SYDNEY • "When she was in the picture, it just made everything a little bit easier," Pritpal says of her friend, Segen. "She was the first person who could understand."
The mother-of-three from New South Wales, Australia, has been through tough times, dealing with social isolation, unemployment and depression. Three years of community counselling and help from government services did little to make a difference, until she met Segen and her kids last year.
Both women are part of Family by Family, a breakthrough social venture that aims to reduce the need for crisis intervention among Australian families. The innovative welfare programme began in Adelaide, South Australia, in 2011 and now operates in two states.
The way it works is deceptively simple. "We link together two different types of families: those who have had tough times and come out of it and those who are going through tough times," says programme director Dana Shen.
The families meet often, share their worries and learn from one another.
Since its prototype, 407 "seeking families" have completed "link ups" with "sharing families", families who are willing to help others.
Ms Ann Dadich, a senior lecturer at Western Sydney University's School of Business, has researched peer-to-peer models among teens with substance abuse issues.
"There's something quite uniquely different about being supported by someone who is legitimately in the same boat as you, who can put their hand on their heart and say 'I know how you feel'," she says.
While long-term evaluations are yet to be carried out, a 2012 independent report found 90 per cent of seeking families saying life was better after the programme.