BUFFALO, N.Y. – Having a child with serious emotional and behavioral difficulties can be overwhelming for families, leaving many feeling lost and isolated in their struggle to find mental healthcare and other services to help their child. Mental Health Advocates of WNY (MHA) has a peer-run program specifically to help families get the support and services they need.

The Child and Family Support Program (CFSP) helps families raising a child or youth up to age 21. CFSP’s trained family peer advocates (FPA) share a common bond with families they help; each has a child, grandchild or foster child who has serious behavioral or emotional difficulties. This allows them to provide support and advocacy from the perspective of understanding the difficult situations families face on a daily basis.

People are experiencing anxiety and depression at four times the rate as before the pandemic. The number of children going to emergency departments in psychiatric distress is on the rise. “We are witnessing a widespread mental health fallout due to COVID – especially among our young people,” says MHA Executive Director Melinda DuBois. “We need more providers, more counselors, and more mental health resources like those delivered by MHA to meet this critical need.”

Family peer advocacy is a structured strength-based service to support the caregiver and enhance their skills to be able to help their child. “Today, we have young people in our community not having the ability to cope, and adults not knowing how to help them. MHA family peer advocates have a unique perspective because we have walked in their shoes. We can connect families with the right resources and give them hope,” says Stacie Dziwulski, director of the Child and Family Support Program.

The program has been helping families for more than 20 years and provides:

  • Information and referral for linkages to doctors, clinics, and other community support services • Help navigating the education, mental health, behavioral health, addiction, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems
  • Necessary skills and information to families so they can advocate effectively for their child • Parent/caregiver educational workshops and support groups
  • Parent skill development
  • Individual and group respite – a time for caregivers to rest and recharge
  • Family and youth activities with others with similar needs

All families are welcome regardless of insurance. Phone support is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Evening and weekend hours are available by appointment. For more information about the program, you can visit MHAWNY.ORG or contact Stacie Dziwulski at 716.886.1242 x337, sdziwulski@mhawny.org.