CFS ‘Ohana Support Services Parent Partners Help Families in Need

This article appeared in Hawaii Parent Magazine, click here to read the article.

Parent Partners fill many roles

Kailene Nihipali grabbed her briefcase and hurried from the Family Guidance Center in Kapolei to drive through the heavy afternoon traffic to a court hearing. She was on her way to support a mom who will find out the legal consequences of her teenage daughter’s truancy.

“I will be there for emotional support,” said Nihipali. “These hearings can be extremely upsetting for parents and caregivers. They appreciate me being there.”

Motoring from appointment to appointment is nothing new for this energetic single mom. Nihipali is a Parent Partner for ʻOhana Support Services, a program of Child & Family Service (CFS). One of Hawaiʻi’s largest nonprofit organizations, CFS has nearly 50 programs that strengthen families and help family members to develop the skills and confidence for thriving futures.

CFS ‘Ohana Support Services is a statewide program to help families facing mental health is-sues and is a collaborative partnership with the State Department of Health, Child and Adoles-cent Mental Health Division (CAMHD).

According to CFS Vice President of Programs Karen Tan, Parent Partners bring to other families the benefit of their “lived experience”, which means that they have at least one child who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, and who has been involved within the system of care.

Nihipali has a child who has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. “She can relate to much of what parents are feeling and experiencing and provide an understanding hand to sup-port and guide them,” Tan said.

Tan noted that offering emotional support is just one of the many roles filled by ‘Ohana Support Services Parent Partners across the state.

“Our Parent Partners help parents to learn more about mental health issues and navigate the system of care,” Tan said. “Parent Partners are valued mentors in helping parents to find ways of meeting their needs and seeking out available treatment services and connecting them with community resources.”

Parent Partners often provide transportation, assist the parent in setting up doctor’s appointments, and assist with communication between a participant and their treatment team, which may include a therapist, Family Guidance Center Care Coordinator, and other mental health professionals and community providers.

Parent Partner Kailene Nihipali speaks with a ‘Ohana Support Services program Participant. Photo Credit: Elaine Hicks

The treatment team works together with families to develop a plan, which includes Parent Partners supporting parents with nurturing parenting skills, either one-to-one or in a group setting.

“Empowering parents and building confidence can help them help their children, many of whom are suffering from a mental health diagnosis and have likely lived through some sort of traumatic experience in their short lives,” Tan said.

Parent Partners also attend local Children’s Community Council (CCCs) meetings comprised of providers, parents, and community members – all who have a fervent commitment to serving families facing mental health issues. These monthly meetings include educational presentations, networking, and sharing of information about community resources.

The need for services is great

In the state of Hawaiʻi, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islander youth, especially females, are at high risk for mental health disorders. In Hawaiʻi (2009 – 2013), about 9% of youth each year between the ages of 12-17 had an episode of major depression, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). According to a 2010 report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “of Hawaiʻi’s approximately 1.3 million residents, close to 32,000 adults live with serious mental illness and about 12,000 children live with serious mental health conditions.” And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Mental health problems affecting youth manifest in a range of behaviors, including running away, violence, criminal activity, and substance abuse,” Tan noted. “Problems such as these affect families, who often begin to crumble from the stress. Meanwhile, school officials often struggle to address the issues related to high-need students, and in some cases law enforcement becomes part of a complex scenario. Many children also suffer from isolation or clash with peers, while some youth even report being bullied.”

CAMHD is strongly invested in the future of Hawaiʻi’s families and is focused on building sturdy bridges between those in need and the appropriate community services. CFS ‘Ohana Support Services and CAMHD share the collective vision of letting families know they are valued and that they are not alone as they navigate the system of care. Parent Partners are also in the pro-cess of being certified nationally as Certified Parent Support Providers (CPSP) by the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.

Parent Partners meet families where they are

Parent Partners are located in community Family Guidance Centers statewide. In addition to Nihipali, Parent Partner team members are: Pua Hoʻokano in Honolulu; Carmen Bowman in Hilo; Tiffany Marrotte on Kauaʻi; Pualani Kaʻahanui in Pearl City and Kaneohe; and Marcial Pua Basbas on Maui. Future plans include hiring a Kona Parent Partner.

“Decreasing fear and building trust is the first thing I try to do,” said Pualani Kaʻahanui. “Some-times they just need someone to listen.”

Program participants sometimes wrestle with personal mental health concerns and keeping them engaged can be challenging. “Sometimes they cancel appointments at the last minute, or I have to call them several times before they call back,” Kaʻahanui said.

Parent Partners also are ready to shift gears and expect the unexpected. “I spent most of a day working with a mom to clear up a complicated problem with her son’s medication,” Nihipali said.

Carmen Bowman from Hilo notes that her “role as a Parent Partner is to help them understand the system of care to manage stressors and to use my life experience to support other parents. This promotes healthy families and communities.”

Kaʻahanui adds “the most satisfying part of my job is knowing that I have the knowledge to help others in need. I was once in their shoes and wish I had someone like a Parent Partner to guide me through the process of the system. It would have made my life a little easier.”

Families eligible for services from CAMHD may participate in the CFS ‘Ohana Support Services program. To determine eligibility, call Child & Family Service at 808.681.1424 or toll-free at 844.748.3070. Additional information about CFS is available at

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