April 14, 2015

From: Sandy Bumpus, Executive Director, Oregon Family Support Network (OFSN)

Parents raising children with significant mental health challenges should no longer have to go through what I went through. As a parent, the feelings of hopelessness and disempowerment that come because you can’t get the support and services your family needs is one of the worst places to be. When your family has been through traumatic experiences, the last thing you need is no support and judgment from others.

After leaving an abusive marriage, I noticed that my 6 year old daughter had some very concerning behaviors. We had to move to a new community, and I did not know where to turn for help for my daughter. The worst moment came when she ran away from her afterschool program. Afraid another child would hurt her, she left and walked to the store, then realized she was lost.  Child Protective Services got involved, thinking she lacked a responsible caring adult. They kept her and were on my doorstep the next day. I had to explain myself before a judge. I knew my daughter needed help. I signed her over as a ward of the state so her mental health needs could be addressed. We had no insurance.

I was told by Child Welfare that I was a good parent, but received mixed messages from a variety of other professionals. It took our family the next 6 years to find the right services. The experience had profoundly traumatic effects on all of us. What would have helped back then was a “traveling companion” of sorts, a person with similar experiences who had regained their own hope and sense of empowerment around the needs of their family; a person who had been through it and come out on the other side; a person who knew how to help me regain my voice for my family. That person, today, is the role of the Family Partner.

The Oregon Family Support Network (OFSN) is a family-run organization committed to serving families raising a child with significant mental or social/emotional challenges. This is where I work now, overseeing a whole team of Family Partners working across numerous counties in Oregon. We hire parents and caregivers with “lived experience” of raising children with mental health needs. Family Partners help families navigate through the sometimes confusing and complex system of services available for their children.  Some of those services fit. Some do not. Our Family Partners build on each family’s strengths through family support, education, empowerment, and connection to other families. One piece of healing families need from these type of traumatic experiences is to feel hopeful and empowered to get what you believe your family needs, in terms of services and support, in order to heal and grow. Helping families regain hope for the future and a sense of empowerment with others on behalf of their family’s needs. This is where you’ll find a Family Partner walking side by side another, with understanding, ideas, and hope.

Photo above: Family Partners, Erin McKay and Carrie Leavitt

More information at www.ofsn.org.