by Ike Evans
It is now accepted wisdom that caregivers are sorely tested by the mental health challenges of their loved ones, as well as by the need to navigate the maze of services and supports that are intended to help. A lot more needs to be said, however, about the truly transformative role that family members are playing in the move toward a more humane, person-centered system of care. For the September 29, 2014 episode of Into the Fold, I had the pleasure of chatting with Barbara Granger, Family Involvement Specialist for the Texas System of Care Initiative and a Family Coordinator for Via Hope, Texas Mental Health Resource, about the trials and rewards of caring for a child with severe emotional challenges, as well as the potential for family members to act as change agents within the mental health system.
Among the things I was curious about was how Barbara defines “family voice”:
Family voice is when a parent or a caregiver realizes that what they say is important, and that we are the experts on our children and no one can discount that. Professionals are trained to diagnose and teach parenting strategies with us, but we’re the ones who know what will work and what won’t. When we’re given the opportunity to share in the decision making for our children, it validates all the work and time and effort that we put into raising them, and it empowers us to want to help others.
Family voice really goes beyond that, though–it’s looking for opportunities to impact society and the mental health profession for all children. So when families find their voice, or when a person finds their voice and can learn to advocate appropriately with others, it is empowering for us to be able to be invited to sit in, not only on the decision making for our own children, but for others and policies, and so taking our lived experiences and using them to make a differences for others.
Our conversation made it clear that family members have more to contribute than just serving as human interest backdrops or models of stoic survivorship. Their experiences collectively amount to a fund of expertise that a a true “system of care” will finally pivot toward utilizing.
Image credit: Texas System of Care
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