Think child, think parent, think family: a guide to parental mental health and child welfare
Introduction: What we're dealing with
Parents with mental health problems and their children are a group with complex needs. Not all parents and children will need the support of health and social care services but those that do can find it difficult to get support that is acceptable, accessible and effective for the whole family. This guide identifies what needs to change and makes recommendations to improve service planning and delivery, and ultimately to improve outcomes for families.
Parents with mental health problems need support and recognition of their responsibilities as parents. Their children's needs must also be addressed. Research and government reports have highlighted the extent of the problem:
- An estimated one-third to two-thirds of children whose parents have mental health problems will experience difficulties themselves (1) Of the 175,000 young carers identified in the 2001 census, 29 per cent – or just over 50,000 – are estimated to care for a family member with mental health problems.(2)
- Parental mental health is also a significant factor for children entering the care system. Childcare social workers estimate that 50–90 per cent of parents on their caseload have mental health problems, alcohol or substance misuse issues (1).
- In a class of 26 primary school children, it is estimated that six or seven children are living with a mother with mental health difficulties (3, 4).
There are important public health implications of not addressing the needs of these families, as parental mental health problems can have an impact on parenting and on the child over time and across generations:
- Between one in four and one in five adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.
- At the time of their illness, at least a quarter to a half of these will be parents.
- Their children have an increased rate of mental health problems, indicating a strong link between adult and child mental health.
- Parental mental illness has an adverse effect on child mental health and development, while child psychological and psychiatric disorders and the stress of parenting can impinge on adult mental health.
- The mental health of children is a strong predictor of their mental health in adulthood.
- The two per cent of families who suffer the combined effect of parental illness, low income, educational attainment and poor housing are among the most vulnerable in society (5)