What’s in a name? When a person, whether a service provider or service recipient in the mental health and addiction services system, hears a person describe themselves as a “Recovery Support Specialist,” do they all have the same understanding of what that means? To be clear, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services defines a Recovery Support Specialist as a person who has completed training and certification through Advocacy Unlimited.
To apply for the RSS training class, you must identify as a person who has lived experience with mental health challenges. According to the Advocacy Unlimited website, their training is “the only state-authorized program to certify individuals as meeting the requirements for Certification as a Recovery Support Specialist.” Anyone who has taken this training can tell you that it is an experience that can change your life and how you look at things in the world around you.
One current problem is that many posts looking to hire an RSS do not understand that this title comes with a credential. In one listing, an RSS has “a Recovery Support Specialist Certification from Advocacy Unlimited, Recovery Coach Certification from CCAR, or an equivalent certification related to the field of Recovery Support required or must obtain within one year of hire.”
First, these certificates are entirely different, and the titles are not interchangeable. Second, how is someone hired and given a credentialed title before they have taken the training?
We also learned that DCF, the Department of Children and Families, has a contract with five agencies around the state to implement their SAFE Family program. Last month Ripple contacted an agency looking to hire a “Recovery Support Specialist” because of the description of duties required for this job. We reached out because there was no mention of any certification required. The job description read: “Recovery Support Specialists will assess substance use severity to determine appropriate referrals to make, and give. Caregiver’s insight and awareness of substance use problems and motivation to improve. The person(s) hired for this position will be trained in Recovery Management checkups and support.” Some of the key responsibilities listed, conducting toxicology screenings and Administering SBIRT, which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment.
The response we got back from the agency we contacted said, “The job title is a requirement of our funder, the Department of Children and Families for the SAFE-Family Recovery program. SAFE-FR is a Statewide network of providers (5 contracted agencies) working in collaboration with DCF on parents/caretakers with substance abuse concerns.” To make a long story short, DMHAS and DCF use the same title for two completely different jobs with different duties and responsibilities. One title requires being a person with lived experience, training, and certification, while the other you receive by being hired and walking through the door.
Why is it essential to have an accurate description of what a Recovery Support Specialist is? First, everyone needs to understand our function in the workforce, the things we do, and what we don’t do.
Second, when a person in recovery requests an RSS, they should get a peer with lived experience, someone trained as an advocate, a person who will treat them with kindness, compassion, and who will be nonjudgmental. With no enforceable standard, any agency can allow people on their staff to identify themselves as a Recovery Support Specialist whether or not they hold the certification.
The third issue is the effect a person experiences when they graduate as a Recovery Support Specialist. To them, it will never just be a title. We as a group can define what an RSS is, the job, the responsibilities, the ethical guidelines, but we can not define how it affects the person who becomes one. It is an accomplishment, a turning point in their recovery, a moment that for some may have seemed impossible to reach. To be known as an RSS is just as important to some as it is to be known by the correct pronouns for others. It is one of the ways they choose to identify in the peer community.
There is hope that if House Bill 6588, “An Act Concerning Mental Health Care And Substance Abuse Services,” is passed, it will help correct some of the current problems within the peer recovery community by creating a task force. The choices, recommendations, and findings of this task force will help determine the role of peer supporters in our state well into the future. To ensure the core values of the RSS and other peer-level supporters remain intact, we must be vigilant and advocate during the creation of this task force to its conclusion when it puts forth its recommendations… Nothing about us without us!
“Some men see things as they are, and say why. I dream of things that never were, and say why not.”
– Robert Kennedy
What if? What could happen if certified peers were able to be reimbursed for the services they provide? While it is true that everyone’s recovery story is unique to them, many stories share a common experience. The tone of the story changes when the struggling person comes into contact with a certified peer who encourages and supports them. It seems that the longer a person receives services from the mental health and addiction services system, the more they prefer a person with lived experience to talk to in times of crisis. This observation raises some exciting questions.
If peers could sustain themselves using their skillset to help others, could a group of peers come together to create practices? Could we generate a revenue stream, use it to develop respites, outreach programs, support groups, and more resources for our community? What if we could? In reality, we know the effectiveness of peers in recovery. In 2017 SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration created an informational presentation titled The Value of Peers. We already understand our value which leads to many of us feeling like an untapped resource.
The current mental health system is buckling, not because of a constant demand but a growing one. Three years ago, it was estimated that one in every five people lived with a diagnosable mental health challenge. Today That ratio is one in every four. In Connecticut, this means roughly 891,250 people may at a point seek support services. These numbers do not reflect the influx of new residents coming into our state from more densely populated areas due to the Covid virus. Are we ready?
Our care system’s current effectiveness is evident, especially when you see the statistics moving in the wrong direction. We can also predict that things will continue to worsen if nothing changes. Outside of medication management, there are few instances where peer interaction would not be beneficial. The only question we should be asking is, why are we waiting so long to send the resources we have already created to those who need support?
Starting January 3rd. 2021 we added Sunday to our late night peer support group schedule; this is the new flyer with the updated information. Everyone on our mailing list will receive a PDF copy of this flyer along with our first quarter newsletter. Please feel free to distribute it to those who may find it useful. Thank you!
Ripple’s site, RockingRecovery.org, continues to grow! We officially launched as a community resource on May 1st, 2019, and since that time, it has taken on a life of its own. The most visited section of this site is the CT RESOURCE LINKS page, where we have programs and services for people in Connecticut who need help. As of the publication of this newsletter, we offer 49 different demographical categories that lead to hundreds of agencies and providers. When combined, they provide more than 1,620 resources within the state. This section of the site is icon-driven, which allows you to quickly scan through the services and find the help you need.
RockingRecovery.org is proud to be listed as a community resource on the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) website. As we move into 2021, one of our goals is to improve our site and make it as useful as possible for those in the peer recovery community. We have set a goal to add a minimum of 500 new resources during the upcoming year.
One of our philosophies is you only need three things to help someone, hope, time, and compassion. It is our goal to show others out there that Connecticut offers a vast network of organizations, services, and programs for people living with mental illness and addiction… That they are not alone and that people are willing to support them in their recovery.
Ripple’s mission is simple, as people with lived experience in the mental health and substance abuse services system, we seek to empower our peers. To use our voices to educate, inform, and inspire new leaders in our community. We will bring new and innovative ideas to the recovery processes for the benefit of all. RockingRecovery.org is one of the tools that will help is be successful in that goal.
This website is made up of over 170 pages and has taken over 800 hours of work to get to where we are now. Currently, we are aware of more than a dozen agencies using our site to better serve their clients. RockingRecovery.org has become a useful tool to help their clients get connected to outside services that improve the quality of their lives. We hope this will be picked up by more providers in the area, and it can bring more help to those who need it.
A note from the webmaster:
RockingRecovery.org is a lot like a person’s recovery journey; it does not happen all at once, and at some points, it won’t go exactly as planned. We will hit obstacles and have setbacks, but with enough time, we will see our way clear and be able to move forward. It is our goal to create the most useful site possible for our community and peers. We will be continuously adding the CT Resource Links section and expect that it, just like recovery itself, will always be a work in progress.