COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

Our History

AICAFMHA created COPMI to develop prevention strategies leading to better mental health outcomes for children of parents of a mental illness.



In 1999 the AICAFMHA (The Australian Infant, Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health Association) Scoping Project on Children of Parents with a Mental Illness was launched by the Minister for Health. In response to this report, the Commonwealth Government allocated funding for a three year national initiative to develop guidelines and principles, plus complementary resource materials for services and workers.

Based on consultation, expert opinion and relevant literature, a key document Principles and Actions for Services & People Working with Children of Parents with Mental Illness was developed. Our website was created (initially as a resource for workers only) and two booklets for families were developed ('Family Talk' and 'The Best for Me and My Baby').


In June 2004 AICAFMHA signed a two-year contract with the Australian Government for a second phase of COPMI funding. The major aims of this phase were to increase awareness and uptake of the COPMI guidelines and resources among relevant individuals and services, to promote education and training of health and other relevant workforces, and to increase the availability of resource materials for children, family members and other parties affected by parental mental illness.

In 2007 the COPMI program was included under the Council of Australian Governments’ New Early Intervention Services (NEIS) for Parents, Children and Young People measure. This measure aims to support mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for all children through universal evidence-based school and early childhood programs and through targeted programs aimed at children who are at highest risk of developing mental health problems (or who have early signs, symptoms or diagnosis of mental health problems). The measure provides a framework for mental health promotion, prevention and early intervention for children from birth to 12 years.

A curriculum resource based on the book ‘Saving Francesca’ was developed with the national secondary schools mental health initiative ‘MindMatters’ during this time and our website slowly began to expand to meet the needs of families and carers as well as workers.


Increased staffing from a little more than 1 to just under 5 full time staff in the third phase of COPMI funding resulted in an increase in the range and availability of information for families affected by parental mental illness, and quality workforce development resources for people working with these parties. During this time a cutting-edge eLearning resource was developed, in order to help train relevant workforces.

A further goal was to share the latest research and evidence around the issue of COPMI. A number of reports are now available, and detailed information has been produced for workers and professionals on how to effectively evaluation interventions of their own.

Information about the effectiveness of relevant programs and interventions was also a focus, supported by strong lived experience participation and a commitment to expert opinion and quality evidence in relationship to COPMI work. During this time the COPMI National Lived Experience Forum was established in order to aid this process.

A third book for families ('Piecing the Puzzle Together') and an associated resource for early childhood workers was developed ('Helping to Piece the Puzzle Together'). A second curriculum resource ('Just Being Me') for middle school teachers was also developed and pilot tested. All 3 of our booklets for families were published online in 6 community languages.

AICAFMHA hosted the first world conference on children of parents with a mental illness in 2009 and links with international experts were strengthened by the formation of an international consultation group.


A focus in this funding period was improving access to information for family members (including children) and professionals. As a result a highlight of the period was the launch of a new-look website with improved usability and new information for ‘parents’, ‘family and friends’, ‘kids’ and ‘teens/young adults’. 

A focus of this new information was also specifically to engage fathers with a mental illness (or with partners who experience mental illness) by launching dedicated resources to help them in parenting for the benefit of their children. The resources included a number of video clips of the ‘lived experience’ of fathers, young people and relevant experts, and helpful information sheets and links to other resources.  As part of enhancing our online presence we also established Facebook and Twitter pages, plus a YouTube Channel to increase communication with our valued audiences.

A further objective of the 2012-2012 period was to increase access by primary mental health workers to skills training, enabling them to educate and help families where a parent experiences a high prevalence mental illness (e.g. depression and/or anxiety). To this end we developed and pilot-tested an evidence-based psycho-educational DVD for families where a parent experiences depression or anxiety (‘Family Focus’) enabling them to undertake brief preventive interventions with families where a parent experiences depression or anxiety.

Continuing focus has been on providing specialist information and guidance to organisations and agencies involved in the delivery of services to parents, children and to people who work with them. COPMI also continues our information exchange between researchers, service funders and providers regarding research and evaluation of illness prevention, mental health promotion and early intervention strategies and services for children of parents with a mental illness.

Highlights during this period included the release and promotion of a dedicated MJA (Medical Journal of Australia) Open Supplement, ‘Parental Mental Illness is a Family Matter’ with the April 2012 edition of the MJA. We also extended our GEMS ('Gateway to Evidence that MatterS') series of information sheets, plus commencemeed a web-based Clearinghouse for new relevant research and evaluation projects.


Funding in this cycle enabled the initiative to promote new work developed in the previous period and to reinforce foundation resources, whilst developing new ones.

A particular focus during the period was on promotion of the Family Focus DVD for parents with depression/anxiety and their children, and the associated Family Focus eLearning course for mental health professionals (developed in the 2010-2012 period). A successful launch was followed by intensive promotion to both the public and mental health professionals. Face-to-face education workshops in various states enabled further uptake of the course. 

Efforts were also focused on making both new and existing resources more accessible to those in rural areas of Australia. Newly branded flyers and posters were produced to help promote COPMI’s offerings to the community and professional organisations, where there was perceived to be low awareness of COPMI resources.

Other highlights during the period include the below:

  • Production of two new eLearning courses that were scoped in the 2010-12 period: 'Let's Talk About Children' and 'Supporting infants and toddlers of parents with a mental illness' courses.
  • Development of three webinars for mental health professionals, in collaboration with the Mental Health Professionals Network.
  • Development and collaboration on new schools material for use in primary and secondary school environments.
  • Development of a new ‘Pathways of care’ website resource to enable those working with families where a parent has a mental illness (and children in the birth to 5 year age range) to respond to child and family needs and/or refer to specialists.
  • Continued work promoting the COPMI evidence base, including four new GEMS research summaries.
  • A workshop at the TheMHS Conference in 2013, (‘Putting Families and Children at the Centre of Recovery’) run by people with a lived experience, the results of which were used to develop a report including recommendations for future opportunities to promote family-centred practice.

Read about our 2014-15 objectives.


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