Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) has approved the Community Autism Peer Specialist (CAPS) Program as a Medicaid Supplemental Service. The new approval will allow the CAPS program, developed initially with reinvestment funding, to be sustained over time as a Medicaid reimbursable service. Community Behavioral Health (CBH), a division of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), launched the CAPS program as a pilot in 2019.
The CAPS program is a community-based, peer-support behavioral health service that provides person-centered, participant-directed support to individuals on the autism spectrum. The program’s goal is to help those on the autism spectrum increase personal wellness, independence, and enhance community participation. CAPS is an initiative of the Philadelphia Autism Project and was developed in partnership with the Autism Services Education Resources and Training (ASERT) Collaborative Eastern Region.
“We are thrilled for the OMHSAS approval of our CAPS Program,” CBH CEO Dr. Faith Dyson-Washington said. “Our partnerships with self-advocates, caregivers, and peer specialists were an integral part of the development of CAPS. The success of this program is due to the collaborative spirit and the shared vision to serve those in need. The goal of the CAPS program truly aligns with CBH’s mission of improving the health and wellbeing of all Philadelphians.”
Essential to the development of the CAPS Program were the collaborative efforts of:
- The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Developmental Programs’ Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations
- OMHSAS’ Bureau of Policy, Planning, and Program Development
- The Philadelphia Autism Project
- The ASERT Collaborative
- Mental Health Partnerships (MHP)
- The Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion
“Innovative initiatives like the CAPS program are exactly what DBHIDS has in mind as we strive to educate, strengthen, and serve individuals and communities so all Philadelphians can thrive,” DBHIDS Commissioner Jill Bowen, Ph.D., said. “I’m very pleased the program was approved as a Medicaid Supplemental Service, making it that much easier for Philadelphians to benefit from the experience and skills of the Community Autism Peer Specialists.”
“When we talk about creating a more diverse and inclusive world, having the CAPS program as a Medicaid Supplemental Service is an integral part of that vision,” said City Councilmember At-Large Derek Green. “I’m thrilled that CAPS’ footprint is expanding in such a major way and will be accessible to so many more families to utilize as a vital resource in navigating the complexities of Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
To be eligible to receive CAPS service, individuals must be at least 14 years of age, have an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, Community Behavioral Health insurance or be Medicaid eligible, and reside in Philadelphia County.
CAPS use their lived experiences and skills learned from the 75-hour training course (adapted for individuals on the autism spectrum) to earn the peer specialist distinction. The training course, developed with peer-support experts, and representation from behavioral health and ASD, addresses how to support youth, young adults, and adults on the spectrum in enhancing their life satisfaction, self-knowledge, self-advocacy skills, and community participation.
CAPS support the individuals they serve by creating an individual support plan to document these identified areas. Activities relevant to the topics chosen by the participant may address skill-building for employment or postsecondary education, leadership as young adults, living independently, caring for health and service needs, enhancing interpersonal relationships, navigating public transportation, engaging in community through recreation, and other various areas of growth.
The CAPS program was launched through MHP in September 2019. To date, 31 CBH members have been served through the program, and 10 CAPS have gained employment at various organizations, including MHP, DBHIDS, CBH, Temple University, and Access Services, in a variety of roles centered around traditional peer support, community wellness engagement, clinical care management, training research, and advocacy.
CBH, along with the Policy and Analytics Center of the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University and the Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion, will continue to evaluate the CAPS candidate process, service delivery, and program outcomes in the future.