By Jane Mose, MA, CFS Family Peer Specialist
Children are an extraordinary blessing. Children who have extraordinary needs bring extra blessings along with extra challenges in parenting. For parents of these “special needs” children, access to resources, support, and encouragement can make all the difference.
“Special needs” can mean a variety of things, including:
- Physical and intellectual disabilities
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Severe and chronic medical conditions
- Trauma histories, including histories of foster care or adoption
- Behavioral and emotional challenges
- Exceptional or profound giftedness
Even the most dedicated, loving parents of children with these types of needs can feel overwhelmed, exhausted, discouraged, and very much isolated as they struggle to meet their children’s needs. While the educational, medical, emotional, and community supports offered to the children can be invaluable, we sometimes forget how important it is to support their parents as well.
Family Peer Specialists (sometimes called Parent Peer Specialists) are dedicated to fulfilling this role. Family Peer Specialists are not therapists, but rather parents who have the lived experience of raising children with mental health needs and possibly other unique challenges, and who have been trained and certified to assist other parents.
The idea of training and certifying parents to help other parents has been around since at least 2011, when a Certification Commission was formed and a national certification for Parent Peer Support Providers was launched.1 Since then, a number of studies have provided evidence of the value of this support to both parents and their children.2
Peer Specialists at CFS
So, if you are a parent of a child with extraordinary needs, what could a Family Peer Specialist do for you? Following are some possibilities3:
- Provide nonjudgmental support from someone who “gets it”
- Provide information about resources that could meet your needs
- Support your family in recognizing your own strengths and using them
- Assist you in navigating times of crisis
- Facilitate your own goal-setting
- Share parenting knowledge and skills with you, including ways to work on specific behaviors
- Assist in advocacy and teamwork, such as at IEP team meetings
- Help you navigate service and support systems
- Share hope for change and growth from someone who has “been there”
The therapists at Christian Family Solutions refer families to a Peer Specialist like me when they think those parents can benefit from a little extra support. Once I receive the referral, I work as part of the service team. Through my lived experiences, I can help parents realize they are not alone … There are people who care for them. There is hope. Parents and I work together to:
- Identify and fully utilize the strengths and resources parents already have
- Locate other resources that might be available
- Teach and empower them to advocate for their children (e.g., at IEP meetings)
- Provide parenting techniques that could be helpful
- Encourage the parents to take care of themselves so they can care for their children
There is one other huge blessing that Family Peer Specialists at Christian Family Solutions are able to provide: Encouragement from God’s Word on your parenting journey. We remind parents that God walks alongside you on this journey, and that steady reminder can be a great source of comfort and strength.
Christian Family Solutions offers peer support to families in Wisconsin. Assistance from Peer Specialists may be covered by insurance. If you are interested in receiving support from a Family Peer Specialist, contact your child’s provider or the Christian Family Services intake team to see if peer support is right for you.
Look for related topics from the CFS Peer Specialist:
- Peer Specialists: For When Parents Feel Isolated
- Parenting an argumentative child
- Ten strategies to reduce arguing with your child
Jane Mose, MA, is an adoptive mom and former special education teacher who appreciates the opportunity to support other parents and encourage them throughout their parenting journey. She is trained as a Certified Parent Peer Specialist through the State of Wisconsin and as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) Practitioner through the Karen Purvis Institute of Child Development.