By: Laura J. Middleton
Book review of
Improving Children’s Mental Health Through Parent Empowerment: A Guide to Assisting Families , by Peter S. Jensen & Kimberly Eaton Hoagwood. Published by Oxford University Press, New York, 2008. 188 pages, $29.95.
This is not a dense book, but rather a guide for practical application. All of the information and advice is based on real-life experiences intending to inform future actions and decisions of parents navigating mental health systems. The authors are self-described as being driven by experience as a result of their roles as parents, mental health consumers for their own children, and citizens committed to making a difference in children’s lives.
The guide serves as a pillar beyond professional scope in order to overcome feelings of powerlessness. This is to say that despite professional knowledge, sometimes accessing appropriate and adequate services is still a challenge that requires parental utilization of the tools provided in this book. Parental expertise in active engagement necessitates both emotional and informative support.
The book is not just for reading. It requires an active engagement, which includes the completion of an initial self-assessment and self-study questions at the conclusion of each chapter. The self-assessment helps the reader to focus on the parts of the book that may be most useful to them, and the chapter questions increase knowledge and ability to implement suggestions. The guide highlights the necessary elements for an individual to change, including knowledge, beliefs, rehearsal, understanding, and access. The exercises completed by the reader enforce these elements. The authors stress that parent empowerment is not a product, but rather a process that this guide serves to facilitate.
Social workers, educators, students, and clients could benefit from reviewing the book’s essential knowledge regarding mental health evaluation and diagnosis, mental health system of care, childhood mental health disorders, the school system and system of education options, and education laws and processes. Acquiring and applying this information has the potential to empower the parents. Empowering the parents in order to empower their children results in improved mental health for all.
The guide is full of recommendations for obtaining accurate information about mental health conditions and treatment, which is vital for a successful parent-provider partnership. The book reviews some of the most common child mental health disorders and their treatments, including disruptive behavior disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse. The appendices contain valuable resources, such as information on advocacy groups, training programs, and Web resources. Parent handouts and important points for parent advisors are also provided.
Two chapters are dedicated to special education, an often frustrating system to navigate. The guide explains the differences between an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and a Section 504 Plan, which stem from two different federal laws and have different requirements. The overview of federal education law and policy informs about the educational rights of children and their families.
The guide encourages a change in the old fashioned professional view of the parents as being problematic, to being the solution. The parent empowerment framework comes from two sets of knowledge, which are practical expertise from the parent support field and scientific studies that have identified effective strategies. This demonstrates that parents are a crucial element in obtaining the mental health needs of their children. This guide is an excellent resource explaining the process.
Reviewed by Laura J. Middleton, MSW candidate at SUNY Albany specializing in clinical practice, with a focus on children and families.