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Nature of the support workforce

A large and significant workforce

In 2018, support workers (including peer and whānau support workers) were the largest group in secondary mental health and addiction services at 32 percent of the workforce. Most support workers (93 percent) were employed in mental health and addiction services for adults (people aged 18 and older). Around three-quarters (74 percent) of all support workers were employed by NGOs (Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui, 2018).

There is also some evidence that the support workforce in DHB adult mental health and addiction services is growing at a faster rate than clinical roles (Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui, 2019). The size and availability of the community support workforce means it plays a crucial role in implementing the changes recommended by He Ara Oranga: Report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction.

Te Pou continues to collect and report information about the support workforce and its place in adult mental health and addiction services. The annual DHB employees profile report series provides useful demographic and service information. In 2022, Te Pou will be updating its More than numbers NGO workforce information.

Current picture

The nature of the support workforce continues to develop and diversify, with support workers working in an increasing range of settings. As a result, the needs for this workforce continue to evolve. It is important for support workers to feel their work is supported, understood, and valued as an integral part of the mental health and addiction continuum.

Te Pou has some initiatives planned for 2022/23 that aim to support and develop the support workforce. These include:

  • exploring the supervision needs of support workers and developing resources that will support these
  • supporting the development of educational and learning pathways for support workers
  • facilitating the creation of a shared description or scope of practice for support work
  • creating opportunities for support workers to network with others across the country
  • promoting the value of support work

Regular updates will be made available on this page.

If you are interested in supporting any of these initiatives or if you have any questions, please contact Erin McGuinness.

Support workforce - focus groups

Are you a support worker, or a manager/team leader of support workers, working with people experiencing problematic substance use and mental health issues?

Te Pou would like to invite you to attend a focus group to explore the workforce development priorities and opportunities for support workers. We want to hear what matters to you and your colleagues so we can plan for initiatives which will celebrate, strengthen, and develop the support workforce.

If you would like to attend a focus group, please register for your preferred date below. If you want to know more, please contact Erin McGuinness at

Support worker focus groups

Tuesday 7th of June – 3.00-4.30pm -support workers

Wednesday 8th of June-11.00-12.30pm-support workers

Friday 10th of June-10.00am-11.30am-support workers

Team leader/manager focus groups

Thursday 9th of June- 2.30-4.00pm-team leaders/managers

Tuesday 14th of June-10.30am-12.00pm-team leaders/managers

Previous initiatives

Fast Track

As the support workforce continues to grow and develop, we need to continue to recognise and contribute to the ongoing development of the people that work in these roles.

Following on from the development of On Track, Platform Trust and Te Pou published Fast Track A discussion paper: challenges and opportunities for the mental health and addiction community support workforce which highlights some of the key issues for the further development of the support workforce, including:

  • the breadth and diversity of mental health and addiction support worker roles, including peer support roles
  • retention and recruitment challenges for employers
  • the need for an education and career pathway for support workers
  • the possibility of creating a distinct professional identity.

Mental health and addiction support worker forums

Platform Trust and Te Pou held three forums for mental health and addiction support workers in July 2018 to discuss the key questions in the Fast Track discussion paper and to identify strategies for further growth and development of this workforce. Themes from these forums are outlined in a national summary, as well as a summary from the Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland forums.

In addition to the regional forums, there was a national support work summit Māhuri Tōtara held in December 2018.

Support worker profiles

Support workers make up a large part of the workforce in mental health and addiction services, especially in NGOs. However, many people are not aware of the variety of roles within the support workforce or the work they do. We have interviewed a number of community support workers to share their profiles.

Through sharing support workers’ stories, we hope to increase understanding about the diversity and breadth of community support worker roles and showcase their work. See their stories below.


  • Damian Holt is an addiction advocate and peer support worker for Mental Health Advocacy and Peer Support (MHAPS) in Christchurch
  • Sasha Toia is a community support worker for Arataki Ministries in Northland
  • Tom White is a support worker at a residential centre run by Odyssey in Counties Manukau
  • Pauline Nevin is the coordinator for COMPASS Peer Support and Advocacy Service in Nelson
  • Argentina Fatialofa is a community support worker and team leader at Vaka Tautua’s West Auckland centre
  • Phillipa Cole is a support worker with the Navigation service run by Pathways in Wellington
  • Michele Edwards is a youth support worker with Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Addiction Service (ICAMHAS) at Whanganui District Health Board (DHB)

Robyn Shearer (previous Chief executive of Te Pou) and Marion Blake (previous Chief executive of Platform) give us their perspectives on why it is important that we know more about this vital work.

Hear from support workers

Hear from mental health and addiction support workers in the below videos, including what they like most about their jobs and advice they'd give people looking to do similar work.




Related Initiatives