Consumer Involvement in the South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Consumer Affairs Coordinators
The Consumer Affairs Coordinators (CAC) program is a consumer empowerment initiative which brings users of services to the management tables of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health by hiring them to be planners, policy-makers, program evaluators, community educators, and service providers.
In South Carolina, the Consumer Affairs initiative was established in 1990 at the Catawba Mental Health Center. Billy M. Brown was the state’s first Consumer Affairs Coordinator. The inclusion of consumers in planning and policy making, evaluation and now service provision was championed by the SC State Planning Council throughout the 1990s. The Department established an Office of Consumer Affairs for the Central Office in 1994. Funding for the Consumer Affairs Coordinators and the Office of Consumer Affairs position comes from state appropriations and Block Grant funding was awarded in 2001 by the State Planning Council for consumer – to – consumer evaluation.
The Consumer Affairs Coordinators are internal agents of change who voice the consumer perspective during key meetings and policy sessions. They strive to overcome stigma in the community as well as well as within the agency, giving hope to consumers, staff and families that people with mental illnesses can and do recover. All Consumer Affairs Coordinators are former or present consumers of mental health services.
The CACs perform a variety of valued job functions within the agency. They interact with mental health administrators and clinicians every day. Their positions are classified as competitive and permanent. Several of the Consumer Affairs Coordinators have moved from full disability to full time employment while in their positions. Many have returned to school and college since they started working with the Department. There has been very little attrition over the years in these positions.
The Consumer Affairs Coordinators are also active on the national mental health scene where they network with other innovators on issues and ideas. They participate in the work of the consumer recovery movement and take leadership roles whenever possible on a national level.