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The Unique Skills of a Family Partner

Meet Lorrissa Ely, a Family Partner with the Riverside Community Service Agency based in Needham.  Lorrissa has worked at Riverside for 10 years. Family Partners have experience as a parent or other caregiver of a youth with mental health issues or special needs, and they help parents learn how to navigate the child-serving systems, identify community supports, develop contacts with support groups, and more.  Our managers and clinical staff have come to count on the unique skills of people like Lorrissa.


How did you get involved with Riverside?

I became involved with Riverside after spending a number of years working part-time so that I could devote more time and energy into finding appropriate supports and services for my child, who was struggling with her mental health. Around that time, and to this day, I was very engaged in a 12 step community that places a great value on helping others with shared challenges. I learned about Riverside and the Family Partner role through my daughter’s Department of Mental Health case manager and fell in love with the role.


What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day involves a delicate balance of offering phone support to caregivers, completing administrative tasks, and visiting family homes, schools, and at times acute residential care settings. As a Family Partner, we are constantly prioritizing and reprioritizing. Many of the children and families we work with are experiencing crisis, and we work hard to be as present as possible for our families during those times while staying up-to-date on the administrative requirements of our role.


Is there a story of one family that particularly sticks with you?

For me, it’s more of a novel than a story – a novel full of chapters rich with individual family culture, strengths, and the accomplishments of youth and caregivers – despite seemingly insurmountable systemic barriers.


What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is the role I’m able to play in helping a caregiver recognize how individual and family strengths can be the very things that best equip them to achieve their vision for their child — regardless of their child’s diagnosis or challenges.


How does your lived experience help the families?

My experience helps me see the perspective of the parent or caregiver through a shared lens.  As caregivers recognize this, a space is created that can feel really safe during a time in their lives that is often riddled with crisis and grief.  It also lends credibility to my assurance as a provider that recovery is possible, not only for our children but also for us as caregivers. Parenting a child with special needs is exhausting and challenges us to grow in ways we otherwise may never need or have the resources to.  A family partner can create a bridge for a caregiver to access support they themselves desperately need and greatly benefit from.

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