Key messages

  • In supporting children of parents with a mental illness it is important to consider their ages and key areas of concern such as risk factors, safety and well-being.

Children whose parents have a mental illness often take on carer responsibilities and need to understand what has happened or is happening to their parent and why.

The three key areas of concern for children – across age groups – are risk factors, safety and wellbeing, and social participation.

Pre-school aged children

For pre-school aged children, address questions that allow you to understand how they are feeling about their parent’s mental illness.

Watch for or check with their carers on their safety, growth and development – any signs of distress.

Ask or check with their carers on whether the children have adequate opportunities to play and mix with other children in their age group.

Primary school aged children and adolescents

Children in these two groups may have more to do around the house, including the additional responsibility of caring for their parent. They may also be sensitive to social stigma. To support to these children, you need to:

  • consider referring them to young carer support groups
  • address whether they have a safety and care plan to refer to in the event their parent becomes unwell or is hospitalised
  • check school attendance and offer advice on how the school can provide support
  • find out whether they have friends in their age group and are involved in social activities
  • work out their understanding of a parent’s mental illness
  • assist them to access age-appropriate information
  • check whether they can turn to trusted adults (other than the parent with mental illness)
  • gain parental permission to encourage them to ask questions about mental illness and to communicate how they feel.

Contact your local child protection service if you have concerns about the safety and wellbeing of a child as a result of a parent’s mental illness.