Successfully partnering with the professionals who support your child and family can be key to the success of any treatment or other type of plan to help your child. Building a strong working relationship with those professionals can help ensure that your child gets the services and supports they need to be successful.
In the process of trying to meet your child’s mental health needs, your child and family may work with a variety of service providers. The service provider’s you work with are often referred to as your “team”. People on your team may include representatives from many systems, including: schools, doctors, community mental health agencies, and other individuals that you and your child want to be part of the team, such as family members, friends, clergy or others.
Collaborating with the professionals that serve your family can sometimes feel intimidating but as the parent of a child with mental health challenges you should be an equal partner with the providers that serve your family. You can expect that you will be directly involved alongside this team of professionals, providing valuable information, asking questions, handling responsibilities, and contributing your expertise and insights. As your child’s parent you are the only “constant” person throughout the years of professionals, programs, activities and agencies. You are also in the best position to know what works and doesn’t for your child because you see your child across time and environments. You are the link between the past and the present, and the bridge to your child’s future.
There may be a case manager, resource coordinator, or team facilitator whose role on your team is to organize and coordinate services so that they are easy for you to use, and provide you and your family with needed services, supports and guidance. They can also help you and the team to identify other potential sources of support and they should also help you to “navigate the system.” Sometimes, if you’d like, you can choose to be your family’s case manager, or as your child is ready they can move into this role, or at least take the lead in the planning and decision-making process. Remember though that it is always the family’s decision whether or not they are ready and want to take on this leadership role.
In the same way that you are the expert on your child, mental health professionals are the experts on the range of available treatments and services and how they work for children and families. Providers on your team should be able to support their opinions or suggestions with some form of evidence (scientific studies) as to why some treatment approaches are recommended over others. For more information about mental health treatment and supports click here.
If it is a school team you are on, school professionals are also experts in a variety of things based on their role. A teacher may be an expert on curriculum, and teaching methods, a social worker may be an expert on supporting social and emotional issues, and a psychologists may be an expert in developmental expectations, child development and signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, learning and other disabilities.
It is important to be sure that your team utilizes the expertise of all of its members. Each individual team member has a unique perspective, ideas and knowledge that can be a valuable asset to the planning process.
The most successful teams and plans are those in which both and the family’s and health professionals’ areas of expertise are acknowledged and blended together in a flexible way to create an effective plan and the best outcomes for the child.
When putting together a plan of services and supports, be sure it includes:
- Goals to achieve that are important to your family
- Strategies to implement those goals in the home, school and the community
- Services and supports that that match your family’s lifestyle & culture; that are provided as close to home as possible
- Regular reports on progress and ongoing communication
Even with the best of intentions and careful planning, you and your team may not always agree that the same strategies, services or supports are best for your child or family. If you can share your reasons for disagreeing in an open, honest and respectful way, often you can resolve any differences and come to a compromise. If you still cannot agree you could ask for a second opinion, disagree with the provider or reject their advice. If you are unable to resolve ongoing issues, you can also consider requesting a change in case manager, therapist, or other members of the team.
If you find that some part of the plan isn’t working as you expected, it is your right and responsibility to bring this to your team’s attention so that a more effective plan can be implemented. The plan of services and supports should be an ongoing, flexible document or plan, which can be easily adapted to best meet your child’s needs.
The language, cultural values, and spiritual beliefs of your family must be considered and respected when choosing services and providers. Families who are immigrants, members of racial or cultural minority groups, or whose lifestyle is different from most surrounding families need to know that these aspects should be considered in developing a plan of services and supports.
Sometimes there are factors that exist that may affect or limit a family’s ability to actively participate with the plan of services and supports. These factors may include lack of financial resources or transportation, unemployment or inflexible work hours, divorce, not living in own home, homelessness, domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse, personal illness or disability, language barriers and cultural differences, and many other individual and family factors or circumstances. If there is something keeping you from being an active part of your child’s treatment or other support plan be sure to let your team know the barriers you are facing and often they can provide support and connect you to appropriate help or assistance.
Some teams that you may be involved may be harder to navigate. You may feel like your role is little different or that you have less than the lead decision-making role in the care of your children. Examples may include when your child is in an out of home placement such as a foster care, a juvenile detention center, a psychiatric hospital or other residential or treatment center. During these times, it is especially important that you continue to be actively involved in the planning for your child. This can be especially hard when you don’t feel that you have control over the process but your input is still crucial to the success of your child’s plan and often the length of their out of home stay. For more information about how to stay actively involved in these situations, one of the links below may be helpful:
- Navigating the Child Welfare System
- Navigating the Juvenile Justice System
- If Your Child Is Hospitalized
In order for parents and professionals to create a true authentic parent-professional partnership; There must be a few key things in place, including:
- Mutual Respect
- Open honest, communication
- The ability to listen and really “hear” each other
- The ability to acknowledge each other’s expertise and efforts
- Belief that everyone is trying to do what is best for your child
- The ability to question each-others thinking and disagree with each other openly and respectfully without the fear that it will damage your relationship
- True shared power where family member’s input carries the same weight as professionals and everyone gets a chance to weigh in before decisions are made. This also means that support and information available to professionals is also be available to parents and vice-versa
- Commitment- partnering is hard work but you all have to hang in there and not give up if you want to accomplish everyone’s ultimate goal which is helping your child
- The ability to be transparent, and real with each other – this means putting all your cards on the tableJ and not keep secrets or having ulterior motives
- The assumption of good intentions
- Expect success while anticipating the barriers
- Maintain a sense of humor and humility
Remember that good communication and listening skills are key to the success of any relationship and it is all truly all about relationships!
For additional tips on how to create successful parent-professional click here.