When should a family seek professional help for their child?

This post is the first in a midweek series for children’s and student pastors and key church staff or volunteers addressing the topic of how to respond to requests from parents for assistance in identifying professional help for their children with emotional or behavioral issues. Today, we’ll look at some guidelines to help parents determine whether their child needs professional help.

Pastors and ministry leaders are often the first resources parents turn to for advice when their child is in the midst of a significant emotional or behavioral crisis. I’m going to periodically post resources here to help church staff get parents pointed in the right direction when they’re seeking the right help for their kids.

When a parent calls me, the very first question I try to help them answer is whether their child needs professional help. I’ll do that by asking the parent the following series of questions:

Does the problem about which you are concerned interfere significantly with one or more of the following:

Your child’s ability to perform at a level in school consistent with what you’d expect based upon their intelligence

Your child’s ability to function in an age-appropriate way as a member of your family (interacting with other family members, respecting one another, accepting responsibility, participating in family activities)

Your child’s ability to form and maintain age-appropriate friendships

Your child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities in the community (church, sports, scouts, art, music, extracurricular activities in school, etc.)

If a child’s problem(s) is such that they’re able to do all of the developmental tasks described above, referral to a professional probably isn’t necessary. If the presenting symptoms or problems interfere significantly in one of those four major life domains (school, family, friends, community), evaluation from a professional is probably warranted.

Here’s a link to an excellent resource from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry on specific signs and symptoms in younger children, preadolescents and adolescents that suggest some professional input might be appropriate. Note: I’d strongly discourage church staff and volunteers from sharing these resources or suggesting professional help unless the parent approaches the church looking for help or direction first! The job of the church is to love, care for and teach all children and families about Jesus, not to treat them.

Next Week: Where should I send families who are asking for help?


About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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