As with all peer training programs, it's important to provide top-notch training to parent partners before they join the workforce. In our PET classes, we emphasize the importance of focusing on strengths to facilitate the recovery process. One parent partner remarked that in the past she had almost forgotten that her child was still a beautiful human being, and that she hadn't realized how little providers and teachers spoke of hope and her son's recovery.
Like most peer employees, parent partners often experience resistance from the professional teams they are hired to join, so they need support from management. Professional team members often voice concerns about parent partners' professionalism, competency, and lack of formal behavioral health education. Thus, parent partners have to work diligently at creating a space for themselves. Training professional staff about the benefits of parent partners will help alleviate this resistance. Strong support from immediate supervisors and top leadership is a key to success. It's important to link the parent partners' work to the organization's overall vision.
Don't be discouraged by civil service requirements. If your organization is part of a governmental entity bound by civil service requirements, take heart! If Riverside County was able to work within this structure to set up job descriptions for this class of employment, you might be able to do it too (you can reach Donna at DDAHL@co.riverside.ca.us). If, however, you are exhausted by the thought of working through this process, think about adding parent partners at contracted provider agencies. They have much more latitude when it comes to setting up employment opportunities for new job classifications. Once parent partners are hired by a contracted provider, they could work at your sites on your teams even though they are employed elsewhere.
Adding parents to the workforce, as with other peer programs, is a great idea. It's a way to increase the effectiveness of services, right from the beginning when the engagement process begins. Probably the most important aspect of adding parents to the workforce, or any peers for that matter, is a solid training program that instills the importance of a recovery-based approach that focuses on strengths and self-determination. Laying the groundwork for a successful integration is also important, and it should encourage professional staff to embrace parent partners so they can create a strong partnership.
Lori Ashcraft, PhD, directs the Recovery Education Center at Recovery Innovations, Inc. (formerly META Services) in Phoenix. William A. Anthony, PhD, is Director of the Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. Ellen Dayan is a Recovery Services Instructor at Recovery Innovations.
- Corrigan P, Miller F. Shame, blame, and contamination: A review of the impact of mental illness stigma on family members. J Mental Health 2004; 13 (6): 537–48.