Utilizing Peers to Assist Families with Children Experiencing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Challenges

Objective: To assist families with children experiencing mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges by providing support, connection to resources, education, advocacy, and assistance with navigating systems

Description: The Mental Health Association of Rochester’s Community Care program utilizes Family Resource Mentors (FRMs) to assist families with adolescent or transition-aged children who are experiencing mental, emotional and behavioral challenges. FRMs are parents of children that have experienced similar challenges and who have prior experience with systems. FRMs are trained in techniques to help them help other families using an individualized and culturally appropriate approach. They understand the systems our families often interface with (e.g., education, child welfare, juvenile justice) and assist families in navigating those systems to get help for their children. They also work to empower families to be able to do it on their own. The Parent Resource Expert (PRE) partners with families to serve as a peer, resource and service support expert.

The Atlantic Cape Family Support Organization (ACFSO) also offers a peer support program for families. Parents and caregivers are specially coordinated with trained Peer Support Partners who understand firsthand what families are experiencing and in turn, promote and guide their progress. ACFSO Peer Support Partners are parents or caregivers with emotionally or behaviorally challenged children themselves. Therefore, they are able to assist families in navigating the system of care in New Jersey because they have done so or are currently doing so for their own family. Peer Support Partners are available to support, educate and advocate for families, ensuring that the family voice is heard.

The Peer Support Partners provide face-to-face support at the family’s convenience. They also attend Child Family Team (CFT) meetings and Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings in an effort to directly assist parents, caregivers, and care managers in meeting family goals. Telephone support is another avenue for the families and their Peer Support Partners to communicate throughout the relationship. Peer Support Partners are also available to assist families in critical situations such as when a child is entering a hospital, a detention center or a mental health placement center.

All in all, Peer Support Partners are available to walk hand in hand with parents and caregivers to ensure the unique needs and concerns of each family are met. ACFSO Peer Support Partners endeavor to articulate the needs of each family while educating them regarding community resources, the systems of care and other opportunities and services for their children.

Results/Accomplishments/Evidence: The initial evaluation of the Community Care pilot program revealed that the role of the Parent Resource Expert is unique and highly valued by service recipients. The qualifications for the Parent Resource Expert (PRE) explicitly include the experience of parenting or otherwise supporting a youth with mental health needs, and personal knowledge of the neighborhood within which the service is being provided. These two personal characteristics were cited repeatedly during focus groups as being of pivotal importance to recipients of the service. Questions aimed at teasing out the specific value of shared racial identity produced less resounding and uniform feedback. Recipients articulated consistently that the PREs’ first-hand experience with the mental health and human service systems were influential in decreasing recipients’ internalized stigma, and that the PREs’ proximity and accessibility within the community diminished recipients’ sense of isolation.

Population of Focus: Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, White, Adolescents, Transition aged, Adults, Women, Family members

Setting: Community health center, Home/housing, Suburban, Telehealth, Urban, Virtual/web-based, Workplace

Level of Intervention: Family

Resources/Qualifications Needed: Community Care is funded through a federal government contract.

Background: Community Care is a program that came about as a direct result of families from around the community that came together and expressed the following regarding services:

  • They were tired of hearing that their children weren’t “sick enough” for services
  • Services were not available at first sign of trouble, something “bad” needed to happen before help could be accessed
  • High levels of system mistrust
  • Services were not culturally appropriate, or responsive.

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.


Community Care

Melanie Funchess, Director of Community Engagement
Mental Health Association
585-325-3145 Ext. 135
325 N. Goodman St., Rochester, NY, 14607

Peer Support Partners

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