I remember when state certification of peer specialists was originally proposed being very skeptical of the idea. Although career ladders existed in states like Arizona I was not certain how they would be implemented in Wisconsin. To complicate matters still further, there were people in Madison who were working as “outreach workers” who seemed like peer specialists. They were earning a livable wage.
In the discussions about recovery in Milwaukee those of us in the field looked at our wages compared to those available in other venues and asked, where’s the beef? If our work was so valuable, why was it so dependent on grants and not a service reimbursed by insurance? Insurance payments are the road to sustainability. If social workers, psychiatrists and nurses can get paid, so should we. Moreover, in the one setting where I worked as a team member with those other professionals, the results were less than thrilling. Changes in the program made me feel like I was there to cook and do laundry, not help people recover their strengths.
Slowly things have begun changing and certification has brought higher wages, so after initially resisting the call to take the state test, I finally signed up last week. I received my email to confirm the test time and location at IndependenceFirst where I completed an internship. I secured copies of the study guide and reviewed it thoroughly, making notes along the way. Unfortunately I was unable to attend a couple of study sessions due to conflicts with my work schedule. However the process has made me more conscious of my practice.
In my mind I am already an excellent peer specialist. I have the listening, leadership and empathy I would want if I was living in supported housing. There have been more jobs opening that specify certification is required. Those jobs have gone to people who completed their training after I did mine. In retrospect, I probably should have taken the test last year. But now is my time sitting here watching the cat on the long bench directly across from my computer. The stained glass window and the iron bars build to deter thieves are behind her.
I don’t play the piano on the other side of the room where an old picture of Miles Davis rests. My next door neighbors helped me Thursday when I had returned home with groceries only to discover I had left my keys at work. They allowed me to store my food in their refrigerator while I returned to the office.
The house next to theirs is a Catholic worker hospitality house with young mothers and their children. This is a neighborhood that feels like recovery. In the few weeks I have been here I have felt I completed my testing and now I am ready for the state to publish the results. Game on.