Name of Innovative Program:
Parenting With a Mental Illness (PMI) Workshop
Child and Family Connections
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
Child and Family Connections
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Despite parents’ primary responsibilities as caregivers, providers, and protectors, mental health treatments rarely address the damaging effects of parental mental illness on children and families. Parenting with a Mental Illness (PMI) workshop fosters family and childhood resiliency by teaching parents with psychiatric disabilities how to talk about mental illness in ways that build trust, and enhance communication. Child and Family Connections (CFC) developed PMI in 2011, with funding from Dr. Mark Salzer and Temple University’s Collaborative on Community Inclusion. The psycho-educational and peer-socialization curriculum, informed by clinical research from Harvard University and elsewhere, was developed by cross-functional experts and parents. Embracing a peer-support model, CFC hires and trains parents with psychiatric disabilities as facilitators who draw upon their own lived experience. With hugs, tears, and compassion, they teach parents practical, real-world skills and strategies. Classes are emotional, empowering, and unifying. They are also free. Participants are typically low socioeconomic, single mothers and fathers from multicultural backgrounds, custodial foster parents, and grandparents. As the first and only program of its kind in the U.S., CFC, in collaboration with our many partners, is elevating behavioral health services by raising awareness, and providing innovative, quality treatments for this underserved, vulnerable population.
Creativity and Innovation:
65% of adults with mental illnesses are mothers, 52% are fathers. And yet Evan Kaplan was unable to find a program treating parental mental illness. Thus, Child and Family Connections was born. We asked, “How can our community support families struggling with parental mental illness?” Our solution: harness a free resource available to everyone as a tool for recovery, change, and healing. That resource is communication. PMI helps parents find courage to face the fear and stigma of mental illness, then equips them (with the knowledge, skills, tools, and support) to begin healing themselves and their families. PMI has created paid employment for parents with psychiatric disabilities to work as trained facilitators. Our peer model creates a “safe” environment for people whose feelings of guilt, shame, and/or fear of losing custody of their children often prevent them from seeking help. Hopeful parents graduate with effective skills to heal.
Founded by behavioral health experts, researchers, and concerned parents who understood firsthand the destructive impact of parental mental illness on children and families, CFC is a peer-led organization at the forefront of an endemic mental health crisis: the critical lack of treatment options for parents with psychiatric disabilities. Our on-the-ground field work and as advocates for change, CFC earned a place as a trusted resource for families and a respected thought leader on parental mental illness in the behavioral health community. CFC has been featured in the media (WHYY, The Philadelphia Inquirer) and invited to conferences, including a keynote presentation at The 4th International Conference on Families with Parental Mental Health Challenges. We encourage collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and learning. Our partners include the City of Philadelphia, Temple University, the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, WHYY Television, Google, Inc., The Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Resources for Human Development, and others.
PMI has proven itself to be a sustainable program since 2012. The time-tested and fully developed curriculum, logistics, and the practical considerations of running the workshops have been continually refined. We have decreased program costs by over 45%, allowing the workshops to remain free of charge for participants, a critical aspect of our mission. Word of our programs has been spreading and the numbers of interested participants has been growing, leading to waiting lists for upcoming workshops. While not ideal, this level of interest provides an ongoing audience and offers longer-term sustainability for PMI. Mounting interest from local and national behavioral health providers in certifying their staff in the PMI workshop methodology, is creating exciting new growth opportunities for CFC and the chance to support more families struggling with parental psychiatric disabilities.
From the onset, PMI was designed to be replicable and extensible. The PMI curriculum, program instructions, and all materials and resources are being used actively; As a “turn-key” program, PMI can be implemented with relative ease and minimal work on the part of the sponsoring organization. They need only provide funding, a secure location, and a group of participants. CFC can even help with participant recruitment. To further ensure ease of replication, this year CFC and Temple University will be publishing the PMI Workshop Guide, a comprehensive decision-making tool for organizations considering the program.
CFC has utilized a mixed-methods approach to evaluate the PMI workshops. Focus groups are conducted during the final class of each session and both quantitative and qualitative pre- and post-workshop assessments are administered and collected. These evaluation instruments, designed by behavioral health researchers, measure participants’ perceptions of the program’s efficacy and outcomes. Overall, outcomes data indicates a marked increase in parents’ relationships with their children and families, their mental health knowledge, and coping skills, and indicate parents were equipped to take measurable action in strengthening communication and building trust with their children. We will continue to collect data and analyze longitudinal program efficacy.