Nonprofits had an opportunity this spring to bid on a contract with the Vermont Department of Mental Health (DMH) to provide peer support for parents of children within the mental health system. DMH’s request for proposals (RFP), issued on April 11, also asked for an assessment of existing parental peer supports and youth peer supports in Vermont.

The combined cost for both scopes of work cannot exceed $100,000, per DMH, which expects to make use of federal funds. The department intends to select a winning proposal in June.

According to the RFP, the contractor will train parents across the state to “provide support, education, and guidance for parents and guardians as they navigate the Coordinated Service Planning process.”

In Vermont, a determination of “severe emotional disturbance” renders a child eligible for a Coordinated Service Plan, which aims to integrate separate forms of assistance provided by DMH, the Department for Children and Families, and the Agency of Education into a unified program that, under 33 V.S.A. § 4301, “shall be designed to meet the needs of the child within his or her family or in an out-of-home placement, and in the school and the community.” Parents or guardians work together with community supports and with the state to develop the plan.

In addition to offering help with this process, the contractor will develop a “strategic action plan” to expand peer support for both parents and children throughout the state, based on an analysis of current services and on local and national recommendations. The plan will address the possibility of a statewide certification program specific to family peer support specialists.

During the recent legislative session, the Vermont General Assembly rejected a bill to implement a statewide certification program for mental health peers, which would have included opportunities for sub-specialization. Under the legislation, a peer-led organization, as DMH’s contractor, would have solicited “feedback and recommendations” from Vermont’s “family organizations” in developing the curriculum, but testimony from the Vermont Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health (VFFCMH) and NAMI-VT suggested that family organizations should take the lead in designing and delivering certification for family peer support specialists.

VFFCMH, which by its account has offered family peer support for 32 years, warned that, without changes, the bill might have the effect of pulling family organizations “further away from their grassroot origins and their national networks of expertise.”

NAMI-VT emphasized the uniqueness of family peer support, whose specialists, in the words of Executive Director Laurie Emerson, “work to empower families by teaching skills that assist them in finding their own voice and to advocate. They have current knowledge of the mental health system and most importantly, recognize the life experience of raising a child with a mental health diagnosis or supporting an adult family member with mental health needs.”

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