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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Children's perceptions of a psycho-educational program about parental mental illness Hamill, Karen


Children of parents with mental illness (COPMI) are often referred to in the literature as invisible given the lack of services dedicated to this large population at increased risk for a multitude of psychosocial difficulties. Of the services available, few have been empirically validated. This study undertook a qualitative evaluation of Kids in Control, a psycho-education and support program intended to enhance the resilience of children of mentally ill parents. The goals of this study were to: determine whether the program was beneficial to the participants, identify the critical program elements deemed helpful/unhelpful by the participants, determine whether program objectives were being met, and to provide insight on how to improve the program to better meet the needs of this population. It is ultimately hoped that this research will give children of parents with mental illness a voice, thereby boosting their visibility and contributing to their psychosocial well being. Flanagan’s (1954) critical incident technique (CIT) was employed to determine the participants’ perceptions of helpful and unhelpful aspects of the program. Twelve participants (10 boys, 2 girls) ranging in age from 8-12 were recruited from 4 groups held in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, followed by telephone interviews to discuss and verify the information shared. Participants reported a total of 121 critical incidents, which were classified into 8 helpful categories (105 incidents) and 2 unhelpful categories (16 incidents). The eight helpful categories were: identifying, communicating and managing feelings; learning about mental illness; helpful messages about responsibility, control, and empowerment; effective facilitator group management skills; having fun; connecting with other children experiencing parental mental illness; learning about stigma; and identifying supports. The unhelpful categories were: ineffective facilitation skills, and disruptive behaviour exhibited by other group members. Participants recommended improvements related to the areas of group instruction, time management, and group management. In addition, a 10-point rating scale was administered to determine the participants’ overall perception of program helpfulness. A mean rating of 7.63 was obtained which corresponds to very helpful on the scale. A comparison of incident categories with program objectives indicated a high degree of consistency, with a few exceptions. Implications for program improvements, wider program dissemination, and counselling practice are discussed. In addition, methodological issues related to using the critical incident technique with children are outlined.

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