Universität Bielefeld

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KANU - Prevention Program for children with mentally ill parents


The aim is to develop a concept for primary prevention of mental problems and disturbed behaviour of children (6-14 years) whose parents suffer from mental health problems (schizophrenic and affective disorders). At the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy Bielefeld-Bethel (Intervention group) and the LWL-Klinik Gütersloh (control group) to test and evaluate the aticipated effectivity.


It is well-known from existing studies that children with parents suffering from mental illnesses a more likely to suffer from mental problems and develop disturbed behaviour (e.g. Downey/Coyne 1990; Rutter/Quinton 1984). In families with mentally ill parents extra burdens appear (such as: absence of the parents, lack of communication, loss of social status, stigmatization, tabooing, social shame etc.), which influences the childrens‘ dynamic of development and increase their vulnerability. The study has been conducted, because - despite its high epistemological relevance - until now scientific-based, approved and evaluated concepts of prevention for children with parents suffering from mentall illnesses is lacking.

Further Information

+The preventive Intervention Concept

The offer encompasses four preventive behaviour-oriented and one preventive aligned element.

  1. Parents, children and family discussions: In the foreground of the Parents and family discussions stands the information and the enlightenment of both one's parents about the metal disorder as well as the appropriate to the age information and clarification of the children. With the family discussions the aim is to remove all taboos about the illness and eventually reduce fear and feelings of the childrens‘ guilt. A domestic understanding of the ilness should be achieved as well as the improvement of communication about the illnness and the related prolems in the family.

  2. Sponsorships:Sponsorship are offered, to give children a continious person of reference and offering a longterm and regular support. Furthermore, the sponsorship aims to prevent an accommodation outside the family, which demonstrates a generally high burden for children if one parent has to be treated. Another significant aim is to provide the children with normality and orientation mostly lacking due to the parental relational uncertainty.

  3. Kanu-Parental-Training:Through the Kanu programm parents shoud be equiped with child-raising skills. The active acceptance of the parental role, an improvement in their relation and communication competences as well as the reduction of psychological crises.

  4. Kanu-Group-Offering for childrens and adolescents: The primary preventive Intervention skill-training for children with mentally ill parents is carried out in order to assist their living competences. The three central objectives of the skill-training are:

    1. Normalization
    2. Management of feelings
    3. Management of stressful and crisis situations
  5. Networking and Qualification: The current hurdles of cooperation between adult psychiatry and youth welfare often prevent a successful prevention for children with mentally ill parents. In order to improve the cooperation and knowledge about the possibilities of support the project is used as a palltform and the mutual exchange fosters the dialogue in seminars, workshops and expert meetings.

+Downloads: Information Material, Reports & Press Reviews

Information Materials & Reports

KANU-Flyer [PDF]

Kinder psychisch kranker Eltern – Präventive Angebote im psychiatrischen Versorgungssetting als zukünftige konzeptionelle Herausforderung [PDF]

Special needs of children with mentally ill parents [PDF, EN]

Griepenstroh & Schmuhl (2010): Zur Lebenssituation von Kindern psychisch erkrankter Elterns [PDF]

Heitmann & Bauer (2007): Kinder psychisch erkrankter Eltern – Forschungsdesiderata und psychiatrischer Interventionsbedarf [PDF]

Evaluationsdesign: KANU – Gemeinsam weiterkommen [PDF]

KANU - Projektbeschreibung [PDF]

Publikationen (Auswahl) [PDF]

Kooperation für Nachhaltige Präventionsforschung - Newsletter März 2011 [PDF]

Heitmeyer, Schmul, Reinisch & Bauer (2012): Primary prevention for children of mentally ill parents: the Kanu-program [PDF, EN]

Press Reviews

"Wenn Kinder zu früh erwachsen werden" (Neue Westfaelische - 27.02.2010) [PDF]

"Damit die Kinderseele nicht krank wird" (Westfalenblatt - 26.02.2010) [PDF]

"Vernetzung ist notwendig" (Fachtagung Caritas-Verband - 1.07.2010) [PDF]

"Vernetzung ist notwendig" ("Ängste und Schuldgefühle stören Familienleben" (Mindener Tageblatt - 18.03.2010) [PDF]

About the project



Prof. Ullrich Bauer
Katrin Linthorst M.A.
Dieter Heitmann MPH
Miriam Schmuhl MPH
Sonja Hermeling


Oktober 2008 – September 2012