The founder and CEO of FamilySmart – a B.C.-based organization that provides trained Parents-in-Residence (PiRs) to support and mentor other parents or family members struggling to help kids with mental health or substance use challenges – says CASA’s openness and flexibility helped the partnership get off on the right foot.
“Compared to some other organizations we’ve partnered with, our experience with CASA has been refreshingly novel. Denise (CASA and CASA Foundation CEO) listened to the families on CASA’s Family Advisory Council (FAC) who had heard what FamilySmart is doing in B.C., and she took action. She didn’t decide that CASA was going to create its own parallel peer support program,” Anderson says.
“I give Denise credit for that. That is how partnering is supposed to work. We have seen that Denise looks to see who has expertise and she invites those with expertise to partner with CASA. By contrast, FamilySmart has seen others try to replicate our expertise in-house, rather than partner to bring our expertise in. That’s the difference.”
Under terms of the partnership, CASA Foundation provided funding to hire two FamilySmart PiRs, starting April 1, 2019. The two are Lori Erickson and Krista Nystrom.
Prior to the launch of the partnership, Anderson and her team led FamilySmart training sessions in Edmonton, attended by about 60 participants.
“We can tell the people who keep funding us and who want more from us. They’re people who absolutely have their eye on the people they are serving. That’s their top priority. Denise clearly knows who she is in service to, so as leaders we have a lot in common,” says Anderson.
Besides its two Parents-in-Residence (PiRs) at CASA, FamilySmart has a network of some 40 part-time PiRs and Youths-in-Residence (YiRs) across B.C.
Anderson established FamilySmart in 2015, when the two organizations she co-founded – the FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health (Families Organized for Recognition and Care Equality) and the National Institute of Families for Child & Youth Mental Health – merged. Anderson co-founded the FORCE in 2000 and the Institute of Families in 2010.
Early this year, Anderson and Dr. David Nicholas, a University of Calgary Faculty of Social Work Professor, launched a research study to evaluate the PiR initiative with CASA.
The study has three basic aims: (1) to examine the experience of the FamilySmart PiR program from the perspective of both service recipients and PiRs; (2) to explore the experiences of new PiRs as well as more experienced PiRs; and (3) to contrast the family support needs and experiences of parents whose children have a coexisting neurodevelopmental disability with those who do not.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, progress on the study has been somewhat delayed, but Anderson says the research should be completed this fall. Findings will be based on interviews with roughly 20 families who have been involved with the PiR program.