Welcome to the 5 Things Digest from the NTTAC Partnerships for System Transformation Team, bringing you 5 Things to know right now about developing partnerships with families.
Parents and caregivers have unique experiences that can best inform the design of effective services and supports, help us implement them in ways that are more engaging and culturally relevant, and shape policies and practices that yield positive outcomes.
When we build partnerships with families, there are mutual benefits for families, practitioners, organizations, and systems. Some key behavioral health outcomes include increased family satisfaction with services and commitment to services, enhanced staff competency and increased staff productivity, and improved service development and delivery.1
Developing partnerships with families takes time, investment, commitment, and resources. The practices and strategies detailed below are a few of the important building blocks to achieving authentic partnerships with families.
1 Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. (n.d.). Family involvement. Retrieved from http://gucchd.georgetown.edu/75397.html; Molinaro, M., Solomon, P., Mannion, E., Cantwell, K., & Evans, A. C. (2012). Development and implementation of family involvement standards for behavioral health provider programs. American Journal of Psychiatric Rehabilitation, 15(1), 81-96; Berger, R. H., & Umaschi, S. S. (2011). Parent engagement in child and family treatment: Considering the barriers. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 27(2), 1-8
#1: Partnerships are a Shared Responsibility
Building partnerships with families must be a core value of any agency or organization that serves children, youth, and young adults with behavioral health care needs, and is the responsibility of every staff member. While it is good practice to hire family members with lived experience caring for a child or youth with behavioral health needs within your agency or organization, these family members cannot be solely responsible for building a culture and climate that supports family partnerships. Organizational leaders must ensure practices that support partnership with families are embedded in the policies and priorities of the agency so that staff at every level recognize their role in facilitating partnerships with families. 

Sample family feedback form (on being family-driven)

#2: Family Roles are Integrated

Partnerships with families enhance behavioral health systems when integrated at all levels, including agencies, practitioners, and families. Specifically, partnerships with families occur when planning for the care of their own child and family; as part of the workforce that comprise our systems of care; and in shaping the practices, policies, and evaluation of our services and support systems.
For example, when families have the opportunity to give back, they demonstrate their appreciation for the support they receive and make a positive difference in the lives of others and their community. When practitioners partner with families they experience greater satisfaction because family members are more engaged, have higher satisfaction with services and supports, and are more participatory in the treatment process. When agencies and systems are informed by the people they serve, they are able to develop practices and policies that are more effective, produce better outcomes, and save money.
#3: Seek Out Diversity of Expertise

In order to design the most effective service and support systems, we must hear from a variety of families that have diverse experiences; have involvement in different systems; and come from varied backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. This means intentionally seeking to engage families that fit the makeup of our communities and those our agencies, services, and systems support. This requires being clear about the expertise you are seeking from families and utilizing a variety of methods to gather family voice and input. For example, if you seek to build a program for families of youth and young adults with behavioral health needs who are transitioning to adulthood, it will be important that the families you partner with have youth or young adults in this age range and have some experience navigating the transition process. This is also true when designing services for families with young children.
While some families may have an interest to serve on committees or workgroups, others may simply want to share their story. There are many ways families can have input and shape practices and policy. Focus groups and community forums, visiting local support groups, attending conferences or presentations, conducting surveys, hosting chats or discussions on social media or through virtual platforms, or participating in health fairs or community outreach events are all effective ways to hear what is important to families and integrate their voice and expertise within your efforts. Partnering with a family-run organization (FRO) is an effective strategy in connecting with diverse parents and families. As FROs are trusted entities within communities and offer parent-to-parent support, they are valuable partners in engaging families that are representative of the individuals you serve.

#4: Acknowledge Expertise & Support Participation 

Family members who contribute the lessons they have learned about navigating systems, partnering with providers, accessing services and supports, and understanding the unique needs of their child, youth and family, should be acknowledged for the expertise they hold and supported to meaningfully participate in the process of improving practice, programming and policy.
This acknowledgement and support occurs through compensation of the family members’ time to prepare, participate in or debrief after meetings, serve on committees or boards, or share their expertise as part of trainings, presentations or events. Family members should also be supported as partners by hosting meetings at alternate times and locations to accommodate work and school schedules, offering conference call or virtual meeting participation for those who can’t attend in person, and providing assistance with transportation or childcare expenses. When we view family members as having equal expertise as a mental health, juvenile justice, child welfare, education or other child serving system professional, they become our partners. As our partners, we have a responsibility to support and compensate them accordingly.

Evaluating Family Voice on Councils & Committees - Family Voice on Councils and Committees Assessment Tool (Fam-VOC) – measures meaningful engagement of, and support for, family voice on councils and committees, workgroups, and boards. For more information, contact FREDLA at info@fredla.org.
#5: Provide Opportunities for Growth

When partnering with families, it is critical that agencies nurture and encourage growth; ongoing learning; and further development of skills, knowledge, and abilities. It is important that families feel supported and are given opportunities to continue learning and developing their skills and abilities. Some examples of effective ways to support and encourage ongoing growth and opportunity include: partnering with family members as part of professional development opportunities within agencies and organizations, sponsoring family members to attend conferences and workshops, and providing mentorship opportunities for families who are interested in learning about particular aspects of your agency or system.
It is also recommended to explore where family voice and expertise could bring new perspective, share new insights, or cultivate new ideas within your organization or system, such as through an advisory or governance board. These are ideal places to engage, support, and nurture partnerships with families. Both family members and existing professionals or stakeholders involved in policy-making or advisory groups should have a process for orientation that emphasizes partnership and respect for each member’s unique expertise and perspective.

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Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content expressed in this email do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).