PLEO: a lifeline for local parents

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday, October 4, 2018

Parents of children and young adults with mental health or addiction challenges can find peer support through Parents’ Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO).

PLEO provides a confidential telephone helpline, peer support groups and one-on-one peer support for parents and caregivers of children and young adults up to age 25. They also offer a host of online resources and an informative monthly newsletter.

The Individual Support Program (ISP) is now available in Renfrew County, where a parent can share their concerns with a trained peer support worker who is not a psychologist, social worker or clinician of any kind; rather they are themselves parent who has lived experience in supporting their own child or youth through their journey.

“Having been there, we know what it is like to walk a mile in their shoes,” said Natalie Markoff, Director, Communication and Partnerships. “We offer an understanding ear and help in finding mental health resources.”

If a parent has a question or needs to navigate the mental health system, PLEO will be there to help. No two families are the same, and even in cases where they may parallel each other on paper, the way they respond and deal with their child’s illness can differ greatly. PLEO services are structured to take this fact into consideration when offering support. Though they cannot speak on a parents’ behalf, PLEO can provide them with the resources and knowledge they need to effectively advocate for their child and on occasion may accompany a parent to a meeting, to provide support. “We teach them how to advocate for their child,” said Markoff.

rganization came to be in the waiting rooms of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) by parents of children with mental health and addiction issues who shared the same concerns and frustrations. A grassroots non-funded organization initially run by just a handful of parents passionate for change in youth mental health, offering one monthly support group and a helpline. Their hope is to help parents by connecting them to resources and other parents, and pulling them out of isolation feeling empowered to advocate for their children.

“It has changed a lot since then almost 20 years later,” said Markoff, “but it is still an ongoing battle. Family engagement has never been better than it is now yet it still needs to improve. Families need to be heard.”

Family involvement in their children’s treatment results in a more positive outcome. The system in place can often fall short and parents who know how to advocate for their kids play a big role in keeping them from falling between the cracks. Providing PLEO support to these parents gives them the strength to continue assisting their children.

“In partnership with agencies throughout the region, PLEO also advocates for systemic, sustainable change,” said Markoff. “So our children not only get the care they need but the parents also get the support, care and understanding they need to be the supporters their kids need.”

Sometimes just being able to talk to someone who understands helps tremendously. “When you are overwhelmed and you are scared, you can’t process information the same way,” said Markoff, “and we can help. We can do the research and find some resources. We can say, ‘Let me show you, let me teach you, let me explain how things work.’”

PLEO works in partnership with the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families and the Robbie Dean Family Counselling Centre.

More information can be found on their website at