Peers helping families navigate the system for better support

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — Mental health issues in children increased during the pandemic.

As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, peer advocacy groups share that the problem can affect anyone, even some of the youngest among us.

“I wish I had it when my kid was younger. I wish I had known. That’s part of why we’re out there and working really hard during Mental Health Awareness Month, although we do it every month of the year, to really let people know that these services are there,” said Stacie Dziwulski.

Over the past two years, it has come to the fore.

Dziwulski is the Director of the Family Peer Advocate’s Child and Family Support Program for Western New York Mental Health Advocates.

“I hear it when I talk to families every day. I’ll start talking to them, they’ll tell me what’s going on and I’ll kind of go, ‘That sounds like my son.’ You can hear them relax. You can just hear it on the phone. You can hear their shoulders relax and say, “Oh my God, you’re someone who’s been there. You understand. You are the first person I have spoken to who really listened to me,” Dziwulski said.

The children have lost the much-needed element of socialization in their daily lives, the advocacy group pointed out.

Second grade Tiffinie Tillis works with Dean of Students Andrea Keck during a sensory room tour at Quincy Elementary School, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021, in Topeka, Kan.  The rooms are designed to relieve the stress students face as they return to class amid the ongoing pandemic.  (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

“One of the biggest challenges lately is getting the kids back to school. They’ve been back in school since the fall, but a lot of them are still struggling. It’s really tough for our students to get back to normal,” Dziwulski said.

They hope to help families with young children be proactive and know how to navigate the system in order to get help.

“Our families try to find supports for their children and sometimes there can be a small waiting list. We can come here as family peer advocates. All of our staff are parents of people who have had mental health issues in their lives,” Dziwulski said.

All of their family advocate peers are certified by New York State. They are not clinical, just peers helping families walk.

“We can actually bill Medicaid for our services, which was a real testament to the importance of our work, which Medicaid has seen and insurance has seen that it’s a wonderful tool for families. It’s a great support and service,” she shared.

Statistics from trusted research and medical centers:

  • Facts about children’s mental health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can be found here.
  • The National Institute of Mental Health explains when to seek treatment for your child, here.
  • The Mayo Clinic detailing the signs of mental health need in children, here.