In order to meet a projected growing industry need for recovery peer advocates working with those with substance use disorders, NYACH embarked on a collaborative effort to develop a training model at CUNY to prepare peers for a new State certification, while also preparing students for the nuanced role of working as a peer. To achieve this vision, NYACH worked with a wide array of experts including the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Peer Network of New York, a network of peers which provided insights into the challenges and opportunities of working in this capacity, ensuring the curriculum was authentic to the peer role, and Queensborough Community College (QCC), who worked with their faculty and a peer expert to develop and deliver the new curriculum. NYACH brought these leaders together, in addition to behavioral health experts at NYC Health + Hospitals and a dozen behavioral health employers, to provide real-time input and feedback on the newly developed curriculum and program model.
The culmination of that collaborative effort is a credit-bearing, eighty-hour certificate program covering need-to-know topics such as peer advocacy, ethical responsibilities, mentoring, and wellness. This curriculum, provided over the course of three months, fully prepares trainees to sit for the certification exam and begin work as CRPAs. Once certified, peer advocates can perform tasks such as helping peers develop recovery plans, helping peers self-monitor their progress, modeling effective coping skills, attending court and other system meetings as a support, and supporting another peer in advocating for themselves to obtain effective services. The program model is particularly unique in that connects individuals with nontraditional employment histories, many with a personal history of substance use, with a chance to earn college credits and pursue careers in the growing field of behavioral health.