Family-centred services project

In late 2013 COPMI facilitated the workshop ‘Putting Families and Children at the Centre of Recovery’

The workshop formed part of a broader exploration of how services can be driven by the needs of families.


Workshop goals

In mid 2012, in partnership with people with lived experience, COPMI developed a proposal to explore ‘family-centred services’ and what it means for parents experiencing mental illness, their families, and services. We sought to explore ways in which both families and services have successfully taken a family-centred approach in mental health care in Australia, and to identify practical next steps for the future. It was envisaged that this would have positive outcomes for children of parents with a mental illness in two ways:

  1. As a result of more tailored, appropriate and therefore more effective services, parent-consumers’ mental health outcomes would improve, resulting in better mental health outcomes for their children
  2. As services become more tailored and responsive to the needs of their users, they will provide more services and support to the whole family, rather than only the person with the illness, resulting in better mental health outcomes for their children

Recruiting the committee

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A committee was convened comprising of four people from around Australia who all have a lived experience of parental mental illness. The committee was to take the lead in all aspects of the project, with support from the COPMI Lived Experience Coordinators Lydia Trowse and Fiona Telford-Sharp. The committee members were John Clark, Tasmania; Louise Salmon, NSW; Jane Grace, ACT; and Kerry Hawkins WA.

In the months leading up to the TheMHS workshop an international literature review on user-driven and family-centred practice was carried out. Services in indigenous communities, developing countries and those outside of the mental health sphere were also investigated. There was a focus on communities and reviewing what other service providers (such as councils or other agencies tasked with community development around the world) have done to strengthen communities.

The literature review was published in the form of a COPMI GEMS (Gateway to Evidence that MatterS) titled Putting Families at the Centre of Recovery‘.

Planning the workshop

In early 2013 the committee began planning for the workshop in August. It was planned that the first part of the workshop would involve presentations by parents with a lived experience of mental illness, their families, and mental health services, highlighting what has helped them and why, and empowering others to consider similar family-centred approaches.

The second part of the forum would take the form of workshops to explore with participants what they require to assist them to have a family-centred approach to their mental health care.

Several guest speakers were invited to be involved who all have lived experience of mental illness and professional experience with children of parents with mental illness. Role-plays and video scenarios were developed to stimulate learning and discussion among participants. The COPMI National Lived Experience Forum (CNLEF), an advisory group of 12 people with lived experience of mental illness, also provided their expert input to the planning process.

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A series of visual representations of family-centred services were designed to encourage broad creative engagement with the concepts being discussed at the workshop. These were included in the conference workbook, along with a further reading list for participants.

As the committee worked together to plan the workshop the issues of appropriate terminology arose and there was much debate about the use of terminology. ‘Family-driven’, ‘family-focused’, ‘user-centred’, ‘family-centred’ and ‘user-driven’ were all discussed.

In recognition of the importance of ensuring a diverse range of people could attend the workshop, COPMI offered bursaries for potential workshop participants. The bursaries aimed to enable the participation of people who otherwise could not attend due to financial disadvantage or rural and remote location. 13 bursaries were awarded to consumers, carers, and workers from WA, SA, Qld, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

On the day

On August 20th participants arrived from around the country to take part in a full-day workshop – ‘Putting Families and Children at the Centre of Recovery’.

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80 people attended, learning from COPMI’s research, from the guest speakers and other content, and adding their own experiences, knowledge and insight to the forum. The workshop was jointly facilitated by the members of the planning committee and former COPMI Director Elizabeth Fudge with assistance from members of COPMI’s CNLEF, and the COPMI Lived Experience Coordinator Fiona Telford-Sharp.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive and many ideas for practical next steps and strategies were collected and used to write the project report and recommendations.

Below you will find links to access a range of documents and resources related to family-centred services, including the final project report, workshop presentations, and accounts from those who attended.

Relevant resources

Final project report including recommendations

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Research summary: GEMS on ‘Putting families and hildren at the centre of recovery’

Diagrams: Visual representations of family-centred practice

Workshop workbook

Workshop reading list

Guest Speaker Kerry Hawkins’ – PowerPoint presentation

Reflection on the workshop by committee member Jane Grace

I was thrilled to be part of the organising sub-committee which was drawn from the COPMI Lived Experience Forum. The subcommittee comprised Louise Salmon, Kerry Hawkins, John Clark and myself.  We worked closely with Lydia and Fiona to bring the day to fruition.

This was our opportunity to engage directly with mental health workers and consumers about putting children and families into the picture where a parent has a mental illness. The change we are talking about is one of values, ideas and perspectives – it is re-imagining ‘who is the client’ and including kids and families in the mix. The strength of this approach is that children become a central part of the story of recovery.  The subcommittee was passionate about getting this message out to participants.

To open the day Brooke Carroll shared her story.  She was a powerful presenter and fully engaged the participants.

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We tried to be direct and clear with our message about the value of mental health workers adopting a ‘family–inclusive’ approach to treatment and recovery goals.  We used a number of role plays to contrast the difference between a family-inclusive approach and the more traditional ‘medical model’.  The role plays were a great way to set the scene and engage participants further. 

I interviewed Rose Cuff about the barriers preventing professionals from being family-driven and service and sector development. John Clark spoke with Amanda Waegeli about the Western Australian ‘Recovery Rocks’ self-help group and how the group meets the needs of families. Louise Salmon conducted an interview with Cathie Knox of the Gidget Foundation and Kerry Hawkins gave an update on the Family Partnership project.

Kham Sirimanotham played the role of unflappable ‘Mr IT Fixit’ on the day and was a dab hand at running the microphone to participants.

One of the key takeaways we tried to pass on to participants was (identifying as a group and also encouraging participants to think about on a personal level) the barriers and enablers to actually adopting this approach to practice. This is the first step to creating a ‘space’ for organisations to develop policies that acknowledge the importance of families, and the role of workers in supporting families. Some immediate action steps that flow from this are considering the physical nature and emotional climate of a service to ensure it is welcoming to children and adults.

The experience of being part of the subcommittee and bringing the workshop to life was empowering, interesting and transforming. We connected with participants and had a lively exchange of ideas and issues. We have certainly started the conversation on ‘family-inclusiveness’ as the desirable way of working in the mental health area.

Reflection By Jane Grace
Member of the COPMI Lived Experience Forum
27 September 2013


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