Over twenty years ago, psychiatric nurse, Patricia Sparkman, took notice of the limited participation parents in Westchester County, New York were allowed when planning treatment and services for their children with serious mental health issues. Ms. Sparkman, herself the mother of a son with high-end mental health needs, grew increasingly frustrated with her restricted role and longed for support from other parents who understood her experiences. Ms. Sparkman envisioned a place where parents could share their frustrations and discuss the obstacles that they were facing; a place where parents found comfort in knowing that they were not alone. She began a parent support group; loosely affiliated with NAMI, and turned her vision into reality.
Throughout the eighties, Ms. Sparkman held monthly meetings of her group at the Westchester Medical Center-Behavioral Health Center, and many parents from all over the county gathered together to offer and receive support. Ms. Sparkman encouraged members to engage in a dialogue with their child's mental health professionals and participate in developing treatment plans and services.
Over the next few years, the support group continued to grow in size and popularity which caught the attention of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health (DCMH). DCMH supported Ms. Sparkman's initiative and agreed that parents needed to have influence over policy formulation and program development. DCMH helped arrange for the group to become an affiliate of the Mental Health Association of Westchester (MHA).
With the support of DCMH and MHA, Ms. Sparkman's initial effort transformed from one single group into a regionally-based organization serving parents of children with emotional challenges all over Westchester County. During this time, Family Ties operated as an affiliate, but not a program, of MHA. Two Family Resource Centers were opened, one in Mount Vernon and one in Yonkers. Family Ties also expanded the number of staff working to advocate for and provide services to families.
In 2003, Family Ties of Westchester, Inc. established itself as an independent not-for-profit organization. Since then, Family Ties has opened several Family Resource Centers and currently operates 5 walk-in Resource Centers. As the Westchester community learned more about Family Ties, the need for our services began to grow and shift.
While Family Ties started as an agency with a focus on children's mental health, our services have grown with our families needs and we now provide a variety of programs and services, some of which serve families known to the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. In all of our program areas, we strive to promote emotional wellness and build stronger families and communities.
While our organization continues to grow, our core philosophy of never giving up on families remains the same. We are privileged to work with the Westchester community, to be considered the "family voice" of parents with youngsters who have high-end needs and to continue Ms. Sparkman's vision.