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Written by Celia Serkin, Executive Director

Montgomery County Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health


The Montgomery County Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health (Federation) is a family support organization dedicated to helping family members who have children or youth with emotional, behavioral,  or mental health challenges. Family members who have children with these challenges run the organization. The Federation provides family peer-to-peer support, educational programs, advocacy, group support, information and referral, and leadership opportunities to parents and other primary caregivers who have children with these challenges. It also provides leadership opportunities, educational programs, social activities, and youth peer-to-peer support for youth with these challenges.


The Federation has family members who work as staff for the organization. They are called “family navigators.” They are trained family members who have extensive experience raising a child with an emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge and have first-hand knowledge of how services are provided in the community. They have navigated many child-serving agencies in an effort to get services and supports for their own children. They know about resources and can guide families in their efforts to access what they need for their child and family. The family navigators offer family members different types of supports, ranging from helping to access services to attending a meeting and hosting a group event that allow families with related experiences to share information and support one another. They assist the family in identifying strengths and needs and obtaining necessary services. They provide emotional support to families. The family navigators also provide information on various services and mandates within the system of care, and link families to formal and informal resources.


The Federation has an empowerment model of family navigation. Family navigators impart knowledge, demonstrate strategies and skills sets, and link family members to a support system. They provide targeted and individualized one-on-one support. In addition, they facilitate educational programs and support groups, and offer advocacy and leadership opportunities. Through one-on-one and group family support, family members learn how to become the best advocates for their own children. They also attain self-efficacy, the belief in their capacities to organize and execute the sources of action required to manage prospective situations. Family members gain knowledge and skills and become connected to a network of support. They can emerge as legacy family members who will help others having similar experiences and/or work on a system level to bring about positive results for children with emotional, behavioral, and/or mental health challenges.


The family navigators help families progress on their journey towards self-advocacy and self-efficacy through the acquisition of knowledge, skills and a network of support. The family navigators assist parents and other primary caregivers by helping them successfully navigate the child-serving systems and supporting them in their relationship with those formal and informal supports involved in their lives. The family navigators help to promote family voice, choice and access at every decision-making point. They use their personal and professional life experiences to establish credibility and give family members hope for a better future. The family navigators provide unconditional acceptance, help in identifying strengths and needs, and assist with problem-solving. They support family members in their journey.


The family navigator’s specific tasks include:


  • Providing emotional support and giving hope for a better future


  • Providing information on various services and mandates within the system of care


  • Linking families with assessment/evaluation and formal and informal resources


  • Empowering family members to ultimately act as their own best advocates


  • Ensuring that family members are treated as equal partners at every level of decision-making



  • Helping family members decide what they want and need and how to use their strengths to address their needs


  • Supporting family members in their efforts to get their needs met


  • Assisting family members in organizing and preparing for meetings so that their voice is heard


  • Going with family members to meetings, such as at school, court, hospitals, and social service agencies


  • Offering support groups, educational programs, and other family activities


  • Helping family members acquire skills and knowledge


  • Linking family members to a network of support


  • Communicating with the referral sources


  • Serving as cultural broker between the family and those involved in their lives, including agency representatives


  • Completing mandated administrative tasks, including writing contact logs, lists, reports, narrative, outcome data sheets, and all other required documentation 


  • Administering the Family Journey Assessment


  • Participating in training, supervision, coaching sessions, and staff meetings.




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