Parent Support Partners Help Recovery-Based Counseling

April 14th, 2014
Parent Support Partners Debbie Martinez and Norma Magana

“My son Del had been kicked out of every school he had attended and I was at a loss about what to do,” says Juan Moore. “I was afraid that he would fall through the cracks, like so many young men, and end up in jail or dead if I couldn’t get him the help he needed to continue his education.”

Del is 14 years old. He has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder. There is often a defensive anger in his bearing, rooted in childhood trauma.

“People think that because I get into a lot of fights that I like to fight, but it’s not true,” Del says. “I don’t fight on purpose, it’s just that I react when someone disrespects me. But I’m trying to control myself better.”

Del has been receiving counseling at Southwest Solutions for three years. His counselor is Michelle Lewis. Del has grown into a good therapeutic relationship with Michelle; and he, his father and Michelle all say that his ability to manage his emotions has improved.

Michelle also understood that Del’s father needed an advocate to help him with Del’s issues in school. So Michelle referred Juan to a Parent Support Partner who works with counselors at Southwest Solutions through an arrangement with Family Alliance for Change (FAFC). FAFC collaborates with nine different agencies in Wayne County to provide Parent Support Partner (PSP) services.

“Parent Support Partners help parents connect with resources and navigate complicated systems, like the school or legal system, so they can address their children’s needs,” says Michelle, who is Clinical Supervisor of Children, Youth and Family services at Southwest Solutions. “A PSP can help strengthen the parent’s skills and confidence in a particular area so that the parent can better advocate for the child and achieve successful results.”

PSPs are specially trained and are themselves parents of children with Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED) or Developmental Disabilities. Because of their experience in helping their own children overcome mental health challenges, they are particularly sensitive to the needs and struggles of the parents they are assigned to assist.

Debbie Martinez is the PSP who worked with Del’s father, Juan. Debbie helped Juan meet with school personnel to set up an appropriate Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Del. An IEP allows teachers and school staff to understand how a student’s disability affects the student’s learning and behavior, and then to find ways to help the student learn more effectively and feel more engaged in the school environment.

Debbie and Juan also worked together to encourage the school to develop a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) for Del. A BIP identifies causes for behavioral problems and what supports and services can be brought to bear to mitigate those problems.

The IEP and the BIP are both programs to which Del is entitled under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Debbie helped Juan understand the extent of his son’s educational rights and then work with the system to observe those rights.

“Debbie’s assistance was incredibly helpful in getting the proper educational infrastructure in place to keep Del from falling away from school,” Juan says. Juan now feels informed and confident enough to negotiate the system himself so that his son can remain and progress in school.

“It has been amazing to witness the positive changes in both Del and his father,” says Debbie. “Juan has come to accept his son’s disability and understand that this doesn’t mean that his son won’t become a successful adult. Del feels relieved that he can deal with his disability and still make his dad proud.”

Debbie’s work with Juan and Del has certainly contributed to Del’s progress in counseling. After Juan became proficient in school programs to support his son, the PSP relationship came to a close.

Debbie is assigned full-time to Southwest Solutions and she has a current PSP caseload of 14. Norma Magana divides her PSP caseload between Southwest Solutions and another agency. One of Norma’s cases at Southwest involves a 14-year-old girl dealing with the trauma of sexual assault perpetrated by her stepfather. Because of the sensitive nature of this case, the girl’s name in this story has been changed to one that she chose – Roxanne.

Roxanne’s therapist at Southwest Solutions is Melodi Litkouhi, a bilingual clinician and case manager. Using the Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) model, Melodi is helping Roxanne work though the post-traumatic stress and other psychological issues stemming from the sexual assault. TF-CBT is a proven and effective approach that involves both the young person and parent in the therapeutic process to develop beneficial psychological, behavioral and communications skills to overcome adverse emotions and move toward auspicious goals. Roxanne’s mother, Francisca, is Spanish-speaking, and so the counseling sessions are conducted in her native language. (The name Francisca is also an alias chosen by her daughter.)

“It was very hard for Francisca to hear the heartbreaking narrative of what her daughter endured, but she was receptive and determined to help Roxanne heal and to seek justice against the perpetrator,” Melodi says.

Francisca needed help navigating the law-enforcement and court system. So Melodi made a PSP referral to Norma. Norma began working with Francisca – helping her with translation when meeting with her attorney or legal authorities, accompanying her to court, advocating for Francisca and Roxanne, and offering emotional support through this difficult time.

“As a PSP, you are trained to be very goal-oriented and help the parent and family achieve a particular result,” Norma says. “The legal system is complicated, and I would tell Francisca, if I don’t know something that we need to know, we’re going to find the answer together.”

The determination shown by Roxanne, Francisca, and Norma has helped push the case into criminal court. Norma has also successfully assisted in another court matter: securing child support.

“Francisca doesn’t have any adult relatives close by, and she felt alone and overwhelmed by the legal system,” Norma says. “Sometimes she would feel so guilty and depressed about what happened to her daughter that she would break down and say, ‘I’m dying inside.’ I would comfort and encourage her. Seeing a fellow parent in such pain is definitely the toughest part of the job for me.”

The progress on the sexual assault case has enhanced the effectiveness of Roxanne’s therapy and recovery. “It’s easier for me to move forward when I know that justice will be done, he’ll be off the streets, and I can feel safer,” Roxanne says.

Roxanne is now allowing herself to have enjoyable experiences and to consider her future with hopeful anticipation. She is dancing in a high school play, doing well in her classes, and thinking about college and even law school.

Roxanne still has a difficult road ahead of her, but Melodi is heartened by the headway Roxanne has made through counseling, Norma’s PSP efforts, and, most importantly, Roxanne’s resolve to persevere.

“This is truly what makes my work as a counselor worthwhile,” Melodi says. “I am inspired by the resilience and bravery of Roxanne and others we serve.”

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