Thursday, April 14, 2011

What is a Secondary Social Support Network?

Over the last several posts, I’ve discussed how a primary social support network can help you through challenges and difficulties that arise while you are taking classes. I’ve also discussed how to examine your network to determine its strengths and weaknesses. Today I’ll discuss what to do if your network is weak in a few areas. To bolster a social support network until you can cultivate new connections, try to identify resources that you can include in a secondary support network.

A secondary support network includes services from businesses and organizations rather than family and friends. For example, if you expect you might need emergency child care,a back-up ride in case your car breaks down, or a back-up computer and Internet connection in case your computer dies, you might locate a child care center in your area that advertises later than usual drop-in hours, a taxi service that you could call at the drop of a hat, and a local library with a computer lab. If you just need someone to vent with, or want some help in problem solving, then a Success Coach through ELI might be a great secondary support network resource. For advice a NOVA Counselor or faculty member could be a resource. The Virginia Department of Social Services also has a website that you can use to find additional support services for Virginia residents.

There are some downsides to drawing on your secondary support network resources. You might have to pay for some of the services provided by your secondary support network. Others might have more limited hours than could be negotiated with someone in your primary social support network. The upsides to them, are that often you can access them quickly and without hassle or negotiation, and usually you know the full cost of them up front, so if you do your research, you can budget for them. However, just knowing that a taxi service or child care company exists does not make them part of your secondary network. In order to add them in, you need to do a bit of research and footwork first. For each service you intend to be able to rely on in an emergency, you need to know their hours of service, their cost for your typical use of them, and what preliminary paperwork will be involved in your first and subsequent uses. For example, your alternate child care company might require some intake paperwork before you can benefit from their services. If completing the initial paperwork will take so long that you will miss the class you want their support during, then it doesn’t really do you any good. Therefore, find a place where you can complete that kind of work in advance, so it is ready for you when you need it.

Secondary support networks are much quicker to build than primary social support networks--and they can be very effective in helping you through crises. But for the long haul, don’t forget to build and cultivate your primary network. These social connections are essential to our long-term health and well-being. I’ll suggest some strategies for doing this in another post. In the meantime, what secondary supports do you currently use in an emergency?

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