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What is Peer Support for Youth & Families?

The definitions below are intended to clarify and guide the work of UNCG’s NC Youth & Family Voices Amplified Program. The definitions below represent our best effort to capture the meanings of various terminology used in Family and Youth Peer Support roles in North Carolina. These definitions will be reviewed and revised by Family and Youth Support and Education Program team members and community partners on a regular basis. 

Please note: Sometimes, agencies or systems use the terms below (e.g., Family Partner, Family Navigator) but do not require lived experience. The terminology below clarifies the qualifications for Family and Youth Peer Support roles with respect to lived experience as defined by this Program. It is the position of this Program that authentic lived experience should be a minimum requirement for Family and Youth Peer Support roles. 

Adapted from our resource: “Key definitions: NC Youth & Family Voices Amplified (Revised, 6/1/22)”

Foundational Terms
  • Child: A term to describe any minor between the ages of 0-17        

  • Youth: A term to describe adolescents between the ages of 13-17

Family and Youth Peer Support Roles
  • Family Partner: A Family Partner works within the System of Care (SOC) values and principles. The Family Partner ensures the foundation and implementation of SOC Expansion within their region. Core activities of Family Partners include the following:

    • Articulating lessons learned from their own lived experiences to other parents/caregivers with children and youth with mental/behavioral health challenges. 

    • Understanding the role of collaborations between the family, child/youth, and family-serving systems in promoting positive youth and family outcomes. 

    • Striving to eliminate stigma and discrimination that serve as barriers to the care and wellbeing of families and youth.

    • Understanding and agreeing to work within SOC values and principles.  

    • A Family Partner may also be referred to as a “Family Peer Specialist.”  Learn how to become a Nationally Certified Family Peer Specialist
  • Youth and Young Adult Peer Support Partners (YYAPSPs): will adhere to the values and principles of the System of Care (SOC) to develop networks that support youth and young adults (ages 16-25) who are struggling with a Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED). YYAPSPs will develop and provide outreach activities to engage young people, educate community stakeholders, engage referral sources, and serve as a bridge between child and adult-serving systems. The role of YYAPSPs is to support and encourage young adults to come into their own voices as experts in themselves and provide opportunities for youth and young adults to direct their own recovery process. Youth will also become experts in their own histories and cultures and gain skills and confidence to empower them to be change agents within their communities, homes, and schools.

Terms for Specific Roles in the Family and Youth Support Movement
  • What is the population of children, youth, and young adults to be served by these roles? Across North Carolina, the population of children, youth, and young adults to be served by these roles includes children who meet SAMHSA’s definitions of CMSED and SED:

    • “Child Mental Health – Seriously Emotionally Disturbed (CMSED): the population of focus refers to a child or youth through the age of 21, or a young adult to the age of 26 with an Individual Services Plan, who: (1) at any time during the past year has met the criteria for a mental disorder, including within cultural and developmental contexts, as specified within a recognized diagnostic classification system, e.g., DSM-5: and (2) displays a functional impairment, as determined by a standardized measure, which impedes progress towards recovery and substantially interferes with or limits a person’s functioning in the family, school, employment, relationships, or community activities.” Expert Panels Summary Report

    • “For people under the age of 18, the term “Serious Emotional Disturbance” refers to a diagnosable* mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the past year, which resulted in functional impairment that substantially interferes with or limits the child’s role or functioning in the family, school, or community activities.” *In North Carolina, this is expanded to include those with diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders and/or those who are at risk of having a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder but who have not yet been assessed and/or diagnosed. 

  • Family Partner Coordinator: A Family Partner Coordinator is a Family Partner who takes on a greater role in their local communities. They partner with families, the SOC Coordinators, and other community stakeholders. They can have multiple kinds of responsibilities given their community’s needs” (NC SOC Handbook for Children, Youth, and Families, 2018).  A Family Partner Coordinator usually works at a macro level, attending and bringing voice and choice to local and state meetings and other System of Care initiatives. A Family Partner Coordinator also may supervise and provide technical assistance and support to other Family Partners who provide one-to-one peer support.

System of Care Terms
  • System of Care (SOC): According to the NC DMHDDSAS, a System of Care “is a comprehensive network of community-based services and supports organized to meet the needs of families who are involved with multiple child service agencies, such as child welfare, mental health, schools, juvenile justice, and health care. The goal is for families and youth to work in partnership with public and private organizations, ensuring support is effective and built on the individual’s strengths and needs. System of Care is not a service or a program – it is a way of working together with youth and families to achieve the desired outcomes identified by the youth and family.” Further information about the System of Care can be found in “The Evolution of the System of Care Approach.

  • Family-Driven: Families have a primary decision-making role in the care of their own children, as well as in the policies and procedures governing care for all children. This includes (1) Choosing culturally and linguistically responsive supports, services, and providers; (2) Setting goals;  (3) Designing, implementing, and evaluating programs; (4) Monitoring outcomes; and (5) Partnering in funding decisions

  • Family Engagement: An active partnership between families, providers, and communities that involves supporting families to recognize their child and family’s needs, strengths, and resources and then empowering them to take an active role in working toward reaching the goals they have identified for their child and family.

  • Youth-Guided: Youth-Guided relates to youth having a major role in the development and implementation of programs and services designed for the care and well-being of children and youth. A Youth-Guided approach supports the right of youth to be empowered, educated, and given a decision-making role in choices relating to their care and treatment of needs. Youth are empowered through education, skill-building, and information, as well as given that gives them support to find their voice and express their ideas and opinions.

  • Youth Engagement: Adapted from Youth Move National: “Being authentic is being real; real in intention to involve and partner, on the part of both the young adults and adult supporters. Authentic youth involvement is present when young adults are consistent in participation, taking ownership, initiating conversations and plans, and allowing for adult support and relationships that possess true collaboration and partnership. When young adults, who are ready and willing to share their youth voice, are present, authentic youth involvement will occur when adults ensure them the opportunity to be heard, listened to, and their ideas taken into consideration and acted upon. Youth involvement works when youth and adults have created a supportive partnership. This partnership will be successful when it is about ‘US’ (youth and adult) rather than ‘me and you.’ This partnership is essential in this growth from youth to young adult and is a key to authentic youth involvement. There is added value in having the support of other youth advocates and especially advocates for youth who are assisting in creating space for youth voice from young adults and in mentoring youth in the process of sharing.”

Adapted from the Language in the Youth MOVEment resource from YouthMOVE.