A partner in crisis Parent Partner Initiative bridges gap between families and mental health system

Jill Levin (left) and Bri Baldwin (right) are two of the hospital's five parent partners, who provide emotional support for families and help them navigate their way through the mental health system.

Jill Levin (left) and Bri Baldwin (right) are two of the hospital’s five parent partners, who provide emotional support for families and help them navigate their way through the mental health system.

If a child comes into the ER with a broken arm, both the problem and the solution are typically clear.

But if a child is having a mental health crisis, the situation is not as clear, and it’s easy for parents to feel overwhelmed. But now Akron Children’s has a new way to help.

The hospital’s Parent Partner Initiative pairs a trained parent with the families of patients seeking mental health services. It’s funded by the Health Care Innovation Award, a $13-million grant split between Akron Children’s and Nationwide Children’s Hospital, given by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovations.

Kendra Crookston, LPCC ,the program’s coordinator, said when a child experiences a mental health crisis, it’s likely that the parent is in a crisis as well.  That’s where the parent partners step in.

They serve as a communication bridge between parents and providers. They offer emotional support, accompany parents to meetings, and clarify hospital processes and procedures.

In early December 2012, Akron Children’s hired five parent partners. Before starting in their new positions, they received extensive training and spent time shadowing multiple clinicians in the department.

Although they have different backgrounds, their personal experience in dealing with a mental health crisis unites them.

“The expertise they’re bringing to the table is managing their own children’s mental health and successfully navigating through the system,” said Crookston. “It’s been very helpful for them to think about what they would have liked to happen and how they could have been supported.”

Bri Baldwin, one of the parent partners, said she wished a program like this existed when her daughter had a mental health crisis.

“When I brought my daughter in, I didn’t know what to ask,” said Baldwin. “I wasn’t thinking clearly. It would have been very helpful to have someone say, ‘Hey, it’s going to be ok. You’re doing a good job. This is what this process looks like, and you’ll come through in the end.’”

teen-girl-talking-to-counselorUnlike parents who bring their children in with a physical health problem, parent partner Jill Levin said these parents likely feel ashamed or misunderstood. She said they often need reassurance.

“It’s a little more complex than if you have a child who comes in for a physical health concern,” said Levin. “The parent feels more sense of blame. You feel like, if you were a better parent, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Parent partners will be available to parents with children in the Psychiatric Intake Response Center and the inpatient psychiatric unit.

Psychologist Patricia Seifert, PhD, said the goal of the program is to reduce hospital re-admissions up to 60 days.

“What the parent partners can do is empower the parent with knowledge, so that they can make good decisions on behalf of their children and themselves,” said Dr. Seifert. “They’re here to give the emotional support that these parents need in navigating the mental health system – to be helpful and to give parents the strength they need to move forward.”

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