School of Nursing and Midwifery

Researcher Spotlight - Anne Grant

Health and Social Care Professionals’ Family Focused Practice

Anne’s research centres on parental mental illness (including substance misuse), early interventions for families when parents are experiencing mental illness, and workforce capacity in relation to family-focused practice (FFP).

Anne believes that, “as parents’ mental health problems may impact on children and children’s experiences and difficulties may impact on parents, family relationships should be an important focus for clinicians, managers, researchers and policy makers. A family focused approach to supporting parents with mental illness, their children and families is the best way to ensure positive outcomes for families affected by mental illness”.

Anne practiced as a mental health nurse for ten years before becoming a lecturer in Nursing at University College Dublin for 14 years.   In 2014 she gained a doctorate at Monash University, Australia.  Her doctoral study comprised a mixed methods study across Ireland which examined mental health nurses’ practice with parents who have mental illness, their children and families.  The findings provided tentative evidence that community mental health nurses’ were more family focused than nurses in acute in-patient units and provided possible explanations as to why these differences occurred.  In addition to developing new knowledge and recommendations to promote FFP, the methodological innovations in her Irish research have informed the development of digital case studies for use in a Masters level module in Akershus University College in Norway that aims to help adult mental health professionals engage in FFP.

Since 2014 Anne has worked closely with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) in her contribution to the Northern Irish Think Family Initiative. As a consequence of international and wider UK developments in FFP and in response to specific NI policy and enquiry reports, Think Family has become core business for the HSCB. At a broad systems level, initiatives have been introduced in Northern Ireland (NI) to promote health and social care professionals’ response to families when parents have mental illness.

In 2015 Anne commenced in employment in the School as lecturer in Mental Health. Recently, Anne has been appointed as the Primary Investigator for a regional study commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) which will examine Health and Social Care professionals’ FFP.  This project will benchmark health and social care professionals’ FFP in adult mental health and children’s services from multiple perspectives.  Health and Social Care Professionals will be invited to complete an online or postal questionnaire between Sept and November 2016. Follow-up interviews will also be held between January and March 2017 with 30 Health and Social Care Professionals and 30 parents who have mental illness to further expand upon findings from the questionnaire.

An improved understanding of health and social care professionals’ perspectives is a crucial element in capacity building for better FFP.  Furthermore, a fundamental requirement for improving FFP is ensuring that the service user and families’ voice is heard, and incorporated into education & training as well as service design & delivery. The information generated will provide helpful evidence on the current state of the ‘Think Family’ service delivery Initiatives and establish a  foundation to inform on going examination of FFP  in NI and internationally.

In addition to this ongoing work, Anne is also a member of the Prato Collaborative; an international network of researchers (across nursing, psychiatry, psychology, social worker and sociology) who engage in research to help inform service delivery and support for families where the parent(s) experience mental illness and/or substance misuse.  Anne’s work with this group includes an international Delphi Study to explore the developmental journeys undertaken by nine countries to better meet the needs of families where a parent has a mental illness. This research has the potential to further increase our understanding of FFP across different countries and service contexts.

In partnership with HSCB, Anne also organised a symposium, with an international panel, which provided an opportunity for the 250 attending delegates to learn about developments in FFP in NI, Finland, Norway and Australia.  This symposium was designed to facilitate knowledge exchange, to inform policy and to provide delegates with information on current best practice in FFP.