New peer support program to assist NC family and youth in face of national mental health crisis

With collaboration and funding support from the NC DHHS Division of Child and Family Well-Being, the UNCG Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships is launching the NC Youth and Family Voices Amplified Program.

“We are thrilled to partner with UNCG on this program, which addresses two priority areas for NCDHHS – workforce development and increased access to mental health services for children and youth,” said Yvonne Copeland, Director of the NCDHHS Division of Child and Family Well-Being.

Children and teenagers in the United States are facing an unprecedented mental health crisis. In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association banded together to issue a declaration of a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health. Shortly thereafter in December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an Advisory on the Youth Mental Health Crisis and how it has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Behind all of the headlines and statistics on the mental health crisis among children and youth in the U.S. are the individual children, adolescents, and young adults who face mental health challenges, along with their parents and caregivers. Many of these youth and parents feel lost and overwhelmed when it comes to seeking services and other resources to foster positive mental health and support youth facing mental health crises. When navigating these services and systems, many families and youth find added comfort and support if they can connect with others who have had similar experiences. 

NC Voices Amplified will provide training, technical assistance, and other resources for an expanding workforce of family and youth peer support providers across the state. 

UNCG’s program builds upon a growing movement in North Carolina and nationally to empower youth and family voices – and individuals with lived experiences – to guide mental health and related systems and services for children, youth, and families.

Family peer support providers and youth peer support providers are trained to leverage their own lived experiences to support parents, caregivers, and youth, as they navigate mental health services.

Peer support providers are “able to share your experience and help other families avoid the barriers as much as possible,” said Chandrika Brown, the program’s collaboration coordinator. “This is so important because this is not a textbook, this is lived experience, and families tend to relate to other families that have walked their walk.”

Adds Copeland, “This partnership elevates those with lived experience, who are able to engage and empower children and young people while alleviating stigma.”

Youth peer support partners can be particularly helpful in empowering youth, said Kyle Reece, Youth Training Coordinator for NC Voices Amplified. “Youth with lived experience need to be in the driver’s seat, so to speak, of their own care as they transition into adulthood, and they should be encouraged to help transform the systems and services that serve them.”

Although NC Voices Amplified is a new program, CYFCP Director Christine Murray says the initiative builds upon UNCG’s long standing commitment to community-engaged work and developing effective interventions.

“Often, universities are viewed as ‘ivory towers’ with experts who are disengaged from real-world problems. NC Voices Amplified is such an exciting program for UNCG because it elevates lived experiences as a valuable type of expertise that can stand alongside research and other forms of evidence that inform mental health practice.”