SAMSHA Seeks Public Comment on Core Competencies for Peers
Mental Health Weekly August 14, 2017
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is seeking public review and comment on additional draft core competencies developed specifically for individuals providing peer support in criminal justice settings. The comment deadline is Aug. 25.
SAMHSA’S GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation has contracted with the Florida Certification Board (FCB) to conduct a Role Delineation Study (RDS) to identify the core competencies necessary for peer specialists providing peer support to persons diagnosed with mental and/or sub- stance use disorders who are involved with the criminal justice system.
According to SAMHSA, the “Core Competencies for Peers Working in the Criminal Justice System Draft” is a living document that will be updated throughout the RDS process.
The overarching goal of this effort is to identify core competencies, knowledge and skills that peers need to work with individuals with behavioral health disorders involved in the criminal justice system, David Morrissette, a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and social science analyst at SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services, said. “This builds on SAMHSA’s existing core competencies for peers,” Morrissette told MHW.
The competencies build off of the RDS, looking at what specific skills are needed in this setting and how you define peer support roles in the criminal justice setting, said Morrissette.
“There’s a lot of diversity of peer roles within the criminal justice system,” added Morrissette. For example, veteran treatment courts require veterans to become mentors — someone with the shared experience of having served in the military, he said. “It’s quite different from the peer support role of serving someone in a mental health court,” Morrissette said. “Peer support specialists are broader than veteran mentors,” he said.
The criminal justice system itself, which includes police, court systems, prisons and jail, and other types of settings, is also diverse, Morrissette said. “We think the peer role may be the same, but the tasks may be different, depending on the set- ting,” he said. In the community, peers may help individuals with housing, obtaining benefits and finding employment. “In the jails, peers would help individuals adjust to and cope with incarceration,” he said.
Peers have already been working in the criminal justice system for the past 10 years, LaVerne Miller, senior program associate II for Policy Research Associates, Inc., and lead on peer-focused activities at the GAINS Center, told MHW. What’s different about this effort, she noted, is the increasingly high demand for peers with a history of mental illness and substance abuse to be involved in criminal justice settings, she said. Additionally, the GAINS Center looked at the positive outcomes that come from utilizing peers, Miller said. “Folks are enthusiastic about having peers to work with in those settings,” she said.
Miller noted that peer leaders and subject-matter experts identified the core competencies for peers to work effectively in different criminal justice settings. “They brainstormed [and tackled topics such as] what do peers need to know about working in the criminal justice setting? How is that different from a community- based program?” Miller noted.
“As an organizing framework, we’re using the Sequential Intercept Model,” said Miller. According to SAMHSA, the model is being used by many communities as a guide to behavioral health service system transformation, and more specifically as a tool to identify strategies to better respond to the needs of people with behavioral health conditions who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
“We see that as a context where peers can do the work,” Miller said. For example, Intercept #5 addresses assisting people in reintegrating back into all aspects of community life, she said.
The goal of the core competency effort is to develop a training curriculum, said Miller. “In addition to developing core curricula, you want to make sure that the person hiring you understands that you’re a person who has been trained,” she said. As a former district attorney in New York, Miller said it’s important that peers and those they work with know to stand up when a judge enters a courtroom, for example. They should also not wear hats or chew gum. “Peers convey that and understand that for themselves,” she said.
Miller added, “Core competencies are not just what we want them to be able to do; it’s for them to understand, [provide the] context and apply it.”
Examples of core competencies under one of the new domains, Foundations of Criminal Justice Systems, are:
1. Understand the historical basis of the criminal justice system and its impact on per- sons with mental health and/ or substance use challenges.
2. Understand and explain the system/structure of local, county, state, federal, military and tribal criminal justice systems.
3. Understand the Sequential Intercept Model (SIM) as the typical process of how an individual may move through the criminal justice system.
Following the close of the public submission period on Aug. 25, the GAINS Center will prepare a report and submit it to SAMHSA, said Morrissette. SAMHSA expects to hear from the many stakeholders involved in peer support, including providers who hire peers and people receiving peer services, said Morrissette.
SAMHSA has been hearing from many groups seeking its guidance on peers working in the criminal justice system, he said. Both the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and the Association of State Correctional Administrators have asked the agency for further clarification in defining peers.
“We have partnered with the state correctional administrators, in part, because of their interest in peer services in correctional facilities,” said Morrissette. “We were pleased that corrections administrators are using peers in the system to support individuals with behavioral health disorders — while isolated or [seeking] re-entry into the community to ease that transition.”