Natural problem solvers, PSPs use their personal experience, training, skills, and knowledge to expand opportunities for family choice and voice in matters affecting families and their children. They are trained to work with families to turn hopes and dreams into action. The PSP’s role is to effectively engage, model, educate, and support parents referred for the service as well as professionals. They receive training and on-going coaching in a variety of subject areas, including, but not limited to, the role, purpose, and function of the Parent Support Partner, boundaries, expectations and limits of the PSP role, successful engagement with families and treatment teams, effective communication skills, family-driven and youth-guided care, parent professional partnerships, cultural competence, confidentiality, HIPAA, and collecting and reporting needed information. Through training, PSPs hone their skill in navigating systems of care such as public mental health, child welfare, juvenile justice, education, public benefits, and utilizing community resources.
Parent Support Partners are supervised by both qualified mental health clinicians from a referring community mental health agency and PSP supervisors. They serve as members of the treatment team and are included in the service planning, implementation, and transition process. They serve as a reliable source of information about resources, programs, and services that may assist families to overcome barriers to success. Access to a PSP’s support helps parents achieve specific goals established by the parent with their child’s clinician.
Parent Support Partners assist families to develop skills, knowledge, resources, and confidence needed to successfully advocate on behalf of their child with serious emotional disturbance. The service can help to improve caregiver engagement thereby improving retention rates in treatment and decrease the caregiver’s sense of despair and isolation.
Family Alliance for Change became the first human services agency in Michigan to become a Legal Self Help Resource Center. In late 2015, because of the number of families seeking answers for legal problems, PSPs in Wayne County were trained as Legal Self Help System navigators. As navigators, PSPs do not provide legal advice but are able to assist visitors to find information on the Michigan Legal Self Help Website for help with certain civil matters including but not limited to child support, child custody, divorce, paternity, housing, protection orders, expungement, consumer debt, public benefits, income tax, individual rights, employment, and education. The interview tools on the website allow the visitor to properly prepare and print out documents for filing at court and to represent themselves without an attorney. The tools also alert the visitor when their legal issue is too complex and should be handled by an attorney. 
Parent Support Partners are assigned to interested, eligible families of children and youth with serious emotional disturbance who are at risk of out-of-home placement as part of a continuum of services offered by Community Mental Health agencies with staff that are knowledgeable of evidence-based, promising, and best practices. PSP services are individualized and respectful of the child and family’s wants, needs, preferences and culture. Services are community-based with an emphasis on informal and formal supports delivered within the context of the family’s strengths, resources, value systems, and preferences.
Parent Support Partners can make a difference for families. In addition to their value as a family support service, PSPs and trained, interested parents are part of the Connections Wayne County System of Care, where they provide the parent voice on committees that impact policy both locally and statewide. PSPs are so valued that they have been called upon to provide testimony before the State legislature, present information to County Board Commissioners and educators, and train other parents, community mental health, child welfare, and juvenile justice staff.
Parent Support Partners are a treasure trove of support for engaged parents, outcomes-focused, value and mission-driven professionals and their like-minded System of Care partners. Readers located outside of Michigan who are interested in establishing a parent support partner service within their community mental health system can look to the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health website at www.ffcmb.org for additional information.
 Association for Children’s Mental Health, Parent Support Partner Project www.acmh.org
 Michigan Poverty Law Program, News Archive www.MPLP.org
by Kim Hunt and Stephanie Miller, Family Alliance for Change