Tag Archives: Parent advocates


This post suggests if you are dealing with a depressed teen, in addition to professional help, you need to create an added care team to keep you strong.

Connecting to others who have walked the path you are walking keeps you from getting lost in a forest full of dead ends, holes, and cliffs. 


You already have the start of such a team in your family, friends, various professionals, and even your teen’s circle of connections.  Step one is to decide which ones you trust. Step two is to let those know you consider them part of your teen’s added care team.  Just saying “Thank you” for being there, I think of you as part of my care team.” is enough.

To complete your team you need to name at least one complaint partner and to find a Parent Advocate.  A complaint partner is someone you can call just to spout off. The best complaint partners never tell you what to do; give a bit of sympathy, but no pity; remind you of your strengths; and keep everything you say confidential. Be sure to ask the person to be your compliant partner and offer to be theirs or to recipricate in some other way.

If you don’t feel comfortable asking a friend support groups offer not general support, but an opportunity to meet potential complaint partners.  As a last resort consider a therapist, but also realize your complaining has to be reserved for your therapy hour and a good therapist will only tolerate so much complaining without holding you accountable for moving toward change.

In addition to a  complaint partner, every parent with a teen in some sort of trouble needs a Parent Advocates.  Finding one is becoming easier had least in the United States. The National  Federation of Families partnered with the USA government to guarantee parents had a say in the treatment plans various professionals made for child.  The NFF’s motto is “Nothing about us without us.”  Most of their advocates are connected to Mental Health Agencies, but other child caring systems have added Parent Advocacy to their services also.

I was fortunate enough to work with a great many parent advocates during my professional career.  One Star Parent Advocate had been a beautician for most of her life and turned Parent Advocate in her sixties.  She was the first parent advocate I hired when my program received a grant that included  funds  for a parent advocate.  It was a new experience for both of us, and she educated me as much as I educated her. She had raised two sons who each struggled with major mental illnesses; one eventually committed suicide. Her heart possessed all the qualities of a healer.  

The best advocates are like  good friends who can hear your story without judging you and who will stand up for you rights when needed.  Most have these the listening skills naturally, the best get some more training; an advocate has to know about the system he or she is working in; and has to know the lingo, goals, and mission of that system.

Advocates working in the mental health system need to have a working understanding of mental illness and how it is treated.  Solid communication, goal setting and negotiating skills are also needed.  The final ingredient is a passion to help but also to be open to learning and supervision so one can be the best possible source of help.

As with all efforts to help another person, the quality of  advocates varies – some are the best thing that happened to a parent, others add to burdens. Good programs can have individual  advocates that harm, and bad programs can have individual advocates who do more for the family than the professional.  How to tell the good from the bad is not so easy, but you will know one when you meet one.

Finally, if you do not live in an area that has added Parent Advocates to their efforts to help, all is not lost, but finding one will be harder.  Again, the place to start might be in a support group.  The need to adovcate for each other could be raised as a group topic. Hopefully, the more experienced parents, would be willing to advocate for the less experienced.

More information about creating an Added Care Team can be found in my book: How to Hold a Successful Family Meeting.  Holding family meetings gives every family member the skills needed to handle all other meetings.


Parenting is hard work and contending with a depressed child demands more than good parenting.   You need all the allies you can get. An Added Care Team that includes a parent advocate and a complaint partner eases the path you and your child walk.

More information for parents coping with a moody or depressed teen can be found in my book ‘When Good Kids Get Depressed‘, which is volume 11 of the When Good Kids Do Bad Things series. Volume 1 is free.


I have published fourteen books on parenting. ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things. A Survival Guide for Parents of Teenagers‘ is available in print and as an e-book. Shorter ebooks can also be downloaded on specific topics, like lyingcrimerunning awayclothing wars and many other topics. Or you can learn how to run a successful family meeting or help your child with test anxiety. Meanwhile, don’t forget to take care of yourself with ‘Parents Are People Too – An Emotional Fitness Program for Parents‘ or by reading my Emotional Fitness Training blog where you will find free postersdaily exercises and more.

Also, if you think this information will help another, please share it.  Sharing knowledge is a caring act.

Thank you.


DISCLAIMER ONE: Although I am a therapist and base my advice on my clinical knowledge and experience, it does not substitute for face-to-face professional help.

DISCLAIMER TWO: FORGIVE MY GRAMMATICAL ERRORS FOR I HAVE DYSGRAPHIA.  If you need perfect posts, you will not find them here. Dysgraphia is a not well-known learning disability and means that sometimes my sentence structure is not that easy to follow or I make other errors. Still, most people understand me. All of my books are professionally edited, but not all of my blog posts are.  If this troubles you, feel free to read elsewhere.  If you persevere, you are practicing kindness by lifting my spirits for that means you find what I say helpful and that is one of my missions. Kindness always repays those who spread it.


You are worried about your thirteen year old. Her grades have fallen, she hates school. Your mother says ground her until they improve, her other parent says make a deal to pay her five dollars for every  B or above on a test. The guidance counselor says grades often fall off during middle school. Your pediatrician suggests a neurology consult. Your best friend suggests vitamin supplements. What to do …

Or, the worry is about a three year old foster child who comes to you with a history of abuse. He has been with you for three months and seems happy, but he is not potty trained other than to go into a corner when soiling his diaper, then he runs from you if you want to change it. The caseworker wants you do use a behavior chart. Your mother-in-law says don’t put pants on him and if he heads for the corner, carry him to the potty, hold him there, talk soothingly, but insist he stay until the job is done, then reward  him after he goes. Your best friend says, the boy is too disturbed and you should return him before you get more attached. Everyone agrees his behavior is related to being hurt whenever he did soil his diaper. He has some cigarette burns near his anus. Your spouse and many others say be patient. You want to be patient, but you also would like to end the battles and see him off to nursery school.


Parents are free game for advice givers. Every parent has an opinion about the right way to parent. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, the woman in the street—they are all ready to tell you how to parent. Post a question on the internet asking for advice and not only will you get lots of people telling you what to do, most of the advice will be contradictory.  Then there are the experts. Add some letters like PhD or MD or LCSW, or titles like teacher, preacher to someone’s role in life and they feel free to share knowledge. I am a good example, but at least as a parent and foster parent, I have become somewhat expert at winnowing out the good from the bad.  Here are my tips:

  1. Parenting is an art and very little of the advice handed out has stood the test of robust examination by the experts. That said, there is good advice out there, but you need to see yourself as the experimenter and researcher. You know you and you know your child better than any other.
  2. When it comes to advice about any thing, I like the ideas of Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead’s husband and an anthropologist, whose fame was over ridden by hers. Bateson preached “The map is not the territory, but the more varied maps, the more like the territory will be accurately mapped.”  Not his exact words, but good enough.
  3. Part of deciding whether advice applies to you depends on where the advice giver is coming from.  What maps has the other created?  I get into quarrels with the attachment experts because they are so in love with the idea that bonding is everything and failed bonding is the problem, but to the extent that they rule out other points of view. Bonding is essential, but not always sufficient. Biological problems and cultural dictatorships can over-ride the closest of parental bonds.
  4. Know yourself and your limitations. Behavior charts might work, but if you are a parent of three or four children working at more than one job, trying to keep such charts might be the straw that collapses your back.
  5. Advice from experienced parents is often more useful than advice from professionals. There are dangers, however. One danger remains if a brain challenge or difference is operating. Another involves extremes of either Tough Love, Soft Love, faith cures, diets, anti-medication, and any number of other one-way approaches. A less common danger comes if the person is a paid parent advocate. These have become popular in the past ten years. I love all parent advocates, but I want to know who is paying them. The school? Then they may be biased against your child? The child welfare people, they have a nose for abuse. Just know who is paying a parent advocate and keep that information in mind when dealing with one. My personal preference are for parent advocates paid by the mental health system, but they can also have strong bias.
  1. Know when to seek professional help. If the things that seem to work for most doesn’t work for your child, something more may be needed.  A prime example are bright kids slowly but surely turning against school. This might be a very bright kid not sufficiently challenged in his current school.  It might also indicate a learning disability. I am an avid and a fast reader, but I also have what is called dysgraphia and dyscalulia. Determining what goes on requires a good psychological evaluation and generally from a psychologist who specializes in learning problems. My life got better when computers and caluculators helped solve some of my difficulties. Life also got better when I realized it was a brain glitch and not general stupidity.
  2. Be very careful about who you go to for professional help. A family doctor or pediatrician when asked for advice usually does one  of two things: offers a “wait and see” approach or quickly prescribes a psychotropic medication. In my revision of When Good Kids Do Bad Things, I fully revised the chapter on ‘When More is Needed’, which deals with seeking professional help.
  3. Know that if there is abuse in the home or elsewhere—beatings that leave marks, sexual abuse, no love or affection shown—more is needed, but the abuse has to be stopped and the resulting traumatization of the child and the parent dealt with.
  4. You cannot help a child if you do not keep yourself physically and mentally healthy.
  5. Parents do not control all, do your best, seek advice from compentent sources of help when trouble looms and hope for the best, don’t engage in self or other blame.  The Blame Game sometimes provides short term relief ,but helps no one in the long run.

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