Family Partners Give Voice and Choice

Individuals and families who become involved in child- or adult-serving systems can easily find themselves overwhelmed, feeling lost, and facing barriers to full participation and successful outcomes. Having partner who knows what the family is going through and knows the systems can be essential.

Family partners and family partner coordinators help families voice their concerns and needs effectively throughout service systems, and also work with them to remove barriers to engagement, which often includes addressing social determinants of health such as housing and food insecurity.

Alliance’s staff includes Teka Dempson, a lead family partner coordinator; Kamu Mimy, a family partner coordinator; and Syreeta Davis, a family navigator whose position is part of the Tiered Care Coordination (TCC) pilot program in Cumberland County.

Family partners and family partner coordinators must have lived experience within systems such as educational, judicial, mental or physical health, and social services. Family partner coordinators must also be nationally certified, which entails study and examinations.

The partners play an integral part of the System of Care (SOC) approach, in which a spectrum of agencies and community-based services and supports is coordinated along a set of guiding principles and core values, with the needs of the child and family dictating the types and mix of services provided.

“System of Care philosophy is to bring all the people, including the families and who the family want involved, and agencies to the table to address the concerns in the lives of our children, youth and families; to create better outcomes; to build better partnerships; and to bring about system awareness and system change,” Dempson said. “It helps agency staff understand other agencies and what their expectations and policies are. It helps close gaps.” The SOC approach also helps families by decreasing the number of meetings they are required to attend and engages them in the process that’s being addressed in their life.

Mimy and Davis work with children and families involved with the social service and justice systems. “When the systems find that there are barriers to engaging families, the parent needs support navigating through the system, or the family needs an advocate, that’s when they call upon the family partner to help,” Mimy said.

“The key point for any family partner or navigator is to assist the systems in ensuring that the family has a seat at the table so that their voice and choice is heard,” Mimy said. “Many times plans are created for a family but no one has had a conversation with the family about whether the plan is really going to work for them. As a parent, how am I supposed to focus on going to parenting classes if I don’t know where my next meal is coming from or how I’m going to pay my rent? The systems aren’t designed to have those kinds of conversations, but as a family partner I’m able to go in and engage the family and establish a relationship of trust,” she said.

Davis said one barrier to engagement for many families is bias caused by their previous experience with the systems, which her involvement can help overcome. “They may share information with me that they didn’t share with court counselors or social workers, and with their permission I can share these things and give a better understanding of what is going on with the family,” she said.
Other assistance may include help with applications for housing funds through Alliance’s Independent Living Initiative (ILI) or other sources and helping families connect to resources for food, household necessities and school supplies.

Dempson, whose position was created by Durham County leadership as part of their SOC approach, works with people of all ages across all agencies and service systems. “When I get a referral, that family is going to have multiple agencies and systems concerns.” Dempson said her role is unique in North Carolina because she has an opportunity to work with families and help them understand the agencies and systems, while also helping agencies and systems understand the views of individuals and families and the impact their processes have on them.

“I have the pleasure and the honor of partnering with not only families but also agencies and systems at the local, state and national level,” Dempson said. “I get to sit at those decision-making tables and bring the perspectives of the families to the decision makers in a non-aggressive manner,” she said.

As a lead family partner coordinator, Dempson also partners with people across the state to help them prepare to be family partners or family partner coordinators, and provides coaching, training, supervision and prep for the national family partner coordinator certification exam.

Dempson said the skill sets and training of family partners are a natural fit within the whole-person health approach of Alliance’s transition to a Tailored Plan in North Carolina’s new Medicaid landscape. “We address the whole person. We are addressing all of the social determinants of health in their lives,” she said.