4620982034_3730d7faf6_bToday we feature a guest blog post from the Family Consumer Specialists of the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS), Division of Mental Health (DMH) Child & Adolescent Services, on family-driven care. At the end of the article is a list of Parent Empowerment Calls offered free to all parents in Illinois who have a child with an emotional or behavioral concern. These calls focus on giving parents information they need to advocate for and to support their children. The next call will be Thursday, February 4th, from 12pm to 1pm, on “What Parents Should Know About Juvenile Justice.” The toll-free number is (866)320-4709, and the access code is 381157. Be sure to check the list at the end of the article for all of the topics to be covered this year.

Every spring, the DMH Family Consumer Specialists load up the car and head out on a road trip across the State of Illinois.  The mission of the trip is to gauge the extents to which parents are able to drive their children’s mental health care and to provide training opportunities for those who provide peer support to parents of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.  This road trip takes the familiar adage, “Are we there yet?” to the next level.

There are five Family Consumer Specialists and we all like to drive, so who should slip in behind the wheel?  Doesn’t it make sense for the one most familiar with the car to take the wheel first?  Who wants to be caught in a downpour in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the expressway with no knowledge of where one might find the switch to the windshield wipers?  (Not me because I’ve already been there and done that!)

So it is with family-driven care.  Nobody knows the child better than the parent.  That means the parent drives care.  Family driven care means that parents have a primary decision-making role in the care of their own children, as well as the policies and procedures governing care for all children in their community, state, tribe, territory and nation.  This includes choosing culturally and linguistically competent supports, services and providers; setting goals; designing, implementing and evaluating programs; monitoring outcomes and partnering in funding decisions.  There’s a lot riding on those tires!  We’ll get there.

So, now who gets the front passenger seat?  Common sense tells us it should be someone who will make the best use of that expansive front windshield; someone who knows the lay of the land and can identify landmarks to keep us on our route.  Well, yeah.  So, each Family Consumer Specialist rides shotgun in her own region.  She’s experienced the pain of those all-too-familiar potholes and is now willing to help others navigate around them.  She knows the quickest, most effective route.  She can point out those who not only provide services, but they do it with a smile.  She’s a peer support provider—in “family driven care-ese,” she is a parent who has navigated child-serving systems on behalf of her child with a mental health challenge.  She uses that lived experience to help others.  Peer support is a vital part of family-driven care.

What about the rest of us?  Remember, there are five Family Consumer Specialists on this family-driven road trip.  Those in the back seat aren’t drivers, but they contribute to the safety, comfort and efficacy of the trip.  Three of the Family Consumer Specialists have served as foster parents.  They’re able to help parents navigate the child welfare system.  The two who have foster care experience have also been trained as Educational Surrogates.  They can provide strategies for parent-educator partnerships and steer the driver around pitfalls that may not be best for the student.  Yet another Family Consumer Specialist parented a child with physical disabilities, thereby gaining knowledge of integrated physical and mental healthcare.

The Family Consumer Specialists have come back home from every road trip so far–exhausted, but safe and stronger from time spent with those who also have lived experience in driving care for their child and caring for themselves amidst intense challenges.  Road reflections are of laughter, collaboration, setting goals, identifying strengths and needs and evaluating outcomes.  Sounds a lot like a Treatment Planning session, an IEP Meeting, or Child and Family Team Meeting, doesn’t it?  No parent would ask to take this journey, but if we must, we should be in the driver’s seat; for our own children, as well as all children in our community, state, tribe, territory, and nation.  That’s a family-driven road trip.

For more information contact:

Judy Hutchinson, CFPP

Family Consumer Specialist

Division of Mental Health-Child & Adolescent Services

1906 Porter Avenue

Lawrenceville, IL  62439

618-838-9382 (Cell)

618-943-6131 (Office)

Parent Empowerment Calls

The Parent Empowerment Call is held the first Thursday of every month from 12pm to 1pm. The toll-free number is (866)320-4709. The access code changes each month. Below is the 2016 schedule for the Parent Empowerment Calls.


Date Topic Access Code
February 4 What Parents Should Know About Juvenile Justice 381157
March 3 Adolescent Sexuality 381158
April 7 The IEP Annual Review 381159
May 5 Relationship Building with Your Child 381160
June 2 Strength-Based Parenting 381161
July 7 The System of Care has Principles, Too! 381162
August 6 Parent Roles in a System of Care 381163
September 1 Why Your Family Culture is Important 381164
October 6 Promoting Resiliency 381165
November 3 Know Your Scores—ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) 381166
December 1 Building a Portfolio for Your Child (Basics of Recordkeeping) 381167


Photo © 2005 by Din Jimenez under Creative Commons license.