Families involved in the child welfare system have disproportionately high rates of child mental health difficulties coupled with co-occurring stressors which impede access to child mental health treatment and therapeutic benefits. Peer support providers, an emerging workforce within child-serving settings, show particular promise at facilitating access to services, particularly for individuals with stigmatizing conditions. However, the perceived benefits of utilizing peer support providers from the perspective of child welfare-involved families is unknown. The purpose of this qualitative study is to describe peer support provided services and their perceived benefits within the Multiple Family Group (MFG) service delivery model, a clinician- and peer-led mental health intervention for children with behavioral problems and their families.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 predominantly Black and Hispanic adult (ages 26-57) child welfare-involved female caregivers who participated in MFG.

Results: The most common benefits reported by caregivers were emotional support, instrumental support, and instructional support from clinician and peer facilitator teams. Caregivers reported they felt more comfortable with peers than clinicians when discussing parenting strategies.

Conclusion: Peer support providers offer multiple and varied supports to caregivers. Implications of this study and future research directions are presented.

Key Take Away Points

  • Peers are an emerging workforce who provide important support to families who have children with mental health needs.
  • Peer family support is associated with important caregiver outcomes.
  • Child-welfare involved families experience difficulties accessing mental health services
  • This study provides tentative support that an intervention co-led by a peer may lead to enhanced engagement of child welfare involved families in mental health services.


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Geetha Gopalan at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, 525 West Redwood Street, Baltimore, MD 21201, Phone: (403) 706-3616. This project was supported by award number F32 MH090614 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Dr. Gopalan is also an investigator with the Implementation Research Institute (IRI), at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis; through an award from the National Institute of Mental Health (R25 MH080916-01A2) and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research & Development Service, Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI). The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health.