Family Support Partners
Family Support Partners is an Advocacy for Kids’ initiative developed to empower Kalamazoo County families who are raising children facing mood, behavioral, or emotional issues. The program’s participants form solid bonds with their unique peer mentors, because every Family Support Partner has a child with the same issues.
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Advocacy for Kids Executive Director Dianne Shaffer:
The biggest thing that sets our program apart from other programs is that it is a peer-run model. We hire parents who are raising or have raised a child with mood, emotional, or behavioral challenges to mentor and support other families going through similar challenges. Families in other programs typically get a social worker who tells them that things will get better, but this advice is very different when it comes from someone who has lived it. These peer relationships build trust faster; they offer a sense of hope with guidance from a mentor who has had many of the same experiences.
These peer relationships build trust faster; they offer a sense of hope with guidance from a mentor who has had many of the same experiences.
We have four Family Support Partners right now, each with a caseload of about 20 families. The Family Support Partners meet with the families to help them set goals, problem-solve, and provide information on how to access community resources. They help their families learn to effectively collaborate with other service providers too, such as protective service workers, probation officers, and school personnel.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
This really goes back to the peer-run model of our program, but this year, like every year, I am more and more amazed and thrilled with how passionate our staff is about their jobs and about how dedicated they are to helping families. The Family Support Partners are so passionate because they really understand what their families go through to try to get help for their children.
They take their own experiences and they feel good about being able to use them to give back to other parents in need. They realize that they didn’t go through it for nothing and that their efforts really have paid off, not only for their own children and families, but for others as well.
Theirs can be emotional and stressful work, but they love to do it!
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
One of the most difficult things about being a small nonprofit is that there is not a lot of depth to our workforce. We lost three Family Support Partner staff members in the span of six months during the past year, it is very difficult to balance the workload, fill positions, and get people trained when you are so small.
And, like I said before, it is a challenge to find employees with personal experience with this issue along with the abilities that they need to have to be able to help others. The hiring process usually takes at least two months. During that time, we all have to work harder, take extra cases to fill the gaps and still give our families the quality service that they need.
What really differentiates this program?
We really work with the parents, even though the child is the identified person with a challenge.
Most of the youth are receiving professional services through other local agencies. Our program helps to support parents
When the kids act out at home or at school, it affects the whole family and parents often donít have the assistance that they need to handle this daily stress.
who often don’t get services of their own, like the emotional support they need raising that child day-to-day. When the kids act out at home or at school, it affects the whole family and parents often don’t have the assistance that they need to handle this daily stress.
The peer model of service that we provide with the Family Support Partners model really sets us apart. Parents really respond to and develop bonds with another parent who has walked in their shoes and can give them real-life advice on raising a child with mood, emotional, or behavioral challenges. Their mentors have actually been there.
What are the keys to success for your program?
The keys to success for our program are really the Family Support Partners themselves. Much of their work stems from the relationship they build with each family. Each is different, because our families are involved in this program from two months to two years, depending on their needs. Once the relationship is established, though, it is easier for the mentors to assist their families to access resources and obtain what they need to care for their family.
Another big key to our success as a small nonprofit is that we work very well as a team. Our entire agency has a hand in getting the work done each day and not one of us can do it without the others. We also combine our services with other agencies that supply us with referrals -- we have branch offices within the Ninth Circuit Court’s Family Division and at Kalamazoo Community Mental Health Substance Abuse Services. That makes it easier for some referrals because they don’t have to come and find us. We are able to find them.
What are people in your program most inspired by?
I think people are most inspired by the support they get from their Family Support Partner and what a strong relationship they are able to build with that person.
I think they are also inspired by the confidence they gain in themselves after working with a Family Support Partner. They come to us not knowing where to turn and a large majority of them leave feeling more capable and more empowered, with a sense of hope for the future. When they leave, they report higher confidence levels in managing their families at home, accessing services in the community and advocating for their children. And after they are gone, they are still not alone – they can always call back with questions if they need help, and we will walk them through it over the phone. I think that’s very inspiring.