From the CEO

Family Involvement in MCH Programs

By Michael R. Fraser, PhD CAE, AMCHP’s Chief Executive Officer and Sophie Arao-Nguyen, PhD, Executive Director of Family Voices       

This month our From the CEO column is an interview between AMCHP CEO Mike Fraser and Dr. Sophie Arao-Nguyen, Executive Director of Family Voices. 

Mike: Sophie, thank you for taking time to talk with me about family involvement in Title V Maternal and Child Health programs. AMCHP and its members are committed to promoting the involvement of families in all aspects of state maternal and child health and children and youth with special health care needs programs. But we still have some skeptics out there. What can we tell them are the benefits of a state Title V program having a family representative on the team?


Sophie: Family and professional partnerships are the way to go in health matters – the family member knows their child and knows the issues that impact the individual’s health and well-being. When family members and professionals partner the programs and services are improved: they are more comprehensive, more relevant to the specific individuals or groups being served, and generally satisfaction is higher. I think it is vital for a state Title V program to have a family representative on the team to ensure the effectiveness, efficiency, usefulness and relevance of their family services. A family member provides the context and perspective when that might be needed. It is not enough to deliver a service – Title V can
work with families to make sure that service delivery is appropriate to the community it is serving. It has to take into consideration ethnic practices
and beliefs, religious beliefs and its impact on health and the culture of each family.


Mike: Great points Sophie. Family Voices has really led in this area. In your work on family involvement, what do you think gets in the way of some states that have not yet fully engaged family leaders?


Sophie: Some states are afraid of the word advocacy, and they think that family leaders may lobby or advocate on the job, which they won’t if they are trained and prepared by health department staff. Some states are afraid of some family leaders whose voice could sometimes threaten their comfort zones or criticize the programs. All of these things are possible but in my experience we have seen that when family leaders and Title V staff communicate honestly and openly, quality and satisfaction go up. With appropriate training and support, and open and honest communication, the relationship can really lead to wonderful results for women, children and families in a state. Family to Family Health Information Centers (F2FHICs) are a great resource for state MCH program staff. In some states, they are closely linked to Title V. In others, they are not. I urge every Title V program staff member to become familiar with the F2FHIC in their state and really work with the center as a resource.


Mike: Sophie, you started your position at Family Voices about a year before I started – hard to believe that it has been three years! I am curious: How have you seen AMCHP change over the past three years when you think about family involvement?


Sophie: AMCHP has changed in the time I have worked with you all. I have seen family involvement become less about “lip service” and more about commitment by AMCHP leadership. Family Voices and Title V have a history of working together in the states but not necessarily at the organizational level. In 2008 we developed and approved the Memorandum of Agreement between our two national organizations. That really demonstrated an intentional commitment to work together in policy matters, family and youth involvement, program implementation in the field and consistent collaboration between us. AMCHP has made an effort to make visible its commitment to family involvement as evidenced by highlighting Family Voices’ work in its annual conference, involving the leadership in the planning of the conference and involving some key Family Voice staff in the AMCHP Family and Youth Leadership Committee’s work. AMCHP leadership has invited Family Voices to present at its board of directors’ meetings and vice-versa. In 2011, we will hold our national conferences and fundraising events simultaneously – that’s a big change from the past!


Mike: Thanks Sophie, I think we have made lots of changes here and there is a lot more to do, that’s for sure. The 2011 meetings will be great events – and a great symbol of our partnership. So, one last question for you. What advice do you have for Title V professional staff when they work with families?


Sophie: I think it is important to remember that families know best when it comes to the health of their family members with special health care needs. Family leaders need to be part of the health team to ensure that services are family-centered, culturally competent and appropriate. Health is a very personal issue for everyone and partnership between the Title V professional and the patient is a must, not just an option. Trust, be open and care. Families are the reason we all got into this work to begin with!


Mike: Sophie thanks so much. We are really looking forward to do more with Family Voices and family leaders across the country as we look to support our AMCHP members and partners.