Join the conversation – Sharing information and engaging with parents about child mental health

Join the conversation – Sharing information and engaging with parents about child mental health

12 February 2019
A family in the park

This webinar explored how practitioners can support child mental health by sharing information and effectively engaging with parents.

A full recording of the webinar and related resources, including slides, audio and a transcript, is now available.

The full recording of the webinar is also available on our YouTube Channel.

This webinar explored how practitioners can share information about children’s mental health (0-12 years) and effectively engage parents to support prevention and early intervention for child mental health difficulties.

Drawing upon practice wisdom, research findings and lived experience, Angela, Myfanwy and Mandy explored how practitioners can tailor information about child mental health to:

  • meet families’ unique needs
  • reflect the circumstances that impact on family relationships, social relationships and relational capabilities.

This webinar also examined some of the factors that might get in the way of engaging parents during this process and how these barriers can be approached.

This webinar was co-produced by CFCA and Emerging Minds. They are working together as part of the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, which is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Support for Child and Youth Mental Health Program.

Emerging Minds logo

Related resources

Comment from presenter

Hi, this is Angela dropping in with a quick repeat of my invitation about specific questions or feedback related to the Engaging with Parents content of Tuesdays webinar. In discussion with Mandy, as we prepared over the past few months, we guessed it may generate some post-webinar conversation. So we are up for it. On that note I also wanted to highlight that as a Child and Family Partner with Emerging Minds, Mandy is actively supported in the process of any activity she contributes to, before during and afterwards. So acknowledging the shared space we had during the webinar, I also wanted to encourage any of you who may be reflecting on professional or personal parallels to consider touching base with your own support networks. It does indeed take a village, and we are all entitled to draw on its support.


I'm concerned about how to help families in rural areas whose own mental health is compromised through lack of education, financial stability and drug use. There doesn't seem to be the community support services available and some parents are terrified to be in contact with outside help. I see kindergarten children who are really struggling. How do you engage?
Firstly, to acknowledge of your concern about the significant lack of and barriers in accessing help within rural and remote settings, this was the subject of a 2018 Senate Inquiry on Accessibility and Quality of MH services in rural and remote Australia. (See the Senate report link below). This report also highlighted the rural and remote workers threshold and detailed particular personal and professional factors affecting practitioners e.g. challenges and distresses of undertaking their job. These factors are widely regarded as largely shared by all community service professionals regardless of sector. A recent UNICEF Australia report has received media coverage drawing attention to the additional impact of community wide disasters and adverse events on the children and young people of rural families. To respond to your question, given the pervasiveness and intergenerational origins of many of the adverse circumstances in rural and remote Australia, I would want to ask the question of whether you as a professional have access to support, professional development and ongoing consultation to sustain yourself and your effectiveness? As a member of a rural community yourself, the concept of ‘shared space’ may be very much in play. As I am unsure of your organisation or sector my suggestions focus on online telephone access, health and early childhood settings. For practitioners • CRANAplus ( is a professional body providing both education and professional development activities and a Bush Support Service Counselling which a is free and confidential telephone counselling/consultation service for indigenous and non-indigenous rural and remote area health professionals and their families. The team includes two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counsellors. People who are not health practitioners but still interested in the organisations objectives can become Associate Members and receive full benefits (apart from voting and board membership). i.e. rural and remote workers in other community sectors can join. • Emerging Minds Relevant Resources and eLearning courses: Webinar Four – Supporting the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children through a community approach (April 2019) • This year Early Childhood Australia is launching a collection of online communities of practice through the ECA learning hub. These will be online learning communities where members will have the opportunity to learn with and from each other by exploring new ideas, sharing resources and lived experiences. For parents and families • Telephone an online counselling services, including for drug and alcohol related issues • Resources Your own service and practice • Early childhood settings are safe spaces – foster that advantage. • Explore and encourage connection with people that parents already trust within their support network • Having copies of rural and remote relevant parent awareness raising and tip sheets displayed in your setting may create the opportunity for conversations with parents. o o • Advocate for your organisation to invite local discussion about how the community could establish interdisciplinary/culturally appropriate/sector wrap-around support for families
Emerging Minds
Is the elearning training free?
Khiara Harrison
Yes, the training on the Emerging Minds website is free.
Nick - CFCA
Reference was made to an Australian study of 2015 looking into identifying young children 1.5 to 6 yrs. Can you provide a reference to this study so that I can read it pls.
Thanks for your interest. The reference is: Oh, E., Mathers, M., Hiscock, H., Wake, M., & Bayer, J. (2015). Professional help seeking for young children with mental health problems. Australian Journal of Psychology, 67(3), 187-195.
Angela and Myfanwy
I wonder if the panel could say something about the concept of attachment theory as both a good rationale for sharing information to parents (who are the primary support for their own children), but also about the potential of using this idea in any communication about treatment options for families and how parents can be supported to repair this attachment relationship is a problem happens to disrupt this connection?
This question highlights some important nuances in relation to sharing information and engaging with parents. Thanks for raising it and your understanding that there will be limits to responding within this forum. Drawing on the concept of attachment theory as part of developing the parent practitioner alliance or interpersonal communication is a topic worthy of its own space. Given that I’m largely going to respond to the 2nd part of your question here. I believe this is a little different from sharing information such as, awareness raising about X, practical strategies for parents in responding to Y, fact sheets explaining Z etc. Sharing detailed information about the basis on which people offer particular approaches or interventions, in my experience is best done within context of a program supporting or considering it (your second point). Most well-structured programs utilising attachment theory incorporate this knowledge in a very integrated fashion through guidance based on observation and illustration in situ. (Circle of security, Smalltalk are just some examples). If considering referring a parent to attachment-informed program or practitioner, prior liaison with them is often not only preferred but a practice that can establish the interprofessional collaborative aspect of engagement as we discussed in the webinar. Initiating a partnership between referrer and program before the idea is posed to a parent provides considerable benefits. Your confidence in being able to prepare the parent ahead strengthens not only the likelihood of them engaging with the program or practitioner but ultimately also of the intervention itself. And your confidence can only be strengthened by the quality of the liaison and education you receive from the provider. e.g. “ I’m considering this program as an option for this client so I would like to be fully informed about what your expectations are and what they can expect before I suggest this. I’m keen to establish this is a transparent partnership if that’s feasible. ” Providing parents with feedback from people who have benefited from a particular approach, alongside what rationale and evidence exists for it, provides a sensible balance to allow for people’s varying values and the way they receive information. So, asking if a program can provide that experiential evidence and routinely seeking evaluative comment from participants would be important activities that stock your Engagement Toolbox. (A plug for routine feedback and evaluation being collected by services (common) and then made good use of (rare)!
Angela and Myfanwy
I work with teens who have left home (crisis accommodation). They often don't want their parents to know anything about their whereabouts or how they are travelling. Child Safety don't want to know. These kids are in limbo with no adult guardian and dealing with some serious mental health and risky behaviours. What are the guidelines for seeking parental/community engagement around this teen when they don't give permission for you to share information?
Thanks for sharing the dilemma. In terms of available resources, the learning materials produced by the National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health target those working with families with 0-12-year-olds and therefore only capture the issues facing the younger end of the teen spectrum. Beyond Blue auspice the Be You Initiative via the Mental Health in Education grant and this spans 0-18 supporting children’s and young people’s mental health in early learning services and schools (e.g. Kindergarten, primary and secondary schools). The boundaries of confidentiality depend on the age and maturity of the teenager (informed by state legislation and assessment of the young person’s decision-making capacity), the extent to which the family is willing to be involved and the risk the teenager is experiencing or likely to experience particularly if abuse and neglect was a reason for leaving home. While the role of child protection and our legal obligations in relation to children and young people vary in detail from state to state, they generally share common features requiring our action or advocacy, if a young person is at risk of serious harm and without parental or caregiver protection. While it may be considered a more complex situation for CP intervention (particularly in relation to known service gaps for older teenagers) it is this very issue that may enable your agency to initiate regional interagency discussion to review unmet need, service and child protection limitations in order to strengthen shared knowledge, options and ongoing collegial consultation separate from any individual consultation. In terms of professional guidance, a helpful resource is a Victorian DHHS eLearning portal link below This link takes you to free online training and resources for health and community service professionals working with vulnerable or at-risk children, inclusive of engaging with parents in contact with services such as Child Protection. Of course, differences in legislation covering Child Protection and Juvenile Justice across states mean that these are most suitable for Victorian practitioners however the material around at-risk youth and parent engagement is well developed and useful regardless. In the unlikely scenario that a homeless young person is still connected to school, identifying a trusted ally of the young person and partnering with the school (utilising Be You resources) may be of some support to you both, particularly where there are opportunities for early intervention, developing safety plans and responding to escalating concerns. In general, seeking a community of practice or peer reflection/consultation space for yourself and your colleagues is an important ingredient in sustaining yourselves and your invaluable commitment to young people at risk.
Angela and Myfanwy
Does Social Work have a role in the possible plan?
In my humble and biased opinion most certainly. The systemic approach underpinning social work practice is well-placed to draw together and coordinate a range of independent practitioners as well as provide individual psychosocial intervention. It doesn’t take much to imagine how Mandy’s wish for a plan could have been facilitated by a social worker within either the community health setting (prevention) or even the acute adult inpatient unit (crisis and recovery). This could have included supporting Mandy and Robbie themselves to request and lead a parent support network meeting to co-construct a plan and communication strategy.
Angela and Myfanwy
What would you suggest for families that have been engaged with but seem extremely reticent to go to "professional" healthcare places due to cost, distance, and personal issues with professionals?
This reticence is clearly part of the family and parent circumstances influencing engagement -financial strain or poverty, geographical isolation as well is a history. Practical obstacles such as cost and distance, lend themselves to agency level problem-solving. Indeed, client advocacy groups are often keen to partner around systemic change to address inequities and barriers to access. Seeking an interagency partnerships that may provide some limited ‘in-reach’ service provision (e.g. fortnightly site-based clinics) is been a successful strategy developed by agencies to address access obstacles. Personal issues with professionals however could encompass issues of intergenerational disadvantage and trauma, fear of involuntary mandated intervention or judgement, a history of poor service experience, prejudice, discomfort with the unknown or in fact comfort and trust in the relationship they are building with you. (attachment/abandonment). In terms of suggestions where families appear reticent due to personal issues with professionals and may be worth considering following: • exploring and validating the basis of the reticence as an important part of the family’s narrative • reassurance about the maintenance of your ongoing or transitional relationship and collaboration • clarifying the limits of your role and skills and your need for secondary consultation • outlining the support and guidance you both would benefit from an expanding the professional support network available
Angela and Myfanwy
Enquiring about the training and resources, are they available through Emerging Minds as part of a worker awareness training, for example where workers work in child protection or corrections departments. Is this an available resource that Emerging Minds provides?"
Webinar participant
In the Q &A Forum of the webinar Angela responded to this question about the availability staff awareness training through Emerging Minds. The free online training she mentioned, and others can be found at Another helpful resource in this regard is a Victorian DHHS eLearning portal: This link takes you to free online training and resources for health and community service professionals working with vulnerable or at-risk children, inclusive of engaging with parents in contact with services such as Child Protection. Of course, differences in legislation covering Child Protection and Juvenile Justice across states mean that these are most suitable for Victorian practitioners however the material around child awareness and parent engagement is well developed and useful regardless.
Angela and Myfanwy
How would you sum up the importance of inclusive practise when providing therapy to a child with mental health issues?
In one word – essential. Children do not exist in a vacuum. Their day-to-day support, care and touchstones are generally their parents or caregivers, not the professionals who provide therapy for a limited period of time. The consistency and predictability that children thrive on and contribute to their recovery implies that complimentary approaches across their support network are essential. We need to talk to each other to establish mutually agreeable boundaries around safe sharing.
Angela and Myfanwy

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