Peer Parenting Support Program

In order to create a new program to support new parents and caregivers, Ottawa Public Health used an online tool called Engage Ottawa to get information directly from parents and caregivers as well as those expecting or even just thinking of having or adopting a child. 

 Consultation details:
 Consultation was open for 64-days
  • 1327 individuals made over 2300 visits on both the English (EN) and French (FR) pages
    • 56 registered participants who gave feedback through:
      • 4 forums: 10 comments by 8 unique contributors
      • 4 surveys asking 29 questions with 68 submissions from 36 unique contributors
      • 15 different people participated in 7 quick polls
      • 1 person placed a pin on maps
      • 5 ideas boards with 11 different ideas posted from 8 unique contributors
  •  All the participants spoke English and about a third also spoke French
  • All the participants identified as woman
  • Most of the participants were born in Canada
  • Most participants identified as being North American or European. A small number of participants identified as Indigenous, African, Asian or Middle Eastern.
  • Just over half of survey respondents reported having family income of $90,000 or more
  • 83% of survey respondents already have children

People were asked about:

  • If peer parenting support is helpful;
  • What skills and types of support would be useful;
  • Which topics are important to people caring for children;
  • Volunteer training;
  • How to best match peers;
  • Ways to talk with a peer; and
  • Feedback on a possible matching idea.

We heard peer parenting support is helpful because it:

  • Gives people comfort they are not alone;
  • Helps them to know some issues, worries or concerns are normal;
  • Allows sharing of local resources
  • Provides tips and strategies
  • Lets people meet new people

When asked about which types of support would be useful, the following were all highlighted as being important types of support for parents and caregivers:

  • Psychological support: being able to talk to someone you trust and who will listen;
  • Social support: having someone who will give you advice, suggestions and information; and
  • Emotional support: having someone who can help lift you up when you are feeling down;

Participants identified (in order of choice) their own parents, friends, siblings, extended family members and a community support member as sources of social support.

We asked about which community agencies people have accessed for social support and they chose community health resource centres first, followed by cultural agencies and then faith-based agencies or “other”.

The most helpful skills for peer mentors in order of choice by participants were:

  • Interpersonal communication (talking and listening with respect)
  • How to give social support (how to give someone advice, suggestions and information)
  • Critical thinking (helping others reflect on their situation, helping others talk about their stress)
  • How to give psychological support (how to listen)
  • How to give emotional support (how to help lift someone up)
  • Crisis management (helping to plan or get help)

When asked which topic choices are important for those caring for children the top three were:

  1. Staying mentally healthy
  2. Infant feeding
  3. Life as a new parent

However, the overall results and comments showed all topics are important.

Including these suggested topics:

  • Finding resources in your first language
  • Co-parenting and blended families
  • Behavioural issues

When it came to volunteer training, people said they preferred:

  • In person and online training slightly more than self-study
  • Shorter trainings

When matching peers, participants reported that they would look at the following traits/aspects:

  • Cultural identity
  • Expectations (the kind of support needed)
  • Gender
  • Having similar experiences
  • Language
  • Location
  • Parental outlook
  • Parenting relationship (single parent, co-parenting)

Almost everyone liked the idea of a list to find their own peer match.

Specifically, the ability to:

  • Be in control
  • Choose own topic or area of concern
  • Get individualized and personal support

What is unsure is:

  • Privacy worries and having to share too much personal information
  • For some, it may be hard to choose themselves

When asked about including a photo with the peer biography or not:

  • A photo adds a personal touch and makes it real
  • May cause people to discriminate

Participants also recommended:

  • Offering peer support outside of health care services and regular working hours
  • Protect peers by helping people recognize when someone needs more than peer support
  • Non-birthing parent also need to have access to peer support:
  • Important to have in-person contact for peer support and training

“It's not easy to find somewhere for new dads to go where they can meet with their peers and talk about the transition to parenthood”

  • Continued client engagement


  • Connecting and supporting parents and caregivers is seen as helpful

“It helped us all become more confident parents, because the second someone mentioned an issue, worry, or concern about their baby, several other parents would say they are going through the same thing, and we realized that it’s normal.”

  • Peer support is useful when peer mentors can refer people to local resources
  • It is important to have a variety of topics to be able to support as many people as possible

“I was looking for [a] very specific mentorship around my inability to breastfeed and also being a plus-sized mom, and it was hard to connect with those exact experiences”

  • The information received tells us that we need to use multiple tools to inform the program’s success.
  • Possible reasons for not having more input
    • the need to register to participate,
    • asking during the summer months, and
    • people not knowing about Engage Ottawa project.

*Please note because the number of participants using Engage Ottawa was small, the results are not representative of the parenting population in Ottawa. However, the ideas and feedback collected are helping to build our Peer Parenting Support program and OPH would like to recognize all who took the time to share their thoughts.

**OPH also asked community partners what they thought and explored existing peer parenting programs in the community. Much of the information collected from partners mirrored what we heard from Ottawa residents through Engage Ottawa, by e-mail and social media like Facebook and twitter.

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