Name of Innovative Program:
Peer-Supported Recovery for At-Risk Youth
Baltic Street AEH, Inc.
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Community Links is a non-clinical, peer-to-peer guide to New York City’s social safety net for 18-to-25-year-olds striving to kick-start and sustain lives interrupted by serious mental illness and substance abuse.Consumers themselves, our slightly older staff, versed in the arts, IT, and behavioral health, model principles of recovery through self-help and mutual aid to support and challenge these young adults.Through twice-monthly open houses at multi-cultural organizations throughout Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, Community Links reaches out to troubled youth for hands-on learning about food and fitness, arts and activism; thereby showcasing our services and our co-sponsors’. We also cultivate direct referrals from foster care, special education, and the courts.These inter-agency collaborations reflect mutually-respectful relationships between our staff and several hundred clients, who learn how to mine New York’s vast and complex wellness, housing, education, employment, and financial resources needed to become whole human beings.However, statistics can’t measure the self-empowerment of a young woman who gained an AOT reduction by presenting the judge with a convincing treatment plan. Nor a young man’s self-respect after demonstrating to his parole officer how community residence would allow him to pursue a GED. These are the building blocks of peer-supported recovery!
Creativity and Innovation:
Baltic Street AEH (Advocacy, Employment, Housing) runs Community Links. Begun in 1996, we have diversified into the largest peer-run mental health agency in the state, with more than 100 workers (90% consumers) and 15 other programs throughout the city. That New York’s governments would fund us to plug a glaring hole in the local social safety net—rehabilitation for young people, who have either grown up with trauma or face crises for the first time—demonstrates how peer-supported recovery has become the cutting edge of behavioral health care.And what makes more sense than giving newly-graduated alumni of the school of hard knocks the opportunity and responsibility to guide their younger peers out of inadequate institutions into community-based services that better meet their needs!This inter- and intra-agency model of collaboration has not only attracted an unusually creative and dedicated staff, it is stretching limited resources to their fullest.
Baltic Street AEH is a leader in peer-supported recovery. We have trained behavioral health care agencies across the country in our methods. Although we have always worked with and for young adult peers, Community Links focuses on the needs of this age group.The program’s peer workers form a diverse, talented, enthusiastic, and close-knit group. As clients reach out to other peers, success multiplies. Thus, the youngest members of Baltic’s staff have a lot to teach our veterans. We’re integrating their wisdom into our state and national trainings.Meanwhile, staff and clients interact with other youth agencies, dispelling the stigma of behavioral illnesses and enabling the latter’s professionals to pass on survival techniques to their own clients. Finally, State and City mental health departments can be reassured that at-risk youth will not be ignored in the continuing transformation from institutional to community-based care.
With funds from New York State’s Office of Mental Health (OMH), administered by the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), through June 2015, Community Links is off to a good start. Even if these government agencies discontinue this support, given Baltic Street’s 17-year innovative collaboration with and funding by them, Community Links will undoubtedly benefit from the projected reinvestment of State and City institutional resources into community-based programs.We have also established a hospital-to-community “bridger” program with Optum Behavioral Health and are participating in Maimonides Medical Center’s new “health home.” These partnerships hold the potential for targeting the needs of young people.On the horizon is Medicaid reimbursement of peer providers. We are working closely with OMH and other peer groups to create such certification, so the State can obtain Federal financing. The payroll for our peer workers constitutes 60% of Community Links’s budget.
OMH and DOHM have designated Community Links one of several “recovery centers” in the state. Ours is unique not only due to the population we serve but also because our goal is to make our clients part of the community rather than segregate them from it, although we recognize their need for a safe haven to launch their re-integration.Given that DHMH awarded Community Links funding on the basis of a competitive RFP, and the department regularly evaluates the program, there is ample documentation to aid those who wish to replicate our efforts.We are ready, as we have done so many times before, to partner with the State and City in training others—this time in peer-supported recovery for at-risk youth. The peer workers at Community Links are a dynamic group who have proven to be effective trainers of the rest of Baltic Street’s staff.
Iitially, Community Links opened doors to some 100 separate individuals, who received services from us or referred agencies “for at least three months,” per our DOHMH contract. We must help 1,000 more between July 2013 and June 2015.We use Foothold software to track their progress and constantly evaluate their interactions with us and other agencies to assure best practices.Other outcomes include health status, housing placements, education levels, job achievements, financial stability, and family cohesiveness.Some clients have achieved success in at least one of these areas. Others are working through the earlier stages of identifying goals and acquiring the skills to reach them.We are confident that, just as Baltic Street AEH successfully empowers several thousand adult consumers each year to attain independent lives in the community, Community Links will do the same for hundreds of young people with behavioral health challenges.