Becoming an Effective Advocate for Your Child

The Surgeon General of the United States reports that about 1 in every 5 children experiences significant symptoms of a psychiatric disorder. For most of those children, only about 1 in every 3 are receiving the comprehensive, thorough care they need to function in their daily lives. Children and adolescents with emotional or behavioral problems deserve high quality mental health care, but for some families, these services are sometimes hard to obtain. Parents of children with mental health disorders can help their children receive the best care by being informed, involved, and persistent in their advocacy for their children. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides the following tips and suggestions for becoming an ever-better advocate for your child.

Get a comprehensive evaluation.

Childhood psychiatric disorders are complex and confusing. A full assessment can require several visits. It is important to be patient, but also push for thorough evaluations before accepting any diagnosis.

Insist on the best and only the best.

Talk to physician, therapists, counselors, and other parents. Find the most experienced professionals for your child’s particular conditions. Check the clinician’s credentials very carefully. Verify licensures and certifications for your own state, including “Board Certified” status. Double and triple check the services your school, insurance companies, and state agencies are providing, and push to make sure these are the most appropriate and best available; sometimes, to save time and money, these agencies and companies will go bare-bones rather than putting forth the effort needed to provide individualized, targeted measures.

Ask questions.

We’re not talking about only asking your own questions, but also encouraging your child to ask their own questions. It is also important to remember that no one person has all the answers, and there are only a few simple solutions available in the complicated world of childhood psychiatric disorders. In addition, many treatments have both risks and benefits. Make sure you, and your child, understand the full range of options available for your child’s disorder or condition. You want to be as informed as possible before you make a decision.

Insist on family-centered care.

The best care is care that is supported by your family and extended support network. Ask both your child and your care team about specific goals and objectives. How will you be able to know if treatment is helping? If your child’s condition persists or worsens on this particular treatment, what other alternatives or options might be available?

Be prepared and organized.

Keeping all information in an organized system is a great tip; you’ll want to keep track of past consultations, treatment reports, copies of evaluations, and any other pertinent records. Maintaining your own files on these documentations can prevent duplicate treatments, which would not only waste time and effort, but can add unnecessary stress to your child and your family. Also, should something ever happen to the clinician’s records (fire, computer crash, etc.), you will be able to move forward with your child’s treatment without concern.

Feel free to get a second opinion.

Because many mental health disorders rely on some subjective assumptions on the part of the diagnosing professional, any responsible clinician will be more than willing to help with referrals or share information. If you have any unanswered questions about your child’s diagnosis or the prescribed course of treatment, seek out a second opinion before making any hard and fast decisions.

There are more suggestions to cover; check out our next blog post for those!

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