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‘Peer Support’ Organizations Aim To Help Kids By Supporting Parents

Ulanda Hunter is the statewide project director for the Illinois Youth and Family Alliance, a peer support organization based in central Illinois.

RANTOUL – The pandemic has led to an increased need for mental health support for children. In working to meet this need, one central Illinois organization is focused on providing support and guidance to parents and caregivers.

Many mental health services available for children focus on helping only the child, says Ulanda Hunter, statewide director and parent peer support partner with Rantoul-based Illinois Youth and Family Alliance. But to really be successful, the needs of caregivers need to be considered as well.

“Oftentimes, we forget that children are reliant upon adults in their life to get help,” Hunter says. “And if the parent doesn’t know what’s out there — or what to look for, or what to ask for — then the child doesn’t get the help they need.”

A crisis is a crisis, Hunter says, when the adult in charge doesn’t know what to do, “but if we train adults — parents — on how to manage crisis, families get better.”

With the right support, a child’s mental health crisis — which might otherwise result in an emergency room visit or a 911 call — can often be managed safely at home, she says.

The Alliance is a “peer support” organization, which means the free support offered to caregivers comes from fellow parents, like Hunter, who have lived experience navigating child mental health systems for their own families.

The organization gets referrals from schools and the state’s crisis hotline, but people can also reach out directly. More information can be found on The Alliance’s website.

Christine Herman is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow her on Twitter: @CTHerman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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