Advice for inpatient mental health workers

Worker in clinic environment

When you are working with parents, their partners and carers

Consider the below.



Ask everyone about children

  • Ask for specific information about the age of any child the person has contact with or responsibility for. It can be helpful to offer reassurance that you are asking so that you can offer support, not to find fault and have the child removed (although you have a duty of care to report abuse or neglect to child protection services).
  • If the person is separated from their child, explore possible grief and loss issues and provide or refer to counselling services as appropriate.
  • If the person is pregnant or trying to conceive, find out what support and strengths the person may have to fulfill their parenting role. Look at what basic needs there may be to support a baby (such as food, clothing, warmth, safety, emotional and social support, development and education opportunities).

Children visiting their parent in hospital

Whether or not children should visit their parent in hospital is individual to each family. It is often beneficial for children to visit their parent, however this is not always the case. Careful discussion and planning with all of the people involved (the parents/caregivers, child and hospital staff) will help determine what is best at that time.

Some points to consider:

  • The safety, needs and wishes of the child should be given priority
  • The wishes and mental health of the parent
  • The wishes of the child's caregiver
  • Where the meeting could take place - ideally in a family room
  • The child's developmental needs and information requirements
  • How the hospitalised parent could be supported to prepare for the visit, including what they might like to discuss with their child and saying goodbye
  • Ways for the parent and child to keep in touch if a visit is not possible (e.g. letter, phone call, texting)
  • If it is determined that a visit is not the best option, review this decision regularly

For more information see the Keeping In Touch With Your Children posters and associated implementation guidelines (examples only):

Never underestimate basic needs

It's important to work with family members, community service providers and child protection agencies (if necessary) to help families to improve their capacity to support, protect and care for their children.

This may include:

  • domestic support (if you are unaware of local services, phone the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre on 1800 052 222 for information)
  • childcare or respite support (Child Care Hotline 1800 670 305)
  • support in seeking appropriate housing
  • parental support groups
  • programs to assist parents to develop skills
  • counselling to support the partnership of parents
  • transport assistance
  • referral to a social worker to assist in accessing financial support
  • referring their partner/support person to a carer's support service (Commonwealth Carer Resource Centre, phone 1800 242 636).

Remember to affirm the parenting strengths of the person and be aware of their limits. Reassure them (if necessary) that parenting is a challenge for all parents. Acknowledge that many of experiences of parents with mental illness are generic to all parents and that others are specific to the situation of living with a mental illness.

Promote understanding of mental illness

Encourage the parent's understanding of their mental illness through psychoeducation (including recovery concepts). This can help parents to:

  • improve insight into the impact of mental illness on their roles and responsibilities
  • explore the impact of mental illness on parenting responsibilities and the impact of parenting responsibilities on mental health.

Talk about parenting and recovery

When exploring the concept of recovery with parents, remember that parenting can be related to the recovery process.

  • Children often give parents the strength and motivation to 'keep going' thereby promoting hope – a key element of recovery.
  • 'Being a parent' provides parents with meaning and purpose – another key element of recovery.
  • Parenting may also contribute positively to parents' lives in the community by providing opportunities for meaningful interactions and activities with others.
  • Supporting a person's parenting role can provide hope, a sense of agency, self-determination and meaning - all important to recovery.

Explore strengths and vulnerabilities

Explore with parents the possible impact their mental illness may be having on their children and parenting, including their strengths and vulnerabilities. Work together with parents to make plans to support strengths and address vulnerabilities.

You may also like to consider a child's:

  • development
  • support networks
  • school and community activities
  • information needs
  • safety (including risk and protective factors).

Talk about child resilience

There are studies that have identified resilience factors that support children to cope with or 'bounce back' from some of the stress or difficulties that they may experience when a parent has a mental illness. It can be useful to discuss these with parents to assist them to identify where their children may need extra support.

The resilience factors for children are below:

  • The parent is receiving support for their mental illness.
  • The child understands their parent's mental illness.
  • The child can communicate with their parents about their mental illness.
  • The child knows they are not to blame or responsible for their parent's mental illness.
  • The child has access to other supportive adults.
  • The child participates in a range of activities outside of the home.
  • The child has close friends.
  • The child pursues their own interests.
  • The child has a sense of hope about the future.

Support open communication

Find out if parents have enough information about their mental illness and its implications to share with family members, including their children (should they wish to).

  • Discuss the benefits of open communication and the importance of discussing mental illness with their children at a level they can understand.
  • See the Family Talk booklet that has been developed for families where a parent has a mental illness.
  • See the tips for starting the conversation and discussing mental illness with children of different ages.
  • Also available is a list of books suitable for children of different ages which may be used to help them understand their parent's mental illness.

Talk about care plans

  • Encourage parents to plan whilst they are well for continuity of care for their children should they become unwell or require hospitalisation or separation from their children for other reasons.
  • Use the templates below to help you develop your own plans. You may like to fill these in, or just use them as a guide.

Protect children from harm

  • When assessing safety, you may find this Child Development and Trauma Guide useful.
  • If you are concerned about the safety or wellbeing of a young person contact your local child protection service. Child protection services aim to keep the family together and are able to offer lots of programs and services to families to ease pressure and support parenting roles.
  • If a family is referred to child protection services, remember to seek supervision and support from your team to consider how the family may continue to be supported by your service. It is important that your involvement and support continues.

See also