Wisconsin has a long history of engaging with and supporting peer inclusion in the delivery of public mental health and substance use systems of care. The Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative embodies this engagement, though the concept of peer support existed long before a certification for professional employment began. The Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative was launched by the Wisconsin Recovery Implementation Task Force (RITF) in December 2006.
The Peer Specialist Committee (PSC) of the RITF provided recommendations to the Department of Health Services (DHS) for the creation of the initiative. Funding was secured from the Medicaid Infrastructure Grant, and a contract was established with Access to Independence, Inc. (Access) to work with the PSC, DHS, and other stakeholders to build core competencies, a job description, ethics and boundaries guidelines, and more from 2007-2009. Once those documents were in place, Access, DHS, and the PSC worked together to establish a training protocol and statewide competency-based examination process.
In January of 2010, the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Employment Initiative held their first certification exams and brought the initial cohort of newly Certified Peer Specialists to Wisconsin. By the end of 2010, approximately 100 Certified Peer Specialists were available throughout the state.
In February 2011, a separate design committee was developed with leaders in the parent support community in order to build a system that reflects the challenges and opportunities in supporting parents of children and youth experiencing mental health and substance use challenges. In partnership with Access and DHS, this committee developed guiding documents. The training protocol and the competency-based exam were launched in 2018.
Since 2006, many accomplishments have been achieved, including: building an active and engaged workforce composed of nearly a thousand Certified Peer Specialists throughout the state, developing a peer workforce that can offer quality support to people with lived experience of mental health or substance use challenges or both, collaborating with tribal nations to ensure professional peer support services are available in communities that want them, compiling data related to the initiative, bringing CPS training, certification, and services to incarcerated persons throughout Wisconsin, launching a Certified Peer/Parent Peer Specialist Advisory Committee, and developing and implementing a Certified Parent Peer Specialist certification.
Wisconsin is a leader in peer specialist services, and both the Certified Peer Specialist and Certified Parent Peer Specialist initiatives continue to evolve as we learn.