we are all respectful of everyone. I now know I’m not the only one out there with a chronic illness and other young people are going through the same thing”.

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ChIPS is open for referrals year round. Email us at: schn-chips-sch@health.nsw.gov.au