A new report has urged recruitment of young befrienders to safeguard the future of the service.
Several community groups, including the victims’ group the South East Fermanagh Foundation (SEFF), were involved in the study.
SEFF director Kenny Donaldson said befriending is vital, but has long been treated as the “Cinderella support service”.
The research report was launched with the showing of a film which acknowledges the work of befriending services across the victim/survivor sector.
It proposes a number of recommendations including that a volunteer strategy is factored into planning for the service, an awareness campaign of the service and a training programme for befrienders.
Mr Donaldson said it was fitting that the project was launched this week on Volunteers’ Week.
“We commend and celebrate all those special people who offer their precious gift – the gift of time,” he said.
“Across Northern Ireland an army of volunteers work night and day in support of the vulnerable and isolated and provide practical support to these individuals, bringing them to hospital appointments, shopping, helping facilitate their connections with wider community services or providing home-based visitation.
“Too often befriending has been the Cinderella support service and this needs to change. It is the foundation service and is a key element of social care response.”
Mr Donaldson said it is important that the Department of Health works closely with the Executive Office and other relevant departments in scoping work which would “lead to befriending being elevated as a core preventative and also response service in the wider social care model”.
The other groups involved in the research were Strule Association, County Armagh Phoenix Group, MAST, Kilkeel, Families Moving On, Castlehill Foundation, The Ely Centre and South and East Tyrone Welfare Support Group.