Child Welfare Publications

Access information about the child welfare system, current trends, and latest research, as well as about understanding and addressing the needs of children, youth, and families in the child welfare system.

Parental Mental Health and the Child Welfare System

Featured Publication

Feedback Supporting Parents with Mental Health Needs in Systems of Care Issue Brief (PDF)

Technical Assistance Partnership for Child and Family Mental Health (2011)

This study of community-based system of care sites was conducted to learn about efforts to assess parents’ mental health needs, effectively engage and support them, and improve system coordination and access to services. This issue brief is intended to inform system reform in child welfare and mental health, as well the child and adult service systems.

Research indicates that children with parents/caregivers with significant mental health needs are at greater risk of involvement in the child welfare system. These resources describe promising practices for screening and treatment, tools and training, fact sheets, Web sites, and research to better understand how mental health and child welfare systems can work together to support parents and caregivers with mental health needs.

Promising Practices

Caregiver Depression, Mental Health Service Use, and Child Outcomes

Burns, B. (2010)

Addresses the issue of caregiver depression and mental health service use. The basic aims are to examine the correlates of caregiver depression, the predictors of their use of mental health services, and the impact of caregiver depression and mental health service use on outcomes for their children.

Family Options:Supporting Parents with Mental Illness and their Children (PDF)

Focal Point, Research and Training Center on Family Support and Children's Mental Health (2008)

This article discusses how the Family Options program advocates for systemic expansion of programming for this population and for the re-alignment of child and adult mental health services to reflect a family recovery approach to care delivery.

Hard Choices: Caring For the Children of Mentally Ill Parents (PDF)

Center for New York City Affairs and the Center for an Urban Future (2009)

This issue of Child Welfare Watch documents issues facing parents with psychiatric problems who come in contact with New York City's child welfare system.

Parents with Mental Health Issues: Consequences for Children and Effectiveness of Interventions Designed to Assist Children and their Families(PDF)

NSW Department of Community Services (2008)

Reviews research on the consequences for children of having a parent with mental health issues, and the effectiveness of strategies and interventions designed to support affected families.

Think Child, Think Parent, Think Family

Social Care Institute for Excellence (2009)

Parents with mental health problems and their families are one of the four groups most likely to be excluded from health and social care provision (SEU 2004). Changing this requires a new way of working across adult mental health and children's services. This summary identifies what needs to change to improve service planning, delivery and practice and so help to improve the health, wellbeing and life chances of families affected by parental mental ill health.

Tools and Training

National Foster Care Month 2012

Child Welfare Information Gateway (2012)

Provides child welfare professionals with information on building well-being within transitioning youth, supporting sibling connections and post-permanency efforts, supporting schools and communities, and building trauma-informed child welfare systems.

Family Connections Materials: A Comprehensive Approach in Dealing with Parental Depression and Related Adversities

Family Connections Project at Children's Hospital Boston (2008)

These materials describe a comprehensive approach to strengthen the capacity of Early Head Start and Head Start staff in dealing with parental depression. They include information on depression and related adversities, detailed workshops, strategies for working effectively with children, families, and other staff, and a guide to assess a program's readiness to take full advantage of this resource.

Helping Child Welfare Workers Support Families with Substance Use, Mental, and Co-Occurring Disorders Training Package

National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare

This training package was developed to educate child welfare professionals about substance abuse and mental health disorders among families involved in the child welfare system. It is intended to provide learning opportunities and baseline knowledge on substance abuse and mental health problems and interventions; motivate and facilitate cross-systems work; and incorporate cultural awareness and facilitate cultural competency in child welfare practice. The training package consists of 6 modules that can be downloaded individually or as the entire training package.

Youth Leadership Toolkits

National Resource Center for Youth Development (2011)

Includes resources pertaining to member outreach, public speaking, strategic sharing, travel guides, youth engagement, branding and logos, and focus groups.

Supporting Families with Substance Use and Mental Health Issues

National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare (2010)

This online training is designed to educate pre-service and in-service child welfare professionals about how substance abuse and mental health disorders affect families involved with the child welfare system. Each module contains an agenda, training plan, training script, PowerPoint presentation, case vignettes, handouts, and reading materials.

State Implementation Toolkit and Issue Briefs

The Legal Center for Foster Care and Education (2011)

Discusses the practice of many states intercepting foster children's Social Security benefits, the issue of identification theft and credit fraud committed against foster youth, and possible legislative solutions to these issues.

Working With Parents With Mental Illness: Guidelines for Mental Health Clinicians(PDF)

State of Queensland, Australia (2010)

Aims to (1) To provide a framework for the ongoing consideration of risk and protective factors in relation to any child protection concerns; (2) To assist in identification of support needs for the parent/carer in relation to their parenting role; and To assist in identification of the support needs of the children regarding their parent’s/carer's mental illness.

Fact Sheets and Web sites

Children of Parents with a Mental Illness Web site
The overall aim of the Australian Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI) initiative is to promote better mental health outcomes for children of parents with a mental health problem or disorder.

Community Services Web site
The leading New South Wales (Australia) Government agency responsible for community services, working to promote the safety and wellbeing of children and young people and to build stronger families and communities.

Depression Treatment (Adult)

California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (2010)

This Web site offers summaries of programs related to depression treatment of adults, organized by ratings of how each is supported by research evidence.


Social Care TV: Parental Mental Health and Child Welfare

Social Care Institute for Excellence (2010)

This Web site features three short films about a mother’s experience of getting support for herself and her family, a young carer’s experience of trying to get the support she needed, and professional perspectives on working with parents with mental health problems and their children.

Strengthening Families Fact Sheets: When a Parent Has a Mental Illness

National Mental Health Association

  • Child Custody Issues
    This fact sheet discusses the legal issues related to mental illness and the loss of custody or parental rights, provisions pertaining to parental rights included in the Adoption and Safe Families Act, and information for advocates on how to help families stay intact.
  • From Risk to Resiliency: Protective Factors For Children (PDF)
    This fact sheet explains how effective prevention strategies can help increase family stability, strengthen parents' ability to meet their children's needs, and minimize children's exposure to negative manifestations of their parent's illness, and lists both risk factors and protective factors.
  • Interventions and Services for Families (PDF)
    This fact sheet describes the types of intervention strategies that can help families to thrive, and summarizes the limits of the current service delivery system.
  • The Invisible Children's Project: An Example of a Promising Program (PDF)
    This fact sheet describes the successful efforts of the Mental Health Association’s Invisible Children's Project in Orange County, N.Y., which aims to integrate services for parents with a mental illness or co-occurring disorder, increase their ability to function as parents, and assist them in creating a safe and nurturing environment for their children.
  • Issues and Challenges (PDF)
    This fact sheet  discusses the impact of mental illness on parenting capacity and on children, the stigma surrounding mental illness, legal issues related to parents maintaining custody and contact with their children, and the need for integrated services for parents and families.
  • Serious Mental Illness and Parenting (PDF)
    This fact sheet describes the issues and needs particular to parents with a mental illness: specialized programs, recovery process, medication and illness management, and family planning.

Understanding Depression across Cultures

Family Connections Project at Children’s Hospital Boston (2008)

The Family Connections Project at Children’s Hospital Boston has developed a range of materials that describe a comprehensive approach to strengthening the capacity of Early Head Start and Head Start staff in dealing with parental depression. This paper includes a discussion on the range of responses to mental health issues, including depression across cultures, and the importance of cultural sensitivity in mental health outreach.


Families with Overlapping Needs (PDF)

Center for Mental Health Services Research, University of Massachusetts Medical School (2006)

This issue brief describes findings from the Center for Mental Health Services Research’s secondary analysis of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Families Program. The aims of the study were to: examine the prevalence of family mental illness and family substance abuse among children entering systems of care; compare families with histories of mental illness and substance abuse to families without these histories; and clarify related implications for research, policy and practice.

Hard Times Made Harder: Struggling Caregivers and Child Neglect(PDF)

Carsey Institute (2010)

Poverty is only one of many challenges tied to a report of child neglect. The analysis in this brief finds that neglected children whose caregivers struggle with substance abuse and mental health problems are at significant risk for out-of-home placement. Risk factors for out-of-home placement for neglected children are discussed, as well as a multifaceted approach to services to prevent neglect and out-of-home placement.

Maternal Depression Can Undermine the Development of Young Children(PDF)

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University(2009)

Describes how serious depression in parents and caregivers can affect far more than the adults who are ill; adult depression also influences the well-being of the children in their care.

National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being – No. 13: Depression Among Caregivers of Young Children Reported for Child Maltreatment

Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families

To address the lack of information about depression across time among the mothers of young children reported to the child welfare system, this research brief examines child welfare system population rates of depression longitudinally, as well as average individual change over time, among caregivers of young children.

Parental Mental Health and its Impact on Children (PDF)

Centre for Parenting and Research, New South Wales Department of Community Services (2008)

This publication presents the key findings of the literature review, Parental mental health and its impact on children, prepared by the Department of Community Services Centre for Parenting and Research. It describes factors associated with vulnerability and resilience, potential impacts on children and young people, adverse outcomes in relation to specific mental health disorders, and early intervention programs.

Parents with a Mental Illness and Implementation of ASFA (in Intentions and Results: A Look Back at the Adoption and Safe Families Act) (PDF)

Friesen, B. J., Nicholson, J., Kaplan, K., & Solomon, S. (2009)

This paper examines how implementation of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) may affect families in which a parent has a mental illness. It presents evidence that such parents may suffer discrimination when the psychiatric diagnosis alone leads to an assumption of risk in lieu of a more complete assessment of a parent’s behavior or parental competence.

Stress and Resilience Factors in Parents With Mental Health Problems and Their Children

Social Care Institute for Excellence (2008)

This brief focuses on factors contributing to either stress or resilience in families where one or both parents have mental health problems. It considers the position of parents and children focusing upon issues of stress or resilience arising from individual and informal sources.