We are a statewide, parent-governed, non-profit organization,that grew out of the efforts of many people who were concerned about children’s mental health services in New York State and across the nation. A 1990 study estimated that of the general population of children in the U.S., about 14% (between 9.5 and 13.6 million children), have an emotional, behavioral or mental disorder. In that same year, the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) reported 19,000 children being served, and another 19,000 waiting for services in state operated programs alone. These were alarming numbers.
The Parent Support Network Is Formed
In the late 1980’s, a movement began to include the parents of children with emotional, behavioral and mental disorders in policy and program planning to add a family perspective to children’s mental health services. Professionals started looking at the role of families in their child’s care. Throughout the nation, the needs of children and the importance of the integration of family members was recognized. In 1984, funds were appropriated by Congress for the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP), the new children’s mental health initiative. The concept of family-run was spreading and the system of care movement was emerging.
In 1989, both the federal and state governments put their money on the table and the Mental Health Association in NYS, Inc. (MHANYS) received a grant to hire a parent, to connect parents to each other across the state, and to develop a newsletter to address families’ needs. The Parent Support Network was formed.
The Stage Is Set
In New York, family members were coming together to strengthen the family voice and advocate for their children. In 1991, OMH received a grant from the Child and Adolescents Service System Program to develop an individualized care approach to serving children and families. As part of that grant, five parent advisors were hired to work with families in the five regions of the state. By 1993, there were six parents working with the Parent Support Network to inform, educate, support, advocate with and organize the families in New York. That same year, the Parent Support Network won a three year grant from the National Center for Mental Health Services in Washington, D.C., to develop a statewide, parent run, not-for-profit organization.
The Steering Committee
The Director of the Parent Support Network, a parent of a child with a serious emotional disorder, put together a steering committee of ten parents to develop a statewide parent support organization. The five regional parent advisors from OMH helped in this process. Each parent advisor and another parent from each of the five regions across New York were brought together to develop a mission statement and by-laws for the newly named Families Together in New York State. The steering committee also developed an initial plan for the organization and started the incorporation process. Over this two year period, Families Together went from being a good idea to becoming a reality.
The Expanded Board
At the end of the second year, in April 1995, the Families Together steering committee was ready to expand the board. New board members were chosen and officers elected. Families Together became incorporated and filed for not-for-profit tax status. As an organization working to build a strong voice for parents with children who have emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, the new board felt it would be most beneficial to affiliate our organization to a national parent organization to increase our scope. We became an official state organization of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health in November, 1995.
Movement To Independence
After two years of support from MHANYS, Families Together was successful in securing adequate funding to move into an office of our own. Years later, we now own a building in the heart of Albany, New York, just blocks away from the Capitol. Everyday we are enthusiastic and hopeful in our efforts to serve families in need. We remain committed to our mission to ensure that every family has access to needed information, support, training and services by providing a strong voice for families of children with social, emotional, behavioral and cross-systems needs. The growth of our membership, events such as our Legislative Awareness Day and Annual Conference, Information and Referral calls and invitations to be at the many tables of decision makers and state leaders is a great indication of how far we have come and how important the family voice is. As we grow and expand, our voice gets louder and more meaningful.
Today, we continue the work on behalf of children, youth and families, serving as a unified voice in shaping policy and shifting attitudes about family involvement. We look forward to continuing on this journey to put children and families first.