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Counselor uses personal experiences to become advocate for parents’ role in their child’s mental health

Heather Rudow December 2, 2012

A series of personal and professional experiences led Kevin McClure down a path he didn’t initially envision for himself. Working as a professional counselor and being a father to multiple children with mental health and behavioral problems has turned McClure, a member of the American Counseling Association, into an advocate and mentor for two certifications gaining popularity across the country: the Certified Family Partnership Professional (CFPP) and the Parent Support Provider (PSP).

CFPPs are “individuals trained to incorporate their unique life experiences gained through parenting a child whose emotional and/or behavioral challenges required accessing resources, services and supports from multiple child-serving systems as they progressed toward achievement of the family’s goals,” according to the Illinois Mental Health Collaborative, an organization offering CFPP certification to Illinois residents.

Those who are certified as PSPs are also required to use their personal “lived experiences” navigating youth service systems — whether clinical systems, educational systems, justice systems or medical systems — on behalf of a child with mental health issues.

PSP certification is currently offered in 18 states and the District of Columbia. According to the Certification Commission for Family Support, PSPs have four functions:

  • To promote high standards and level of competence of peer support services in order to promote wellness and resiliency of children, youth and emerging adults, including but not limited to: family-to-family, parent-to-parent, youth-to-youth, and peer-to-peer services and programs.
  • To provide a formal testing, certification and recertification process in the professional field of peer support.
  • To promote ethical practice in the professional field of peer support by providing a process for the administration of ethics and disciplinary enforcement.
  • To encourage, promote and assist in the development of quality instructional programs to improve the professional field of peer support.

As the father of four daughters, three of whom have mental, emotional and behavioral challenges, McClure is the perfect candidate for these certifications. The three oldest — ages 6, 8 and 9 — are in process of adoption from foster care.

“All three have been diagnosed with ADHD and take medications [now] after a long trial of behavior modification,” says McClure, who is also a member of the Illinois Counseling Association. “The oldest also has developmental delay from her premature birth, and recently we’ve learned of some trauma before she came to us. … After consulting with her primary care physician, we are initiating a psychiatric evaluation, and I fear that her genetic predisposition for bipolar [disorder] has begun to emerge through frequent and unregulated severe mood swings and aggression, none of which has been significantly improved through individual and family counseling.”

McClure’s youngest, a little older than a year, is his biological daughter.

Even though McClure has been living with children who have emotional, mental health and behavioral problems for the past five years, it was only recently that he became aware that he could take their well-being into his own hands through PSP and CFPP certification.

Before becoming a licensed professional counselor, McClure completed his graduate internship at an outpatient private practice. The experience allowed him to administer a variety of community needs, such as providing services for youth and families, helping children adjust to life post-divorce, pediatric and adult bipolar management, LGBTQ lifestyle concerns, and PTSD treatment for first responders, medical personnel, educators and youth.

“Within my caseload of individual children and youth therapeutic work,” McClure recalls, “I was continually drawn to the family systems paradigm of therapeutic recovery.”

After becoming licensed in the spring of 2008, McClure says he chose to branch outside the four walls of his counseling office and “consult with private and public schools [that] thirsted for innovative social and emotional health approaches for their emotionally struggling students and staff.”

While maintaining a limited private practice caseload, McClure received multiple referral calls from families who wanted to utilize Medicaid benefits for their children with mental health and behavioral problems but weren’t able to. He decided to further research the subject.

But what he learned made his “stomach turn,” McClure says. “Families reported to me that the single contractee for children’s mental health services for a three-county area [in Illinois] had been creating a waiting list up to eight months for non-crisis services over the past several years. I later learned that this agency was unable to serve the needs due to a lack of funding and [children's mental health] providers available to go beyond the needs of post-hospitalized youth, [something] not uncommon across Illinois or the nation.”

McClure notes that after five years of investigating, the American Psychological Association concluded in 2007 that there was “substantial and alarming evidence that the current workforce lacks adequate support to function effectively and is largely unable to deliver care of proven effectiveness. There is equally compelling evidence of an anemic pipeline of new recruits to meet the complex behavioral health needs of the growing and increasingly diverse population. … The improvement of care and the transformation of systems of care depend entirely on a workforce that is adequate in size and effectively trained and supported.”

Soon after this revelation, McClure took a family advocacy counseling position connected with the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership and Illinois Violence Prevention Authority. His new job provided even more information regarding the definition and the implementation of the “family-driven care” model in his profession.

According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, family-driven care means “families have a primary decision-making role in the care of their own children, as well as the policies and procedures governing care for all children in their community, state, tribe, territory and nation.”
This care includes:

  • Choosing supports, services and providers.
  • Setting goals.
  • Designing and implementing programs.
  • Monitoring outcomes.
  • Determining the effectiveness of all efforts to promote the mental health and well-being of children and youth.

In addition, he was able to listen better as a practitioner to the voice of the parents.

“While I had been connected to several divisions of ACA during the previous years,” McClure says, “it became evident that the ‘family voice’ within counseling had yet to be truly heard and valued within a national professional counseling organization.”

Then, in what McClure calls a “rare moment of self-reflection,” he realized that despite all the strides he had made in his career, none of his professional preparation had included the voice of a parent’s experience navigating the sometimes-convoluted byways of the children’s mental health system. “My inner-voice [was telling] me that the parent’s experience and point of view, while of course clouded with their own needs and experiences, was an invaluable tool in supporting the health and well-being of the youth in treatment.”

This he knew from experience. “I was one of ‘them’ — a parent of children with mental health needs.”

“I had categorized and detached my experiences as a parent of children with mental health needs at a conscious level from that of my professional role,” McClure continues. “While I had watched these two roles parallel each other for the past five years, I hadn’t truly actualized that the passionate compassion for family voice was coming from lived experience. Over the past five years, my wife and I had embarked on the journey of foster care to ‘modern-day family,’ including the difficulties of children with multiple medical and mental health needs. The personal, belief-altering experiences of these moments of navigating youth service systems on behalf of my daughters was more influential in who I am today than my formal and professional education.”

He says that being on this side of the perspective was traumatizing for him. “Colleagues from my own community were unable to relate to me when treating my children,” he recalls. “Preschool teachers were uncompromising when asked to attend to sensory needs, doctors seconded-guessed my parental intuition, therapists condescended to my answer of, ‘We’ve tried that.’ My spiritual community supports were lost when told that, ‘We’ll pray for you,’ no longer was helpful.”

But, McClure and his family found hope when connecting with parents who were going through similar situations. “There was hope, encouragement, feelings of not being alone [and] reciprocity,” he says.

McClure used his newfound confidence and newly acquired children’s mental health skills to ask providers to acknowledge his rights as a father in order to drive the care his daughters needed.

All of his years of learning and advocacy came to a head about a year ago, when he became aware of the PSP and CFPP certifications.

Earlier this spring, McClure completed certification at both the national and state level for the founding CFPP class in Illinois, and he has been working with a team to build the curriculum for future parents. He has also achieved his national PSP certification and is looking forward to supporting both certifying organizations and continuing to educate and mentor other parents in the future.

McClure believes this population of clinical supports who are also trained as CFPPs and PSPs could “be part of the stop-gap in the dearth of [children’s mental health] providers by increasing engagement of families in their child’s therapy as well as ongoing support outside of and between the clinical sessions.”

McClure believes ACA members “must begin to value other ‘experts’ in their offices and communities to further the professional care of that same community.”

Additionally, fellow members who have experience navigating the youth service system should consider certification, he says.

“I see this new professional role as potentially able to help fill the current and future possible black hole of timely and competent [children’s mental health] services,” he says. “Certified and supervised parents with ‘lived experience’ might be the missing element of improved treatment outcomes, shortened treatment duration, exponentially expanded promotion and prevention services, and, most critical of all for future improvements in our field, early identification. As funding through public and third-party providers continues to be strangled, this group of professionals just might keep ‘our’ profession alive and growing into the future.”

Had McClure been certified before adopting his daughters, he is certain things would have been different for his family. “I’m sure that having the certification before foster care would have given myself and my family better awareness of additional local and national resources for our needs, as well as the confidence to better challenge the systems who took guardianship of their three little lives to better meet their needs.”

“I also believe,” McClure continues, “that I would have been in contact with other caregivers — biological, foster, adoptive, parent-by-choice, grandparents, etc. — with similar needs much sooner and would have had a context by which to accept their warmth and support for my own needs. Spending time with and hearing supportive encouragement from those who have walked in your shoes has had a much greater impact on my personal determination and dedication to my children with mental health concerns.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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2 Comments

  1. Linda Galloway

    I can not tell you how much I enjoyed reading your article on parents and children of mental health. I live in a small community where there is a waiting list of 6-9 months just to see a doctor for medication. Wow finally found out where help is, Fingerlakes Parent Network is a place to go for people who have problems children. I also find it hard to find a job in my carreer level as studying as Masters Level Addiction counseling. Employers tell me I do not have the experience in a job setting, but tell them I do have first hand experience. How can I convince them of my experience being a mother of two with developmental delays and me being in recovery?

    Reply

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