Yudelka Ramirez began her career with The Child Center of NY in January 2016 as a teacher’s assistant at our Escalera Head Start in Manhattan. She earned her FPA (Family Peer Advocate) Certificate a year later and began her current role as an FPA with The Child Center’s Early Childhood Mental Health Initiative (ECMH).
Let’s begin with your interesting title! What exactly is a “family peer advocate”?
FPAs provide an array of services and support to families raising a child who is experiencing social, emotional, developmental, and/or behavioral health challenges in their home, school, and/or community.
I understand that “lived experience” is a requirement of the role. What was your lived experienced that qualified you to become an FPA?
When my son was young, I was so frustrated with his behavior because I already had another child, and she never acted the way he was growing up. I noticed that not only were they different, but also, my son seemed to need extra help. I just didn’t know what kind of help, or where to start in getting it for him. I found another mom who was able to guide me and explain everything that I needed to do to help my son—who it turned out had ADHD—and this got me on the path of wanting to help other mothers or families that are feeling the same way I was.
How were you first introduced to The Child Center?
I had a friend who worked in the agency, and she told me about an open spot in the home-based Early Head Start program, so I applied. Tanya Krien interviewed me, and I didn’t get the home-based job, but I got a teacher’s assistant job at Escalera Head Start. Linda Rodriguez told me about a position for Family Peer Advocate in the ECMH program, and I applied and got the job. I felt like it was exactly the right fit for me because of what I went through with my son, and I wanted to help parents who were encountering the same obstacles I had, and I wanted to give them my knowledge.
Is your job satisfying? Can you give an example of why?
Yes, my job is satisfying. I’ve found families that lost hope with their children, but I was able to help them find light at the end of their tunnel.
There was one family in particular that touched my heart. A mother and her son who had ADHD came to our clinic with no hope. Her son had very bad behavioral issues, and schools kept kicking him out. I personally went to school meetings with the mom and helped fight for her son. I recommended the same therapy my son was in and it helped to drastically improve her son’s behavior. We also created a team consisting of the mom, grandma, therapist, and me to come up with more ways to help the son. Now he’s improved scholastically and socially.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me begins with listening to messages from prospective families and families that we currently have. After that, I lead workshops with parents about ways they can help their kids, then while the children are in therapy, I help the parents with community connections or help with the children while the therapist talks with the parents. I also work with 10 EarlyLearn/Head Start programs through parenting workshops and engagement.
Another part of my day is assisting families with the Early Intervention process and with the CPSE, which is the IEP evaluation when a child is more than 3 years old. I also help families to advocate for themselves when they are losing their house or apartment. I help them with medical insurance issues and so many other things.
I share my own story with most of them to let them know that they are not alone and there are so many families out there having the same worries and anxieties they do.
What do you hope you’ll be doing five years from now?
I hope that I am still helping families, hopefully as a social worker or a special education teacher. I have over 90 credits in early childhood education, but I had to stop because my son got very sick, and he spend a long time in the hospital. However, I am planning to go back to finish my bachelor’s and hopefully a master’s.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your job?
I would like people to know that I am here to help families grow as one and that I don’t see the people I help as clients but as family.