At the New York State Office of Mental Health, our Office of Advocacy and Peer Support Services (OAPSS) – formerly the Office of Consumer Affairs –supports families to play a vital role in the recovery and resilience process. The office is staffed by individuals with expertise gained through their work and formal education, as well as the experience of being a current or former recipient of services or the family member of a recipient.
The focus of OAPSS is to better understand the people we serve and their families. The staff works across the State to increase the availability of self–help, self-advocacy, peer support to assist each person in the pursuit of their own individual recovery and resilience goals.
OMH Wants to hear from those individuals and families who’ve had experience with our services. OAPSS works to include recipients in all the decisions made about their services and supports and provides opportunities through collaboration for recipients and their families to effect change in OMH program and policies. OAPSS also tackles specific issues affecting various special populations and integral parts of the mental health system by providing advocacy, training, technical assistance, and leadership for the Peer Workforce and Peer Delivered Services. The office concentrates on all systemic issues regarding recipients of mental health services and speaks to the unique issues involving family members of individuals receiving services from the mental health system.
I hope you will also see that our name change reflects the growing role of Peer Advocates and Peer Support Specialists in OMH and a strong belief that Peers are a vital part of the mental healthcare system. In fact, New York was the first state to establish a Civil Service title for Peer Support Specialists. We’re committed to ensuring that all families have access to peer services by making Family Peer Advocate Services reimbursable through Children and Family Treatment Supports and Services and the Mental Health Outpatient Treatment and Rehabilitation Services program.
OMH has many exciting partnerships with outstanding family-centered community and advocacy groups. With Families Together New York State and Youth Power, OMH is supporting families in all regions of the state, including the availability of Family Peer Advocate staff at every OMH Regional Office. OMH also funds active and engaged Family Support programs throughout the state. Along with Families Together, The Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS), and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in NYS (NAMI-NYS) are strong partners in whom OMH can always depend on to ensure that family support and engagement remain at the forefront of recovery.
Strengthening the OAPSS and Family Support programs is one way to ensure that the role of families is prioritized and built into the development of new programs and services. We also recognize the need to establish and strengthen community-based programs for children and adolescents where mental health treatment and support occur in a natural environment -whether that be home, school, or at a primary care office – where families are present and involved. Providing a continuum of community service options ranging from prevention to intensive treatment is our goal with the expectation that all programs partner with families. Some examples of these efforts are outlined below.
HealthySteps, an evidence-based program that offers universal access to services for young children ages birth to three and their families in a pediatric health care setting, provides early access and opportunities to integrate both mental health and physical well-being for the youngest children at a most critical time in brain development. HealthySteps integrates a child development expert, known as a HealthySteps Specialist, into the health-care team to promote the child’s developmental, social-emotional, and behavioral health, and to support the entire family. The HealthySteps model offers the ability to instill preventative efforts through anticipatory guidance which may enhance positive outcomes and serve to alleviate future potential mental health challenges.
Project TEACH (Training and Education for the Advancement of Children’s Health) supports maternal mental health and helps pediatric primary care practitioners (PCPs) deliver quality mental health care across the state. Project TEACH can provide a PCP with connections to key resources that patients and their families need in their communities, telephone consultations for mild-to-moderate mental health concerns, direct face-to-face consultations for selected pediatric patients, and CME-certified training on how to assess, treat and manage mental health concerns.
Pediatricians and family practice doctors are often the first-place families go to seek help or information if they have concerns about their children’s emotional or behavioral health. Project TEACH connects pediatric primary care providers with psychiatrists and other behavioral healthcare experts for consultation, referrals to services and education, and training on children’s social and emotional development.
OMH will be collaborating with top universities and hospitals in the state to enhance access. Partnering with OMH in the project is University Psychiatric Practice (UPP), a collaboration led by the University at Buffalo Department of Psychiatry, that includes faculty psychiatrists from the University of Rochester, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, SUNY Upstate, Zucker School of Medicine/Northwell Health, Albany Medical Center, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
UPP will help expand and strengthen Project TEACH in a number of ways, such as by increasing training opportunities, tool kits, and educational materials for families in seven additional languages as well as expanding the availability of consultations for pediatric providers to include the specialized areas of infants and children ages 0 to 5; behavioral assessment and planning for autism spectrum disorders/intellectual developmental disorders; nonmedication intervention for substance use disorder; LGBTQ+ wellness and mental health concerns; and problematic sexual behavior assessment and treatment.
School-based mental health clinics provide a unique opportunity to engage children and families who might not seek mental health treatment elsewhere and strengthens the capacity for earlier recognition of mental health needs. Additionally, it provides opportunity for a collaborative, coordinated approach to mental health service delivery; an approach that can be holistic in nature and more easily foster the generalization of behavioral health skills to the academic setting. Most importantly, school-mental health clinics contribute toward the recognition of the interconnectedness between education and mental health, paving the way toward improved outcomes.
I’m especially proud that OMH is now the first state mental health agency in the nation to designate Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams specifically for youths.
Youth ACT teams provide mental health services to youth with serious emotional disturbance. They’re made up of psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, mental health clinicians, and are required to include family peer advocates – a team approach that allows ACT teams to deliver intensive, highly coordinated, individualized services, and skilled therapeutic interventions to ensure children and families have the level of treatment and services to support their recovery.
Teams are highly responsive and flexible to meet the individualized, changing needs of the child and family, and they offer support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They’re run by not-for-profit agencies that have experience in this field. The new Youth ACT program will help young people ages 10 to 21 who are at-risk of entering residential or inpatient psychiatric treatment to receive services while remaining with their families. The goal is to help youths and families recover by helping them to stay together, and to help youth remain in school and develop the skills they need to lead successful and independent lives.
Youth ACT teams are being established in the Capital, Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier, Western, and Central regions upstate and in Long Island and New York City.
Home Based Crisis Intervention (HBCI) is a family preservation program designed to address the significant needs of children and youth in crisis who are at risk of entering, or rapidly readmitting to, inpatient psychiatric treatment or residential treatment. HBCI provides short-term, intensive crisis intervention and skill building for children and families to help maintain the child in the home, school, and community. HBCI ensures that the child and their family have the support services and access to clinical professionals needed to sustain any gains made in the program.
For individuals who are returning to the community after being in an inpatient or correctional setting, focusing on the transitional time is very important. The Mental Health Community Partners project, operating under a two-year contract with the Mental Health Association in New York State (MHANYS) is a 90-day program for youth ages 12 and older with serious emotional disturbances and adults with serious mental illness as they transition from any type of inpatient treatment or institutional setting to the community. With the support of these certified Mental Health Community Partners, individuals, and their chosen supporters, be it family, friends, or the Mental Health Community Partner, participate together in creating a comprehensive care planning strategy for a transition to successful community participation. For information, visit: https://mhcommunitypartners.org/.
OMH is particularly interested in enhancing treatment and support services for children with mental health needs, by helping to strengthen families through parenting education. This is why we partnered with other public and private agencies to establish the New York State Parenting Education Partnership (NYSPEP) a statewide cross-systems initiative designed to prevent or reduce child abuse and neglect by enhancing parents’ knowledge, skills, and behavior. NYSPEP is the only state-level organization representing those engaged in the field of parenting education.
Parenting education helps parents to be more effective in caring for their children, which of course is a major factor in a child’s health, cognitive development, and ability to succeed in school and in life.
NYSPEP is working to expand access to parenting education. Their Parenting Educator Credential is a professional recognition for individuals, teams, or agencies and helps to ensure quality parenting education in New York State.
Love, empathy, and encouragement can work wonders for people living with mental illness and understanding that they are not alone can provide people with the strength they need to seek help. The support of family, friends, and peers can be a cornerstone of the recovery process.
Ann Sullivan, MD is Commissioner of NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH).