Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization: Hospital Companion Program

Objective: Provide peer support for parents while they are in psychiatric screening with their child.

Description: Taking your child to the hospital due to a psychiatric emergency can be very confusing and scary. The process is long, there are many people asking questions and terminology can be difficult to understand. Families can also be very anxious with the process and wanting to connect with people that understand and care. The Hospital Companion program is designed for families that take their child to the hospital for a psychiatric screening due to an emergent need. Hospital Companions — family members that have also experienced this situation — are dispatched to meet the family in the waiting area to provide support, education and advocacy.

Families waiting in the crisis unit may need intensive peer support, education about the process and community resources in addition to advocacy if necessary. Having a Hospital Companion not only provides assistance for the families, but also helps the hospital staff as the Companion can often answer basic questions about the process and assist the family with paperwork.  The hospital uses data to identify “peak” times and then a Companion is stationed in the psychiatric waiting area to act as a resource for families. Also, the hospital phones Companions that are on-call to come to the hospital if a family arrives and needs support. Companions come with a cell phone for families to contact loved ones, snacks, resource materials and activities especially if children are with the waiting family. The Companion provides support, education and advocacy and can serve as a liaison for the family.

Population of Focus: Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, White, Children, Transition aged, Adults, Limited English Proficient, Women

Setting: Community health center, Home/housing, Hospital, Primary care facility, Telehealth, Virtual/web-based, Workplace, Rural and/or frontier

Level of Intervention: County, Family, Individual

Resources/Qualifications Needed: Peer model. Peers that are trained in the hospital protocols and trained in peer support model including ethics, boundaries, confidentiality, etc. Staff are family volunteers that receive a stipend and have been through the experience of psychiatric screening with their own children. They also have a cell phone, snacks, literature and games for the family and youth to use. Trained family members that have children with behavioral health needs. Families are trained in crisis mgmt, HIPAA and understanding the hospital culture. Foundation funding and fee for service.

Background: The Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization (ACFSO) is an organization created, built and run by family members of emotionally and/or behaviorally challenged children. ACFSO was established to provide support, education and advocacy for families with emotionally and/or behaviorally challenged children in Atlantic and Cape May Counties.


Andrea Burleigh, Executive Director
Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization
1601 Tilton RD, Unit #1, Northfield, NJ 08225