The Family Support Network™ of Western North Carolina (FSN-WNC) is located in the Children's Outpatient Center of Mission Children's Hospital. The hospital sponsors FSN-WNC—a hospital-wide, pediatric ambulatory service for families with children or adolescents with special needs. FSN-WNC is affiliated with The Family Support Network of North Carolina, and an Alliance Member of Parent to Parent USA.
Mission Children's Hospital—located in Asheville—is the only children's hospital in western North Carolina. Its services include pediatric and adolescent specialty care, neonatal and pediatric intensive care, and pediatric and adolescent psychiatric care. Mission Children's Hospital has 130 beds, averages 3,000 patient admissions to its pediatric inpatient units, 4,500 outpatient pediatric surgeries, and nearly 14,000 pediatric emergency department visits annually. Each year, approximately 700 ill and premature newborns receive life-saving care in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
FSN-WNC staff (embedded amongst subspecialists, developmental pediatricians, and the children's dental program), and 70+ volunteer mentors are partners in Mission Children's Hospital's "Bigger Aim"—to create an exceptional experience for patients. Services include one-to-one peer support—matching experienced family mentors with those new to disability or special health care needs, monthly Family Group Nights—bringing families together for dinner and sharing, and regional educational workshops.
The FSN-WNC is a parent-to-parent program that offers outreach and community activities, emotional support, education and training, and guidance in how to navigate within systems. Most people receive support because their child has a developmental disability or a learning disability, was born prematurely, or has other behavioral problems. FSN-WNC also provides to parents, caregivers, community agencies, and professionals serving children with special health care and developmental needs, a variety of resources about the many facets of caregiving.
The program has 3 FTEs—called Family Support and Outreach Coordinators. The educational requirements are either an undergraduate degree in a related field or being a parent of a child with special needs. The program is funded 10% by grants, and 90% from the hospital as a "community benefit." All services offered are free.
The Peer Mentor Program reports to Mission Children's Services, which reports to Women and Children's Services. FSN-WNC's Advisory Council meets quarterly. FSN-WNC works closely with Mission Children's outreach program to make sure it is aligned with system-wide initiatives and goals.
The first peer mentor program started in the Genetics Department in 1998. Following the retirement of the Genetics Director in 2014, the peer mentor program moved to Mission Children's Services Department. Since its inception the peer mentor program has grown. Currently, FSN-WNC offers one-to-one matching with peers and monthly family group support meetings in 2 counties, with a choice of an educational topic or "parent chat" time. These meetings offer a place where parents can connect with others going through the journey of raising a child with special needs and learn more about available resources. These meetings are not intended to provide advice; they are intended to help people work through their emotions, which could include grief, and become informed parents and consumers.
Currently, FSN-WNC has 70+ trained peer mentors and reaches out to 2,000 people who receive FSN-WNC's quarterly e-newsletter. The program served 900 families during each of the past two years. Rather than actively recruiting peer volunteers, FSN-WNC staff and peer volunteers select potential peer volunteers based on their involvement with family groups, workshops, or engagement with the resource library. Each peer volunteer receives 5 hours of training and, as continuing education, participates in parent leader workshops. These workshops teach peers how to tell their story and how to be "Collaborative Leaders."
After a coordinator has met with the family, a peer mentor volunteer is selected as a match based on the family's experience and needs. Matches are monitored to make sure the peer reaches out and makes contact within one week, and to see if a re-match is needed. Monitoring continues every three weeks for two months, and the match is considered complete after two months. A letter is sent to the referred family and evaluation forms are sent to both the referred and peer mentor to complete and return as part of a continuous improvement effort.
Plans to sustain the peer program include, at the statewide level, fostering awareness of the nature of the work by showcasing how it offers "natural supports" and services to families within the developmental disability arena. In the future, more continuous funding may be sought by applying for grants. The hospital supports the peer mentor program as a valuable component of services to families, and with its positive impact on population health across the region. It is working on ways for staff to work more efficiently to develop resources, tools, and online materials on topics that are frequently recommended to families.
Family Support and Outreach Coordinator
11 Vanderbilt Park Drive
Asheville, NC 28803