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Key messages

  • Children need practitioners to think about more than their parent’s mental health diagnosis. Think about how the mental health diagnosis impacts their ability to keep their children safe, happy and healthy.
  • Find out what life is like for the parent and child — both now and in the past. Help the family to construct a social world that allows them to take control, feel safe and supported and create connections that supports their healing.
  • Focusing on one problem when there are many will not help you help the family. Many of the families you work with have multiple, complex problems such as mental health issues, substance use and domestic and family violence. Think about how each issue relates and impacts on the other (the intersections). This will help you plan for what else you need to know, and what the family needs from you.
  • Avoid labelling a person by their mental health or diagnosis. Always focus on the person first. Focusing on the illness or diagnosis can lead us to take a narrow and forensic view of risk.  We might inadvertently pathologise the parent, child or family and create barriers to building good relationships.
  • People with mental health difficulties can parent well. Seek to understand and build upon a family’s strengths and what is working for the child. Think about how the parent can succeed and move forward instead of focussing on why they fail.
  • Play a critical role in helping families and children where there are parental mental health issues. Taking a family focus can support the recovery of parents with mental health issues, foster resilience in their children and help the whole family (Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI): Child protection).
  • A person’s mental health can improve when they feel connected, empowered and confident in who they are. Work in partnership with them to build hope and optimism about the future.

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