Emerging Minds

Parental mental illness and child-aware practice

About the course

Many parents with mental illness have the capacity, strengths and supports to help their children thrive. Some parents may even develop positive parenting strategies as a result of their illness. However, without the right support, parental mental illness has the potential to impact on children’s mental health, development and wellbeing. Practitioners are well placed to hold preventative conversations with parents, to help reduce any negative impacts of the parent’s illness, and to support the parent’s strengths and hopes for their family.

Throughout this course, you will consider how a parent’s mental illness may impact their physical and mental health, their parenting and family functioning, and the effect these impacts may have on their children’s wellbeing. You will also explore how mental illness can motivate parents to focus on positive parenting; and how conversations that focus on the parent’s knowledge, parenting role, strengths and hopes for their family can play a critical role in their recovery.

The course uses a child-aware practice approach, which invites you to make talking about parenting, children and family life an integral part of your practice. It also introduces the PERCS Conversation Guide – a psychosocial discussion tool developed through consultations with practitioners and parents. The guide helps you to hold conversations with clients who are parents about the impact of mental illness on their children’s lives. It supports non-judgmental collaborative conversations, and encourages shared understanding and decision making with parents.


Principles and practices

This module examines engagement strategies for supporting parents to reflect on their children’s mental health. It also introduces the PERCS Conversation Guide - a psychosocial discussion tool designed to help you to start conversations with parents about the impact of their mental health, and symptoms, on their children's daily lives and wellbeing.

The PERCS domains in a child's life

In this module you will explore the five PERCS domains in a child's life in more detail. These domains highlight areas to consider and reflect on when conducting conversations with parents about their children.

Who is this course for?

This course has been designed for practitioners working in adult services with parent-clients experiencing mental illness.

Learning aims and outcomes

As you progress through this course, you will work towards:

  • identifying opportunities to conduct child-aware conversations with parent-clients about their children’s mental health and wellbeing
  • adopting the six principles for engaging parents
  • using brief, focused interactions to engage with parents who experience mental illness
  • applying the PERCS Conversation Guide to your work with clients; and
  • incorporating the PERCS domains in a child’s life into your conversations with parent-clients about their children.


It is estimated that this course will take you approximately four hours to complete. This includes reading material and watching videos.

You can undertake the course across multiple sessions at your own pace. The last screen you visit before logging off will be bookmarked, and you will have the option of returning to that screen when you next log in.


This course features videos of fictional parents and family scenarios. As you work through the course, it is important to be aware of your own emotional responses. Please follow the self-care tips below and seek help if needed:

  • We do not recommend undertaking the entire course in one sitting. Give yourself some breaks. Even if you don’t feel that you need a break, it’s a good idea to take one anyway and come back later. 
  • Be aware of your emotions as you progress through the course, and take action if you are starting to feel stressed or upset. For example, consider taking a break and doing something for yourself that you enjoy. 
  • Be aware of your emotional responses after you complete the course. 

If at any point you find you are struggling, please talk with your supervisor, seek help, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or SANE Australia on 1800 18 7263.


For the purpose of this course, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological and adoptive parents of a child, as well as individuals who take up a primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.


Social and emotional wellbeing’ refers to the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and others. It incorporates behavioural and emotional strengths and is a facet of child development.1

In broad terms, social and emotional wellbeing is the foundation for physical and mental health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a holistic concept which results from a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and Community. It also recognises the importance of connection to Land, culture, spirituality and ancestry, and how these affect the individual.2

Social and emotional wellbeing is also used by some people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, who may have differing concepts of mental health and mental illness.3


Social and emotional development’ involves the development of skills required to:

  • identify and understand one’s feelings
  • read and understand the emotional states of other people
  • manage strong emotions and express them safely
  • regulate behaviour
  • develop empathy; and
  • establish and maintain relationships.4


Mental health’ is a state of wellbeing that enables you to deal with what life throws at you. It is about feeling resilient, enjoying life and being able to connect with others.

Good mental health helps you to:

  • cope with the normal stresses of life
  • be productive both at work and in your private life
  • relate well to other people; and
  • contribute to your community.5

Mental health is not fixed. It exists along a continuum, ranging from positive mental health, to vulnerabilities or difficulties, through to diagnosed mental illnesses.


A ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health condition’ is ‘a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves or interacts with other people’.6 It is diagnosed against standardised criteria, and is treated using medical and/or therapeutic interventions.

Mental illnesses vary in type, duration and degree of severity. ‘Episodes of mental illness may come and go. Some people experience only one episode of illness and fully recover. For others, symptoms reoccur throughout their lives’.6

The most common mental health conditions are anxiety and depressive disorders. Other major types include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders and dementia.6 


  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2012). Social and emotional wellbeing: development of a Children’s Headline Indicator. Cat. no. PHE 158. Canberra: AIHW.
  2. Commonwealth of Australia. (2017). National strategic framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing. Canberra: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, p.6.
  3. Everymind. (2020). Understanding mental health and wellbeing. Newcastle: Everymind. Available here.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2009). A picture of Australia’s children. Cat. no. PHE 112. Canberra: AIHW.
  5. Department of Health. (2021). About mental health. Canberra: Australian Government. Available here.
  6. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, What is mental illness? Available here.

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