The application of behavior change theory to family-based services: Improving parent empowerment in children's mental health

S. Serene Olin, Kimberly E. Hoagwood, James Rodriguez, Belinda Ramos, Geraldine Burton, Marlene Penn, Maura Crowe, Marleen Radigan, Peter S. Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


We describe the development of a parent empowerment program (PEP) using a community-based participatory research approach. In collaboration with a group of dedicated family advocates working with the Mental Health Association of New York City and state policy makers, academic researchers took an iterative approach to crafting and refining PEP to better prepare family advocates to help bridge the gaps in service access among children with emotional and behavioral problems. Despite the growth of family-led, family support programs nationally, research that demonstrates the positive benefits of such programs is scarce in the children's mental health literature. The PEP model is based on research data about barriers families face in mental health service utilization (e.g., stigma, perceptions of providers, attitudes towards mental illness, service availability, etc.). PEP is premised on (a) the concept of empowerment as a process, (b) the need to engage parents in becoming active agents of change, and (c) the application of an integrated framework to empower parents, called the Parents as Agents of Change model. Our paper focuses on describing the application of a Unified Theory of Behavior Change as a theoretical framework to help activate parents as change agents in meeting their children's mental health needs. Based on an integrated model of grassroots driven Principles of Parent Support and research-based Unified Theory of Behavior Change, PEP's Parents as Agents of Change model provides a conceptual framework for testing the effectiveness of family support services in children's mental health, a much-needed area for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)462-470
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010


  • Behavior change theories
  • Children's mental health service access
  • Family support
  • Parent empowerment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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