• children of parents with a mental illness;
  • parental mental illness;
  • workforce capacity

Accessible summary

For the psychiatric workforce to become family focused (particularly in relation to children) there is a clear need for family sensitive policies and procedures, managerial and organizational support and well-targeted and sustained workforce training. However, there are multiple barriers to the adult mental health workforce becoming family focused including:

  • • 
    Some adult mental health services do not identify consumers who are parents and subsequently do not respond to children, parenting and family needs.
  • • 
    Organizations often do not have adequate family and child friendly policies and procedures.
  • • 
    The adult mental health workforce lacks skills and knowledge about families, children and parenting.
  • • 
    The workforce needs to increase encouragement of consumers to include family members and dependent children in treatment of the ill parent including the provision of psycho-education.


Many consumers of psychiatric services are parents, making these services the opportunistic point for supporting consumers' children. While evidence suggests that assisting such children improves their mental health, there is a large gulf between what psychiatric services should (or could) provide and what they do in practice. This paper summarizes the constraining barriers and issues for the psychiatric workforce according to: (1) policy and management; (2) interagency collaboration; (3) worker attitude, skill and knowledge; (4) the parent-consumer; and (5) the consumer's family, including children. Potential solutions are presented, with a particular focus on the hierarchical nature of these barriers. Recommendations are made, including organizational audits to identify the most pressing barriers that impede family sensitive practice.