What's New at CBH

Families in the Driver’s Seat: Are We There Yet?

Date:
7/24/2013 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Stephany Melton Hardison, MSW

For any family or professional that has been involved in Systems of Care or even with their local Family Assessment and Planning Team (FAPT) or Community Policy and Management Team (CPMT), they have probably heard of or come across the concept, "family driven and youth guided care", or other concepts like, "family support" and "family engagement". These wonderful concepts relate to the idea that families should be supported, engaged and empowered to be at the table driving their own care while ensuring the systems are truly meeting and hearing the voices and needs of families and youth with mental health needs. I do not think anyone would argue with the importance of these concepts. Where we can get stuck sometimes, is with the "how".

These are difficult concepts to master, even for the best of us, and there can often be barriers or challenges as we try to implement them in our communities. So how do we get there? Simply, families and youth will get you there. Many, many states and Systems of Care communities from across the country have shown how when families and youth are partners and leaders in their communities, family and youth outcomes improve and services and supports become stronger and more effective. Virginia and its communities can get there too!

The good news is that many of Virginia's communities have already been building and developing these kinds of efforts, including right here in your community. Colonial Behavioral Health understands the importance and power of families and youth, and we applaud them for taking the first steps to moving towards a family driven and youth guided system.

We at NAMI Virginia and through our program, the Virginia Family Network, are also taking valuable steps towards developing a statewide family and youth voice. We held our first annual, statewide Family and Youth Leadership Summit in May. The summit brought parents and youth from across Virginia, which is amazing considering such an event was a first for Virginia. What is even more amazing is that the entire day exemplified how our families and youth are an untapped source of leadership, wisdom and expertise. You could feel the energy and momentum being built in that room. We are planning on building on that momentum by hosting a two-day advanced parent leadership training and a two-day advanced youth leadership training.

Since part of our mission is to empower families and youth to be engaged, active leaders in their communities, there are countless examples that highlight how much harnessing the leadership potential in families and youth can make a difference for other families, youth and communities. So many of our incredible parent and youth leaders are involved in our efforts because someone saw their potential and gave them support.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it's this: do not underestimate families and youth and the knowledge and experience that they bring to the table. Do not underestimate the power we have as parents, youth and community leaders to make a difference. Again, how do we get to family driven and youth guided care? We get there by engaging and empowering families and youth to be leaders in their communities. We all can take an important step by simply looking for and encouraging families and youth to get active and involved and providing the opportunities to do so, such as recruiting parents and youth to serve on local committees, sending a family or youth to a conference or training, or starting a parent and/or youth group. Not everyone will step up to the plate, but there is always at least one that will, and you are never going to find them unless you give them the chance.

Want more? Here are some ideas on how to promote family and youth leadership in our communities:

  • Recruit at least one parent and youth representatives to serve on local committees and workgroups.
  • Connect parents with other parents and youth with other youth, as peer to peer support is incredibly valuable as we move along our journeys. For example, identify a parent who can start a parent support group and provide them with the capacity and infrastructure to do so. 
  • Recruit and train a parent and/or youth to be a co-trainer at staff trainings. 
  • Share relevant resources and information with parents and youth. 
  • Refer parents and youth to the Virginia Family Network or other family organizations in your community. 
  • Refer or provide training opportunities for parents and youth. For example, scholarship for a parent or youth to attend a local training that supports their leadership development or scholarship a parent and a youth go to a national parent and youth conference, such NAMI or the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health. 
  • Host a social event for families and youth to get some respite and a chance to support and network with each other. 

Recruit and train a parent and youth to help with your quality improvement efforts. For example, recruit some families and youth to provide feedback on your satisfaction surveys so that they are more responsive to family and youth experiences and needs. By doing so, your results will probably be more robust and helpful.


Stephany Melton Hardison is the Director of Children and Youth Policy and Programs and the Director of the Virginia Family Network at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia (NAMI Virginia). Stephany has worked in the mental health field since 2003, providing education, support, and training to youth, families, and professionals including working for the state chapters of the Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Massachusetts. She brings her extensive expertise in family networks to the VFN, having led the statewide family network in Massachusetts. In Virginia, Stephany serves on Virginia's System of Care Planning Team and works closely with the Office of Child Mental Health. Her experience as a child of a parent with mental illness has motivated her to dedicate her career to supporting and advocating for families affected by mental health conditions. Stephany holds a Master's of Social Work degree with a concentration in Community Organizing, Policy, Planning, and Administration from Boston College.

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