The parent of a son with bipolar disorder, Anderson began advocating for parents in 2000 with the founding of F.O.R.C.E. Society for Kids’ Mental Health with another mother who had lost her son to suicide at 18.
“Everything I was looking for as a family, was for families of adults — not children or youth,” said Anderson, who is now the president and CEO of FamilySmart®, which was created when F.O.R.C.E. and another organization, the Institute of Families, united in 2015.
“That was the primary reason for starting F.O.R.C.E. — so we could get help for kids and their families sooner. The families of children were waiting years before accessing mental health information and services, and you can’t get those years back. The primary resources offered to parents at the time were ‘How to Parent’ Programs. What parents needed was understanding, support and literacy about children’s mental health, not blaming and shaming parents for how they were parenting.”
"The families of children were waiting years before accessing mental health information and services, and you can’t get those years back."
The development of FamilySmart also involved strategic visioning and engaging with leaders in child and youth mental health and substance use across Canada, including BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services’ current chief operating officer of complex mental health and substance use, Connie Coniglio. Coniglio represented both BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services and the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre, a partner with F.O.R.C.E, in establishing parent peer navigators for families across British Columbia at BC Children’s Hospital.
In 2006, F.O.R.C.E (now FamilySmart®) became a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information, also known as the BC Partners.
The BC Partners are a group of seven non-profits who believe they can accomplish more together than apart, and who share the same goals of promoting mental wellness through education, literacy and knowledge exchange.
The coalition is funded and stewarded by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, as part of its provincial mandate to promote mental wellness, fight stigma, contribute to knowledge exchange about mental health and substance use, and ultimately act as a vital provincial resource for mental health and substance use professionals.
FamilySmart contributes to the mission of the BC Partners by increasing the health literacy of parents, caregivers and families of children and youth with mental health and/or substance use challenges.
As an organization for parents, Anderson and Dr. Jana Davidson, co-founders of FamilySmart, knew that if parents couldn’t get help for their kids, it would likely get harder as they got to be teens. It was important to them that parents had a place that let them know they were not alone, and helped build their literacy, understanding of child and youth mental health, and capacity and confidence to help their kids.
"What parents needed was understanding, support and literacy about children’s mental health, not blaming and shaming parents for how they were parenting.”
Currently, FamilySmart focuses on three programs: the Parent & Youth in Residence Program, the Health Literacy Program and the FamilySmart Practice Program.
The FamilySmart Practice Program is a shared practice the organization calls “Together-Centred.” It brings together young people, families and service providers to identify some of the skills and practices necessary to enhance child and youth mental health.
In the Parent & Youth in Residence Program, young adults with mental health and/or substance use challenges and parents of children and youth with mental health challenges provide peer support, mentoring, system navigation, and access to information, resources, networks and education. This is their 20th year in operation, and they have connected with over 112,000 people across B.C.
The Health Literacy Program includes In the Know, a monthly in-person and online information session that provides expert speakers on topics important to families and/or those working to support the mental health of children and youth. Participants can join in person at various community sites or online.
In the month of September 2020, the In the Know topic called “Parenting when anxiety shows up as anger” had 1,395 viewers, and of those, 96 per cent of participants said the information in the video/online conversation was useful, and 92 per cent of participants said they would recommend In the Know to others.
The Health Literacy Program also includes the annual Child & Youth Mental Health Day (every May 7). The campaign’s message is “I care about you,” and it provides health literacy to homes, schools and communities on building connections with kids to enhance their mental health.
“We know that people need to have access to, process, and understand health information and services to make appropriate health decisions,” said Anderson. "This is how we see health literacy, and it is important to better mental health outcomes.”
Anderson says that her organization is “inundated” by parents seeking understanding, support and information. Other organizations also ask for help from FamilySmart in enhancing how they communicate with parents and youth.
In the Know facilitators often turn to other BC Partners to help find experts for the topics presented to families. In 2019, FamilySmart approached fellow BC Partner, the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, to be a part of the In the Know session on substance use. This session also included a parent who had lost her son to an overdose. FamilySmart also contributes its lived experience perspective on child and youth mental health literacy to the BC Partners’ HereToHelp website and Visions magazine.
“What I have really appreciated is that the funders of the BC Partners were open to having FamilySmart join them back in 2006 in order to bring greater awareness and health literacy specific to child and youth mental health,” said Anderson. “This has allowed more families to get the information and help they need. Our collective experience, expertise and collaboration makes our health literacy better.”
This is part seven in our series on the BC Partners. Learn more: