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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

A training tool for communities to organize services to support families

Robert Lees, PhD, Desiree Blume, MEd, Lyne Brindamour, MSW, Nicole Chovil, PhD, Hylda Gryba, MA (candidate), Eric Macnaughton, MA, and Sharon Van Volingburgh, MSW

Reprinted from "Parenting" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (2), p. 42


In British Columbia, the realization of the need to support families with a parental mental illness arose in part out of the 1995 Gove Inquiry, which examined issues relating to child protection including the relationship between custody and parental mental illness.

In the following years, a small group of people came together who were interested in further understanding the needs of children growing up with parents who had a mental illness. This group, now known as the Supporting Families with Parental Mental Illness Provincial Working Group, decided to hold a community forum to talk about parental mental illness and its effect on children.

This forum, the first of two, was held at the Vancouver Public Library in September 1998. Prior to the event, the group wondered if there would be much interest in this topic. As it turned out, over 150 people arrived at the library that day, very much interested and willing to talk.

The success of the first event led to support from the Ministry of Health and from the Ministry for Children and Families, and a second province-wide forum. Planning for this event reflected a significant shift in the perspective of the working group. Where previously the main interest had been children’s needs, the group realized the importance of taking a family-centred focus, which looks at the needs of parents with mental illness and their offspring together.

This time, approximately 300 people from all regions of the province – including stakeholders from both the adult and child/youth mental health fields – met at Vancouver’s Roundhouse Community Centre in September 1999.

Keynote speakers included international experts, Diane Marsh and Judith Cook, who discussed the issues of offspring and parents, respectively. In the afternoon, participants heard from a panel of parents and offspring who discussed their experiences, then gathered in groups and spent time discussing what worked and what did not work for families where there is parental mental illness. The comments within the small groups were carefully recorded, categorized by general themes, and later presented to participants as a record of proceedings. This information was then used to prepare the first draft of the Community Best Practice: Self-Assessment Checklist, which later formed a key part of the group’s next initiative.

Developing the Community Planning Manual

Following this second forum, the working group focused its efforts on developing a tool that would promote integrated community planning to support families where there is parental mental illness. To this end, the committee developed a vision of a guide, grounded in the Best-Practices Checklist, that would help interested professionals plan an event where they would discuss the support needs of families, assess their communities’ capacity to provide support and develop strategies for moving towards ‘best practices.’

In November 2000 and February 2001, two workshops were held to pilot the process and materials developed by the committee. Two different formats of the session were piloted and feedback was obtained from the participants, who reflected a wide range of mental health professionals and others who provide support to families with parental mental illness. These participants included Ministry of Human Resources workers, transition house staff, RCMP, peer support workers, family services agencies, and other community agencies providing support to families with mental illness. From the feedback gathered and group reflection, the materials were reworked into their final form which appear in the current version of the manual.

The manual, called Supporting Families with Parental Mental Illness, contains what is needed for anyone with some experience in adult education to hold a community event that will inform participants about the issues involved in supporting families with parental mental illness. This manual is meant as a stand-alone, self-explanatory document that contains all the information needed to hold a successful workshop.

The four main functions of the manual are:

  1. To educate the community in understanding mental illness and its effects on parenting andchilddevelopment.

  2. To assist communities in critically assessing existing services.

  3. To bring service providers together in an effort to encourage collaboration in working with families where there is parental mental illness

  4. To help communities answer the question: “What are we as a community doing to support families with parental mental illness?”

The manual includes six sections, which represent the six major parts of the workshop. The initial sections, covered in the first half of the day-long workshop, offer participants the opportunity to learn about and discuss a number of topics, which then form the basis for the afternoon planning session. These basic topics include:

  • an overview of mental illness

  • the experiences of parents

  • the experiences of children

  • the experiences of adult survivors

  • an overview of the experiences of offspring

In the afternoon, the participants then have a hands-on opportunity to discuss and plan responses to the needs of families. The first part of the afternoon session looks at the role of Ulysses Agreements as a tool for building a treatment plan and support network around a parent (for more information on Ulysses Agreements see the article by Sharon Von Volkingburgh on p. 32 of this issue of Visions). The last session of the day is the Best Practices Self-Assessment Checklist which allows the group to discuss and rate their communities’ current practices and then to problem-solve ways of increasing the capacity of the community to respond.

Each section of the manual contains:

  • a lesson plan

  • overheats and handouts for participants

  • background information and resources for trainers

  • references for further information

The manual also offers a wealth of suggestions on how to set up the day to make it a success.

To date, workshops have been run in several communities throughout the province, including North Vancouver, Chilliwack, Delta, Surrey, Maple Ridge, Victoria, and Saltspring Island. Each of the workshops has been facilitated by seed grants, which have been made available through the working group.

About the Authors

The authors are the members of the Supporting Families with Parental Mental illness Provincial Working Group, chaired by Rob Lees


To download a copy of the manual, go to For more information about available funding contact Dr.Lees at 1-800-782-4138

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