“What do we do? This is not our area”. Child care providers' experiences when working with families and preschool children living with parental mental illness

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The prevalence of developmentally vulnerable children living with parental mental illness has been well documented, however due to stigmatised attitudes and prejudice these children may be ‘hidden’ and not identified as requiring additional assistance in early childhood settings. The aim of the present study was to explore the experiences and workforce needs of centre-based child care staff working with families living with parental mental illness. Eight staff (four child care workers and four child care directors) who worked in centre-based child care were interviewed using a semi-structured interviews. The data were analysed using an Interpretative Phenomenology Analysis framework. The findings of the present study highlighted four central themes: child development issues, tension around referral and worker anxiety, inadequate knowledge and training about parental mental illness and sensitivity when working with families. While these participants knowingly prioritized the importance of working with families in their daily work, they described feeling stressed and anxious about discussing referral options with these parents, and often worried about ‘making things worse’ for the child and the parent. The present study has contributed knowledge in regard to an important segment of the early childhood workforce; such information can inform the development of tailored professional training and resources that provide information about referral procedures and support programs for these families.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-79
Number of pages9
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2017


  • Parental mental illness
  • Children who have a parent with a mental illness
  • Child care workforce
  • Early childhood settings
  • Early childhood development
  • Preschool children
  • Vulnerable children and families

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