Welcome to the 5 Things Digest from the NTTAC Community Wellness & Peer Supports Transformation Team!

As the youth and parent peer support workforce grows, effective supervision and support are critical factors for professional development and retention of youth and parent peer support providers. This workforce is unique in many ways. Parent peer support providers (PPSPs) may come from diverse professional backgrounds not related to mental health or may have been out of the workforce to care for children with special needs for a number of years. Youth peer support providers (YPSPs) may be entering the workforce for the first time or may be balancing college courses with employment. Both types of peer support providers are hired based on their lived experience rather than educational or professional degrees, and are tasked with using their personal experiences in navigating systems in a professional role. Below are 5 Things essential to the effective support and supervision of Youth and Parent Peer Support Providers.
#1: Youth and Parent Peer Support Providers benefit most from a combination of peer supervision and clinical consultation.
Although often therapeutic in many ways, the work of the Youth and Parent Peer Support Provider is not clinical in nature and requires something more than clinical supervision. This workforce benefits most from peer supervision by an experienced peer support provider along with access to regular clinical consultation around complex youth and family needs. Peer supervision focuses on the role of the peer support provider in working with the youth and family, as well as maintaining their role and exploring situations that may be challenging for the YPSP or PPSP based on their personal life experiences. The peer supervisor also helps prioritize tasks to address the strengths and needs of the youth/family in reaching their goals. 

The focus of clinical consultation is on therapeutic issues dealing with the youth/family, diagnosis and/or clinical impressions, and safety issues. The clinician consultant assists the YPSP or PPSP in understanding the therapeutic picture and how it relates to goals or actions, barriers and strengths, as well as expanding knowledge of diagnoses, treatment modalities, etc.


#2: A developmental and trauma-informed approach to supervision and support of YPSPs/PPSPs is most effective.

Members of this workforce come from varied backgrounds, diverse experiences, and often very little formal training as mental health providers. For this reason, it is important to employ a developmental approach and view supervision as the process by which the YPSP/PPSP grows professionally. This type of approach promotes growth, allows for learning from mistakes, and provides opportunities to use individual strengths. For example, performance issues should be reframed as “opportunities for growth and reflection,” and it is the supervisor’s job to help them identify these and to provide individualized coaching to improve performance and growth as a professional.

Also, the YPSP and PPSP may come to this work with significant trauma backgrounds. Effective supervision takes this trauma history into account and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives. Being trauma informed in supervision means recognizing when trauma triggers occur, providing a supportive space for addressing the impact on the peer support provider’s professional role, and ensuring that there are mechanisms in place for self-care (such as an Employee Assistance Program or flexibility to schedule days off for self-care).

#3: Youth and Parent Peer Support Providers are often still living their "lived experience."

Lived experience for the YPSP or PPSP does not stop just because they are now using that experience in a professional role. They may still face challenges with their child's/youth’s mental health issues and accessing related services or with maintaining their own recovery. This does not mean they are unable to help others in similar situations, and, in fact, it may strengthen their reach and rapport with others who are experiencing similar challenges. However, it does mean that it is paramount to have organizational policies that reflect the experience of this workforce. In other words, they were hired because they had experience living with mental health challenges or parenting a young person with mental health challenges; they should not be penalized by inflexible polices or procedures when that lived experience occurs. It is important that provider organizations allow options like flexible schedules for YPSPs/PPSPs to attend mental health appointments or to participate in their child’s school meetings.


#4: Professional development should be part of supervision and support.

The Youth and Parent Peer Support Provider workforce thrives on learning and professional development. It is critical to have ongoing opportunities to expand knowledge and skills in areas chosen both by the supervisor and the peer support provider. Establishing and maintaining individualized professional development plans is an important part of supervision and should be revisited regularly, not just during an annual review or for certification requirements. Funding should be in place in the program or organizational budget to ensure that YPSPs and PPSPs can access ongoing training that is tailored, culturally appropriate, and time relevant, as well as so that they can attend educational conferences and meetings as a means of growing professionally to better serve youth and families.


#5: Supervisors are champions of the youth and parent peer support provider workforce.

Many providers and community partners are not familiar with the role of peer support providers, including those employed within the same agency. Having clear job descriptions and responsibilities is important. There is also lingering stigma around the professional ability and capacity of young adults with mental health challenges and parents of children/youth with mental health challenges as service providers. Supervisors must therefore champion this workforce internally, through sharing information with co-workers and other staff on the benefits of peer support, developing supportive processes and policies that understand and respect the lived experience of staff, providing opportunities for cross-training and collaboration among programs, ensuring equitable wages, and establishing professional standards and expectations for the peer team.


Integrating Youth & Parent Peers into Your Organization (workshop slides by Youth MOVE National & FREDLA, 2019)
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Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).