“I remember being at a party and looking around at all of the children in one room dancing and all of the parents mingling and I thought; ‘I can’t relate to anybody here.’ It was such an isolating feeling being in a room full of parents who had children who were developing pretty typically and feeling like I was alone,” said Michelle, one of our Family Support Partners. If you are a parent raising a child with a social, emotional, behavioral or mental health challenge you probably know this feeling all too well. That gut-wrenching feeling of being alone in this seemingly uphill battle is something that our FSP’s want no mother, father, grandparent, or any other primary caregiver in Pennsylvania to ever feel again. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance want to introduce you to some of our FSPs, explain what they do, and show you the way they can help you and other families across the state.
Who are the FSPs
First and foremost our FSPs are parents. They are all parents who have raised or are raising a child(ren) with social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenges. That is what makes a Family Support Partner so unique. Our program offers a caregiver to caregiver approach to supporting families caring for children, and young adults (up to the age of 26) with identified or suspected mental health or substance use challenges. These parents are able to pair their lived experiences and the vast training they have completed to help connect families with resources and services that will be beneficial to them.
“Some of the areas that I have lived experience in is ADHD, substance use disorder, mental health issues, and having to advocate for my child at school. I have had to go all the way to Harrisburg to handle issues with my child’s school and get them the education they needed and deserved. I also have experience with residential treatment facilities, inpatient treatment, and suicide attempts made by my child,” said FSP Cyndi. This shows the breadth of knowledge and experience that just one of our FSPs have. Another FSP, Tracy, mentioned that her experience overlaps Cyndi’s but also covers other areas; “I have two children that have mental health disorders. I have experience with ODD, DMD, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. I have had guardianship of my grandson for about a year and he has autism. I have also had to fight my children’s school to recognize dyslexia and learning disabilities.”
“I think I offer good support because I am further ahead in my journey. I have found the right resources and evaluations for my children, have learned to trust my gut and pushed to allow my kids, and other children in my school district to have access to quality education programs. We partner with parents so that they can learn from our experience and maybe help them avoid some anguish and wasted time,” said FSP Michelle. Our FSP’s have gone down that very long road, many of them feeling like they were in it alone. “I felt like I was completely alone until I shared my story with someone. Now that I think back to that party there probably was someone who related to me but neither of us talked about what we were going through,” said Michelle.
What can you call them for?
“Anything, just call us. It’s confidential. No question is a bad question. No judgment, pick up the phone and ask us anything, there is nothing too big or too small,” said FSP Tracy. To make it easier for families to understand what types of calls we generally get we broke them up into 6 main ways we help and empower families.
1. Connect- The connection is arguably the most important aspect, at least initially. A parent that is in the thick of raising a child with a suspected or new diagnosis often has that immense feeling of isolation. They may feel like their friends and family don't get them and other parents aren't having the same struggles that they do. "Life-changing. It definitely would have been," said Michelle when asked what it would have meant to her to have a parent who had been in her shoes when she was in the thick of figuring out the ropes of parenting a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge. It is very comforting to talk to a person who at one time also felt like they were in a sinking boat and now they have made it to the other side and are better parents because of it.
2. Support- Connection and support go hand in hand. They are able to offer families an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on if needed. The FSPs will listen to parents vent about their struggles and stressors and offer much-needed support. In moments of high stress, especially when it seems like everybody is pushing back at you (i.e school districts and insurance companies) having someone in your corner will make all of the difference.
3. Navigate- You have so many resources at your fingertips, you just don’t know it. Our FSPs are up to date on resources from around the state that provide children and families with amazing and essential services, but many people don’t even know where to look. That's where we come in. Your FSP can take a look at your needs and connect you with people who are willing and eager to help you get what can help.
4. Educate- “You don’t know what you don’t know. Simple as that. You can’t ask a question if you don’t know what you should be asking,” said Tracy. There is power in knowledge and our FSPs are working to empower parents to gain that knowledge and use it to advocate for their children.
5. Training- FSPs are trained constantly to stay up to date on the newest policies and procedures. They are also constantly updating their portfolio of topics they are certified to train others in. From NAMI Basics to a program called Family Road Map; our FSPs are ready to train parents, families, and providers on a wide array of topics.
6. Advocacy By learning to advocate for your child you will be advocating for children who come after them too. By learning to navigate for your child to receive a service from their school, provider or insurance company you are creating a precedent to have other children benefit from it from that time on. Our FSPs empower families to speak up and effectively advocate for themselves and their children. Effective advocacy is a skill set that takes a while to perfect but once you do a parent is unstoppable in getting their kids what they need.
Who can use this service?
If you have a child, youth or young adult who is under 26 and has a suspected or identified mental health or substance use challenge we're here for you. Like we said, no problem is too small, no issue is too big. Even if you're unsure, give us a call and let us help you or connect you with someone who can. We are here for you when you need us!
Reach us on our Parent Support Line at 888-273-2361 or online by visiting: https://www.paparentandfamilyalliance.org/contactusonline