Mental health issues can arise in children, who sometimes need extra help their parents can’t provide. Parents could use some help as well.
“I think it’s really anxiety-provoking and can be scary for parents to put their kids into mental health treatment, especially inpatient,” said Sophie Cox, patient access services manager at St. Vincent’s Westport. “So if we can provide them a little bit of support, or comfort throughout that process, I think that’s a good service we can provide.”
She is not alone in these thoughts. It is this need for support that spawned the Parent Group, an after-hours support system for parents of kids on the unit. This eventually grew to include parents and guardians of children who were seeking outpatient treatment as well.
Going a step further, the newly-expanded Family Forum is a one-hour weekly group session offered to parents, guardians and other family members of children and adolescents struggling with mental health and behavioral issues. Beginning March 24, the group will meet every Wednesday from 4:30-5:30 p.m. via Zoom to provide caregivers a supportive environment to discuss loved ones in the community and in treatment. (To register, contact Teresa Giolitto at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
“Sometimes parents are just left in the dark in what they can do to support their child,” said Teresa Falbo, admissions coordinator at St. Vincent’s Westport. “The beauty of the group is that I don’t need to know anything specific about individual patients. While I am there as a licensed clinician, I really facilitate parents talking with each other about really general things. They can now relate on things without having to know details that are protected health information.”
Of the 76 beds available at St. Vincent’s Westport campus, 16 are allocated for adolescents. Currently, they are all filled. A situation that tends to be the norm, such as finding a place for children to seek treatment, is not an easy task. With beds being in such high demand, Falbo realized that they may need to expand the program to include parents and guardians of children they aren’t even treating yet. So they are now taking the program to the people, and making it virtual.
The forum will have a range of topics including management of behaviors and conflict, safety planning, community resources and education. But according to Falbo, one of the key components will be how the actions of those in need of treatment affect the rest of the family.
“Parents get scared, they are like, ‘Well now what? What do I do?’ When there is an issue affecting one member of the family, it really affects everybody” Falbo said. “We kind of have this linear framework where we are just treating the ‘problem child’ and we’re not going to touch anything else that is going on. That’s not how we want it. This gives parents a way to feel supported to be able to then support their kids, and get some of their concerns out.”
This ability to engage in the conversation with a licensed clinician as well as other parents and caregivers is something much needed in the community, and something not often seen.
“Obviously kids don’t come with rule books,” said Falbo. “You add in a crisis, and parents want to protect their kids. So, having a support like this to show that 1) they are not alone, and 2) they can do it and can help their children, I think is something that really doesn’t exist. There really isn’t a lot of support groups for parents of adolescents.”