Think child, think parent, think family: a guide to parental mental health and child welfare
Introduction: What parents and children want
In general, parents and children want appropriate understanding and support based on the different needs of individual family members. This support needs to be sustained over time, but should also vary to reflect any change in circumstances (6).
More specifically, for themselves, parents want:
- more understanding and less stigma and discrimination in relation to mental health problems
- support in looking after their children
- practical support and services
- good quality services to meet the needs of their children
- parent support groups
- child-centred provision for children to visit them in hospital
- ongoing support from services beyond periods of crisis
- continuity in key worker support
- freedom from fear that children will inevitably be removed from them.
For their children, parents want:
- opportunities for children to talk about any fears, confusion and guilt
- opportunities for children to meet adults they can trust, and to participate in activities where they can meet other children
- provision of explanation and discussion about the events and circumstances surrounding the parental mental health problems
- continuity of care and minimal disruption of routines during a crisis (including hospitalisation of parent/carer).
Children and young people want:
- age-appropriate information about the illness and prognosis
- someone to talk to – not necessarily formal counselling
- a chance to make and see friends.
Children and young people taking on a caring role want:
- recognition of their role in the family
- practical and domestic help
- a contact person in the event of a crisis regarding a parent (6).
A group of young carers in Merseyside (7) came up with the following 10 messages as a simple checklist for practitioners who come into contact with families where a parent has mental health problems:
- Introduce yourself. Tell us who you are. What your job is.
- Give us as much information as you can.
- Tell us what is wrong with our mum or dad.
- Tell us what is going to happen next.
- Talk to us and listen to us. Remember it is not hard to speak to us. We are not aliens.
- Ask us what we know, and what we think. We live with our mum or dad. We know how they have been behaving.
- Tell us it is not our fault. We can feel really guilty if our mum or dad is ill. We need to know we are not to blame.
- Please don't ignore us. Remember we are part of the family and we live there too!
- Keep on talking to us and keeping us informed. We need to know what is happening.
- Tell us if there is anyone we can talk to. MAYBE IT COULD BE YOU.
The above is a synthesis of the findings from four separate studies that appeared in Crossing Bridges (1998) (8) about what parents and children have said they want for themselves and each other