Journal of Professional Nursing

Children living with a mentally ill parent: The role of Public Health Nurses

Laurie Mahoney, RN, MN, Public Health Nurse, Southern District Health Board, Dunedin & Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing, Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin

Reference:  Mahoney, L. (2010). Children living with a mentally ill parent: The role of Public Health Nurses. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 26(2), 4-13.


Public Health Nurses work with children under 18 years in schools and the community. Increasingly children are living with a parent suffering from a mental illness. Consequently Public Health Nurses are encountering more mental illness as part of their practice. The research reported in this article aimed to identify the Public Health Nurse’s role with regard to children in these circumstances. A qualitative research design was used with eight Public Health Nurses working in rural and urban settings. Participants engaged in a focus group from which data were gathered and analysed thematically using axial coding. To evaluate the identified themes six of the participants went on to take part in a further focus group. The three key themes identified were Advocacy, Assessment, and Relational Knowing and Clinical Practice. It emerged that the role of Public Health Nurses working with such families involved advocating for the child, using a range of assessment skills to gather relevant information and make referrals, with all informed by expert knowledge and clinical experience. Findings indicate the need for more acknowledgement of the frequency with which Public Health Nurses are encountering problems associated with mental illness; and hence the need for provision of appropriate education and support that will enable them to effectively advocate for children’s safety and wellbeing.

Public health nurses, parental mental illness, advocacy, assessment, focus group

Subscribe for full access to Nursing Praxis