Joliet, Ill. – An Illinois grant that supports the state’s growing need for mental health and substance use recovery support specialists is being awarded to the University of St. Francis (USF). The Illinois Department of Human Services/Division of Mental Health selected USF for a grant of $90,000 to partially fund the Certified Recovery Support Specialist/Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CRSS/CPRS) program.

“Illinois’ CRSS/CPRS program prepares students for entry-level positions as behavioral health workers, specifically in the areas of substance use and mental health recovery. With programs like this, people who are going through a mental health emergency will be treated by community outreach specialists with lived expertise—people who have been there,” said Elizabeth Davies, dean of the USF College of Arts & Sciences.

“Last year, Gov. Pritzker signed legislation that expanded access to mental health care and that measure included funding for expanded services including an enhanced 988 line. While everyone knows calling 911 will connect people to emergency services, 988 is the new emergency number for behavioral health crisis response. People are needed to assist people who call with substance use and mental health issues,” Davies explained.

The program at USF is one of several programs and certificates designed to educate and train health care staff. Once certified, specialists work in a variety of capacities, such as outpatient drug and alcohol treatment, crisis response teams, sobriety maintenance settings like sober houses, and mental health.

Training is specifically designed for people who have lived experience with mental health and substance use issues.

“The certificate is a one semester program that can be done in full time or part time formats. Students earn certification and 14 college credits that can be used toward a degree program at USF. The tuition for the program is fully funded by the grant, so it’s free to students in the program. Plus, the grant also offers assistance to remove barriers to education for students in the program,” said Larry Dunbar, a professor at USF and the coordinator of the university’s Substance Abuse Counseling Program.

“The program is based in recovery-oriented systems of care, a newer model of treatment for substance use and mental wellness. This model recognizes the value of people with lived experiences in substance use, mental illness, or the legal system in providing support to others going through these challenges. It’s a really exciting field, and the need for recovery support specialists is growing,” Dunbar said.

Students interested in the program can contact the university and find more information online at stfrancis.edu/crss. Enrollment is now open for the USF’s CRSS program, with classes beginning in the Fall of 2022.

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The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 52,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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