Think child, think parent, think family: a guide to parental mental health and child welfare


The following recommendations are for adult mental health, child and adolescent mental health and children services in all sectors

Signposting and improving access to services

Organisations should develop a multi-agency communications strategy to tackle the stigma and fears that parents and children have about approaching and receiving services. This should be a priority to enable families to get the support they need as soon as possible and should focus on promoting good mental health and wellbeing for all family members.


Ensure screening and referral systems and practice routinely and reliably identify and record information about which adults with mental health problems are parents, and which children have parents with mental health problems. This means developing systems and tools in collaboration with parents and young people, to ensure the right questions are asked and the data is recorded for future use.


All organisations need to adapt existing assessment and recording processes to take account of the whole family and train staff in their use. This means developing and implementing 'family' threshold criteria for access to services to take into account the individual and combined needs of parents, carers and children. Strategies for the management of joint cases should be recorded where the situation is complex or there is a high risk of poor outcomes for children and parents.

Planning care

Care planning needs to be flexible enough to meet the needs of each individual family member as well as the family as a whole, and staff should aim to increase resilience and reduce stressors. Allocating an individual budget could provide this flexibility. Increasing every family member's understanding of a parent's mental health problem can strengthen their ability to cope.

Providing care

Commissioners and providers of care should ensure that they can meet the full spectrum of needs, including the practical priorities of parents with mental health problems and their children. This means developing non-traditional and creative ways of delivering services as a way of targeting families and improving access.

Reviewing care plans

Reviews should consider changes in family circumstances over time, include both individual and family goals, and involve children and carers in the process.

Strategic approach

Multi-agency, senior-level commitment is required and we recommend that a 'Think Family Strategy' is developed to implement this guidance and that parents, children and carers are involved in all stages of development.

Workforce development

Investment is needed in training and staff development for adult and children's front-line managers and practitioners to support the changes recommended in this guide about how to 'think child, think parent, think family' and work across service interfaces.

Putting it into practice

Combining the authority of senior managers and the dynamism of the voluntary sector and users is the most effective way of supporting staff seeking to put whole-family approaches into practice.  Embedding the messages into induction, training, supervision and performance management can help promote the work, and altering assessment and recording tools, can prompt people to Think Family.