Orion’s ‘Parent Cafés’ Help De-Stigmatize Mental Health Issues

Michelle Howard, Niquanna Barnett, and Jennifer Hawley at the school’s dance in January.

A new program between Orion Family Services in Madison, Wis., and the local Janesville (Wis.) School District, is helping de-stigmatize issues around mental health.

Sonja Robinson, director of pupil services for Janesville, contacted Orion, who serves as a provider of school based mental health services. She wanted a way to work with parents to demystify mental health issues. After several meetings, they decided to launch a “Parent Café” program at Janesville’s Wilson Elementary School. The district’s goal is to provide needed support to parents, increase engagement in the school community, and begin the work of destigmatizing mental health.

Orion’s Niquanna Barnett, community integrated services supervisor, Michelle Howard, individual and family therapist, and Jennifer Hawley, chief program officer, attended a dance at the school in January to introduce themselves and the program to parents attending the event.  

Barnett and Howard ran the first café.

The first café was held Feb. 10. Barnett and Howard led a presentation focusing on Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based treatment program that improves parent-child attachment. Caregivers were provided with psychoeducation on parent-child interactions which included a demonstration of “Special Play” with their children. Special Play is a technique that strengthens the relationship between a parent and child via 30-minute playtimes once a week. Many of the caregivers asked questions and wondered if Michelle and Niquanna could work with them in their homes.

Barnett and Howard said that the Café was fun, interactive and educational. Parents in attendance said that they look forward to additional cafés. Another was held March 10, and one currently is planned for April 14.

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