Collaborative Relationships and the Relationship-Based Work of Consultation

Collaborative Relationships and the Relationship-Based Work of Consultation

mother, father and infant

Although there is diversity among mental health service providers as well as early care and education providers, including Head Start and Early Head Start, the most essential features of early childhood mental health consultation are a collaborative relationship, problem-solving and capacity building goals, focus on an identified concern, and consultants with a set of specific skills (Cohen & Kaufmann, 2005).

The collaborative relationships are the first priority for the relationship-based work of consultation, always including two (or more) experts with different areas of expertise. The term experts in early childhood mental health consultation includes the consultant as well as Head Start and Early Head Start program staff and families; each staff member viewed as expert in their own field (early care and education, health, family partnerships, etc.) and families as experts in their child’s development and knowledge of their own child, family, and community.

A productive relationship between the consultant and staff and families develops over time and is based on strong personal relationships and trust. Within the context of these relationships, effective collaboration can happen when:

  • roles of each party are clear,
  • open communication is present,
  • each perspective is respected,
  • goals of the consultation are agreed-upon, and
  • the process is mutual.

To be most effective, the relationships must also be coordinated and non-hierarchical — exploring and working together as equals in problem-solving and capacity-building. Recent studies have demonstrated that among consultants’ skills, the ability to form and facilitate positive, respectful, and collaborative relationships with staff and families is foremost in being an effective mental health consultant (Allen, 2008; Green, et al 2006, Duran et al, 2009).

Georgetown’s most recent research project, “What works? A study of effective early childhood mental health consultation programs,” (Duran et al, 2009), affirmed key skills and attributes for effective early childhood mental health consultants. Many of these key features reflect the essential elements and practices associated with the “consultative stance” and relationship-based work. These include:

  • Key Skills — relationship building, communication, able to motivate parents/providers to try new strategies
  • Key Attributes — respectful, trustworthy, open-minded/non-judgmental, reflective, approachable, good listener, compassionate, team player, flexible, and patient
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This product was developed [in part] under grant number 1H79SM082070-01 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.