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Before you speak to a child

Where it is safe for the child, speak to the child’s parents first to:

  • establish rapport
  • clarify your role and purpose
  • understand how the parent perceives their mental health and illness
  • learn if or how they have spoken to their child about their mental illness.

Many parents have already told their child at least basic information about their mental health issue. As part of your work with the family, you will talk with the child and may need to have further discussions with the child about what is happening for their parent. Find out from the parent what they think is the best way of having these conversations with their child. Ask what words they have previously used to describe their mental health issue. Agree with the parent about the words and language you will use when talking with their child.

Many parents are fearful that involvement with Child Safety means they are at risk of having their child removed. Parents who have a mental illness (such as anxiety, depression or paranoia) may find their symptoms escalate when Child Safety becomes involved with their family. Clearly explain to the parent the reasons Child Safety talks to children and the different things Child Safety talks to children about.

Further reading

Read ‘When a parent seems very unwell’ in the section Working with parents.


Where it is safe to do so, encourage parents to be involved in and lead the conversations with their children about their mental illness. Work together with parents on a plan to help this to happen. Consider using resources such as Helping my child and family — the information is clear and easy to understand and the parent can read it again later to get ideas about how to continue the conversation with their child.

Your relationship makes a difference

Build a relationship with the child from the moment you meet them. It is critical to ensure the safety of a child, however support to promote the child’s belonging and wellbeing is equally as important. Helping a child understand what is happening in their family and being their advocate in the wider service system contributes to a child’s safety, belonging and wellbeing.

What makes things better for children?

Safe, stable, nurturing and lifelong relationships helps the child avoid developing their own health issues, and supports them to reach their full potential. Where possible, ensure the following positive influences are present in the child’s life to the fullest extent possible:

  • loving and warm relationships with parents and siblings
  • loving and warm relationships with siblings
  • a parent who can provide strong emotional support when the other parent is unwell
  • the involvement of extended family and friends
  • positive friendships with school friends or same-age peers
  • the child’s participation in out-of-school activities
  • the child’s participation in regular physical exercise
  • the child’s belief that they can succeed
  • predictability and consistency in the child’s social and physical environment.

Drawn from (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, n.d.) and (Collinshaw, et al., 2016).

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