Horizontal photo of a placemat full of sticky notes for family appointments, crayons, mugs, a dirty spoon, a research paper, cereal crumbs, and a blueberry. Photo by Ben Young Landis.

Connection for Caregivers: Introducing NASW’s peer buddy resource pilot project

By Esther Landhuis and Carmen Drahl

We get it. If you’re juggling jobs and caregiving work, sometimes it’s all you can do to just get by. But we want to find ways to help you thrive, too. We’ve heard from NASW members who are caregivers that you want more flexible options for peer support.

So the NASW Freelance Committee is creating a resource to help member caregivers connect with each other for accountability and camaraderie. Through this NASW Peer Support for Caregivers pilot project, all NASW members (not just freelancers) will have the opportunity to choose their own peer buddy from a list. Consider it a nudge to make new connections.

How does it work?

The process starts by filling out a form to tell us a bit about your caregiving workflow and professional activities. Info from interested participants will go onto a spreadsheet, which you can explore to pick a peer who seems like a good fit. Reach out to them at the email they provide and suggest times that work for you.

You may receive emails from other people on the list. You have the choice of whether to accept requests from others.

When two people agree to meet virtually, they should set up an initial meeting, get to know one another, and set their own goals or ground rules. The platform you use to meet, how often you meet, and what you discuss is up to you.

What’s the deadline? How long does this resource last?

Please fill out the interest form by Feb. 29, 2024. After that point, we’ll make the spreadsheet of interested people available for members to explore. There’s no firm ending date for this resource — that’s up to you. We’ll ask participants to evaluate their experience around the end of June 2024, to help us figure out how to improve this offering and determine whether to launch another round.

(Not an NASW member? Please apply to join NASW by Feb. 29 in order to qualify for participation. This program will be available to Affiliate Members, which is designed in part to help colleagues returning to the workforce after caregiving and other life responsibilities.)

Is this mentoring? Is this therapy?

No. You’re signing up to join an informal network where peers can provide support, accountability or advice. This is not mentoring and does not substitute for therapy by a qualified professional. You can find self-care resources for journalists at the Dart Center.

We look forward to learning with you

Before signing up, we encourage you to read the Participant Guidelines below to frame your expectations accordingly — and be the best peer buddy possible to your fellow NASW member colleague!

Esther Landhuis is a California-based science journalist who covers biomedicine. Her stories have appeared in Undark, Scientific American, Nature, Medscape, JAMA, Science News, Quanta, and other outlets. She is a member volunteer with the NASW Freelance Committee.

Carmen Drahl is a Washington, DC-based journalist and editor. Her stories have appeared at National Public Radio, Knowable Magazine, Science News, Chemical & Engineering News, and other outlets. She is a member volunteer with the NASW Freelance Committee.

The NASW Peer Support for Caregivers pilot project is a volunteer-led initiative of the NASW Freelance Committee. Project coordinators are: Carmen Drahl (freelance), Esther Landhuis (freelance), NASW Vice President Sandeep Ravindran (freelance). Special thanks to Czerne Reid (University of Florida) of the NASW Education Committee. Questions about this new resource? The project coordinators welcome your questions and feedback at caregiverproject@nasw.org.

Founded in 1934 with a mission to fight for the free flow of science news, NASW is an organization of ~ 2,800 professional journalists, authors, editors, producers, public information officers, students and people who write and produce material intended to inform the public about science, health, engineering, and technology. To learn more, visit www.nasw.org and follow NASW on LinkedIn.

Participant Guidelines

How can I be a good peer buddy?

In addition to following NASW’s Code of Conduct, here are some steps you can take.

  • Be an active listener. Help your peer feel truly heard by concentrating on their words and reflecting their thoughts back to them.

  • Keep things confidential. Refrain from using social media to discuss the matching process or your conversations. DO NOT make audio or visual recordings of conversations. You and your peer might discuss personal or private topics relating to jobs or caregiving. Unless your peer gives explicit consent, whatever is said in the meeting must not leave the meeting.

  • Set clear expectations and boundaries. Talk about what each of you hopes to get out of the relationship. Establish a schedule for meeting as best you can. If a conversation veers into territory that is uncomfortable for you, say so.

What if the person doesn’t get back to me, or the match doesn’t work out?

Like a story pitch or interview request, NASW can't guarantee that a request to connect will be accepted, or that a pairing will be optimal. If you don’t hear back, we suggest you follow up after one week, and if the person still hasn’t responded one week after that reminder, try another person on the list.

Please refrain from emailing multiple people at once. Other caregivers will also be trying to make a connection. We want as many people as possible to have access to this resource.

If a match doesn’t work out, don’t feel discouraged. As you likely know already, caregivers lead busy, chaotic lives and may be unable to reply to your email or continue meeting regularly for reasons having nothing to do with you.

What if I can’t continue meeting or would prefer to move on?

Life happens. Not all pairings will click, and even successful pairings may peter out after some time. That’s okay.

If someone who contacts you is not the right fit, or your schedule can no longer accommodate a peer buddy, let them know; don’t ghost the other person. Think about what you’d say to a source whose interview doesn’t end up in your story. Treat them with kindness and respect, thank them for an interesting insight they may have shared with you, and wish them well.

January 31, 2024