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September/October 2011Vol. 12, No. 7Mental Health Support for Parents in Systems of Care

An issue brief from the Technical Assistance Partnership for Child and Family Mental Health (TA Partnership) addresses the complex needs of families in which both parents and children have mental or emotional illnesses. Drawing on the responses of 15 communities implementing systems of care (SOC) grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program, this issue brief explores how SOC principles and practices can be used to assess parental mental health needs, engage and support caregivers, and increase access to services.

Among the many barriers identified by the SOC communities was the unwillingness of parents to disclose their needs, mostly due to fear of judgment and the prevailing stigma of mental illness. Additionally, services were described as difficult to obtain due to lack of funding or a lack of appropriate services. Moreover, many SOC communities noted that intake processes often preclude a mental health inquiry, leaving the responsibility for identifying a need for such care in the hands of caregivers.

Several successful approaches to assessing potential mental health needs were highlighted and include:

  • A framework for practice to guide staff and inform families on the importance of mental health assessment and services
  • Family partners to support parents who may be more willing to open up to peers than to professionals
  • Collaborative partnerships at all levels—between providers and family members and across agencies and systems—to promote a whole-family approach

The issue brief, Supporting Parents With Mental Health Needs in Systems of Care, by Barbara Friesen, Judith Katz-Leavy, and Joanne Nicholson, is available on the TA Partnership's website: (1.16 MB)