The SS/HS Initiative set an overarching goal to increase family engagement in schools. One key feature of this goal focused on the needs of parents and caregivers who struggled in navigating multiple child serving systems and in accessing services for their child with serious mental and/or behavioral health needs. As a result, Wisconsin’s state team partnered with Wisconsin Family Ties (WFT), the statewide family organization, to establish Parent Peer Support (PPS) providers in LEA’s across the state as a strategy to connect families, schools, and community.
Wisconsin’s SS/HS Initiative, in partnership with WFT, established 16 PPS providers across the state who assist an average of 142 families per month. WFT is a statewide, not-for-profit organization run by families for families of children and adolescents who have emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders. WFT recruits and trains PPS providers. PPS providers are family members with “lived experience,” having been the daily caregiver of a child with mental health challenges. PPS providers implement a family-to-family approach that is strengths-based, supportive, and aims to empower family members. Bicultural/bilingual PPSs provide effective and culturally responsive supports particularly for non-English speaking families. PPS providers coach parents on how to access mental health services for their child and provide guidance during transitions from pre-K to elementary, and from middle to high school. This includes accompanying the family to Individualized Education Plans (IEP) meetings to assure special education accommodations are in place. PPS providers support family members in developing the confidence and skills needed to support their child’s learning.
“Children can’t do well in school if their family is homeless, has nothing to eat or has other basic unmet needs.
I can support families in accessing community services and showing them how to get the help they need.”
— Wisconsin Parent Peer Support Provider
PPS providers know their community and how to access social services that address basic needs and help families. Sometimes called family support providers, the family to family peer support approach has proven highly effective in bridging relationships and communication with formal agencies such as child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health agencies.